SEEDS OF CHANGE: Epcot Flower and Garden Festival
When the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival began 26 years ago, it was all about the topiaries and flowers. There were no special food stalls or dishes. But thanks to the smashing success of Epcot’s chefs at its insanely popular Food and Wine Festival, all of the park’s festivals are upping their food game. Indeed, the rest of the theme park industry is as well. The festival kicks off this week running through June 3, and we got a chance to check out some of the food coming out of a record 23 unique food destinations and outdoor kitchens. Among the favorites:
Orange Cream Slushy: Remember this cutie? From opening day of the Magic Kingdom in 1971 until 1983 when the Florida Orange Bird flew the coup, the Disney-designed symbol of the Florida orange industry was a walk-around character at the Magic Kingdom. The bird also starred with Anita Bryant in Florida orange juice commercials in the mid-1970s and was prominent on Florida marketing campaigns. For $14 you can have this cute sipper cup and the Creamy Orange Slushy it comes with, but only during this festival at the Citrus Blossom outdoor kitchen near the front of the park. There’s also an alcoholic version of the slushy, but they won’t serve it in the branded cup.
Cider Flights: A hard cider flight at the new Arbor outdoor kitchen near Test Track includes St. Pete’s own 3 Daughters Brewings’s Key Lime Apple Hard Cider. And the Strawberry Rose Hard Cider from Cape Canaveral’s Florida Beer Company captures several hot food trends in one drink.
Tuna Tataki: The paper-thin rice flour pappadam crisp that was the base of this remarkably beautiful dish seems like it would make it hard to eat, but no. It was easily foldable for eating while standing (something to think about at a theme park) and it had a delicate crunch. Tucked inside was rare tuna marinated in spicy citrus yuzu glaze married with mango, avocado, a piece of pickled lotus root and caviar. Found at the new Citrus Blossom outdoor kitchen in Showcase Plaza.
Chocolate Pudding Terrarium: This was by far the most beautiful dish, but the matcha (tea) crumb that supplied the lovely green moss look was off-putting. The dish is vegetarian and gluten free, available at the new Trowel & Trellis outdoor kitchen. This plant-based kitchen is where you will find the Farmhouse Meatball with Lentil Bread that was a big hit at the media preview. It’s more proof that Impossible Foods has figured out how to get meat eaters to love a plant-based product.
Locals represent: Other local brewers and wine makers at the festival include Florida Orange Grove Winery of St. Petersburg’s Orange Blossom Honey Wine, Sparkling Pineapple Wine and Sparkling Key Lime Wine. You’ll also find Clearwater’s Shipyard Mable Bacon Stout, Tampa Brewing Company’s Twisted Strawberry Fest Fruit Ale, Clearwater’s Seadog Brewing’s Grind the Rind Watermelon IPA and 3 Daughter’s Phantasmas Spicy Double IPA.
The Honey Bee-stro: Hosted by National Honey Board this marketplace gained a lot of buzz when it debuted last year (groan). It’s located on the rose garden pathways before the Canada pavilion and it goes beyond just hawking food. Exhibits on honey bees and gardening surround the booth to highlight honey’s journey from bee to bottle. The food there was also a big hit: roasted cauliflower with a buckwheat honey carrot puree in rice pilaf, and also honey tandoori chicken flatbread and “local wildflower” honey-mascarpone cheesecake.
The link between farming and food is rightly celebrated at this festival, which is included with Epcot admission, $109 and up (or check out the current Florida resident deal, a 3-day Discover Disney Ticket for $175 through June 30). epcot.com.
IT’S A WRAP: Tampa Taco Festival
Yisenia Abrahantes, Tatiana Lopez and Florimar Galdon took the bull by the horns and will put on the first Tampa Taco Fest on Saturday at Al Lopez Park. There will be a serious superabundance of tacos, from traditional Mexican to Asian-inspired, with live music and other festival staples. More than 30 Tampa restaurants and food trucks will be on hand from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 4810 N Himes Ave, Tampa. Free (food/drink additional). (813) 274-8184.
SUDS: Tampa Bay Beer Week
The eighth annual Tampa Bay Beer Week is still flowing with lots of beer-soaked events. Check tampabaybeerweek.com for the full lineup. The madness of Hunahpu’s Day returns Saturday and this year Cigar City Brewing is offering two variants of the award-winning Imperial Stout (the 15th highest-rated beer in the world by ratebeer.com). All tickets include unlimited samples of beer during the event, tapas-sized bites from area food trucks, a collectible acrylic sample glass and free general admission entry into the Gasparilla Music Festival on Sunday. $210-$420. hunahpusday.com. It runs 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, Lots 5 and 7, 4201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. Sunday brings the annual Beer Week Recovery Brunch at Six Ten Brewing where MUDD Catering will have dishes such as patatas bravas with chorizo hash or shrimp and grits in the $7-$10 range. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. 7052 Benjamin Road, Tampa. Sunday is also Hangover Day at both 7venth Sun Brewery locations in Tampa and Dunedin from noon-10 p.m., where the theme is donuts and dessert, so you’ll find Cigar City Brewing’s Donut Hunahpu, 7venth Sun’s Jelly Donut Berliner and Carrot Cake Belgian Spice.