Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival has returned with a full menu of options. There is a concert series, and some old food favorites are back, like the Lobster Mac and Cheese. Some new twists include street corn rolled in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and braised short ribs paired with Snoop Dogg’s red wine.
There are 20 new dishes among more than 90 offerings that are paired with wines, craft brews and creative cocktails. They are offered in 16 culinary cabins that are set up around the park, mostly in the Gwazi Park area, and open from noon to park closing on weekends through May 22.
Food items run $6.99 to $10.99 and wine and cocktails are $8.99 to $13.99. A 10-sample lanyard starts at $65, for food and samples of wine or cocktails. Note that for cocktails, you will be given about half of what you’d get for full price. But you get a full food portion using the sampler lanyard.
The food portions are fairly generous and shareable.
Some foods are new and some entrees are “reimagined,” such as the Southern Kitchen’s Jack Daniel’s Tennessee BBQ Short Ribs that are served on a jalapeno cheddar corn muffin top with barbecue sauce, pickles and fried onions. It was very tasty, but even more intriguing was that the suggested pairing was Snoop Dogg’s Cali Red, a bold fruity red wine from his 19 Crimes label. Also on that label and also offered at the Southern Kitchen kiosk is a wine by Snoop’s bestie Martha Stewart. Her 19 Crimes brand chardonnay is paired with Cajun Garlic Shrimp and Grits.
Three new cocktails celebrate the newly opened coaster Iron Gwazi. They sell for $13.99 each and show a lot of creativity. The most popular among those around me on a recent media preview was the Iron Gwazi Fizz, a light, refreshing drink made with Hendrick’s gin, lavender, lemonade, grenadine, blue curacao and club soda. Hybrid Heat, named for Iron Gwazi’s record as North America’s tallest hybrid coaster, is made with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire, Disaronno almond liqueur and Coca-Cola.
And what was too cloyingly sweet for some was the 91° Drop, named for that terrifying beyond-vertical first dive on the coaster. It is made with Tito’s vodka, melon liqueur, triple sec and lemonade. It did grow on one fellow taster who at first thought the melon liqueur was having to work too hard to overcome the strong vodka flavor. He eventually found himself sipping on it all night.
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The West Coast Catch kiosk found near the Xcursions store had the talker of the night with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Elote Street Corn. It was served with a swish of avocado lime crema, Tajin spice and cotija cheese. As someone who loves street corn rolled in cheese but is ambivalent about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, I found it a weird pairing. But if you love those two, you should like this.
The festival favorite, creamy Lobster White Cheddar sponsored by Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese, is back at the All American Eats cabin, which also has a remake of its popular Mini Bison Cheeseburger. The burger is now served with wild blackberry preserve, pinot noir caramelized onions and Midnight Blue, a blue-veined goat’s milk cheese.
Some other new items to look for include the Beer Battered Shrimp Po’boy at NOLA Eats, which also has a Smoked Buffalo Chicken Po’boy served on a roll with lettuce, blue cheese and ranch dressing.
The Yuengling Butchery has new entrees including Urban Duck Fries, which are topped with duck confit, Parmesan cheese herbs and roasted garlic aioli. They also have a new Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Pork served with coconut jasmine rice, pineapple serrano relish and cilantro.
There are also cabins that offer tastings of four different kinds of bourbon and wine flights.
For dessert, NOLA Sweets is bringing back its popular Bananas Foster Beignets with bourbon chocolate sauce, and All American Eats has a new 24K Double Chocolate Whoopie Pie with marshmallow cream, chocolate drizzle and chocolate pearls.
The Xcursions gift shop has a lineup of four new cupcakes: Black Berry Pinot Noir, Orange Creamsicle, Strawberry Short Cake and Havana (Guava & Cream Cheese).
Like so many other recent events, the festival has returned to what looks more like normal. In 2020, the festival was cut short after a few weeks because of COVID-19. In 2021, it was back to its usual lineup but reservations were required to enter the park, masks were required when not eating or drinking and hand-sanitizing stations were plentiful. For 2022, masks are no longer required, and there were few in sight when we went.
After dinner on March 26, you can catch a free 7 p.m. concert by Scott Stapp, the Grammy-winning voice of the rock band Creed who is now a solo artist. And March 27 brings the Purple Xperience, the five-piece Prince tribute group that will perform at 3, 5 and 7 p.m.
You can find more information, the concert lineup and menus at buschgardens.com/tampa/events/food-and-wine-festival.