How soon until Epcot is just one big food festival?
We’re getting close. Once just a month long, the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is up to 75 days in its 23rd year, beginning Aug. 30 and running through the middle of November. This is actually the first time in a couple of years that the festival hasn’t grown; last year’s was 75 days, too.
There are 35 new dishes this year and a whopping 70 new nonalcoholic beverages, cocktails, wines and beers. Epcot executive chef Mike Deardorff said the menu planners consider their guests’ "diverse wants and needs when it comes to food, so we offer as much variety as possible," including gluten-free and vegan options, such as a new slider that makes use of the trendy Impossible Burger at the Earth Eats Marketplace.
Giving kids things to do while their parents nosh on cheddar cheese and bacon soup seems to be a focus, with four new programs and play areas for "kids of all ages." In the Junior Chef Kitchen, kids get to cook and then eat their creations (11 a.m. Sundays in the Festival Center, and it’s free with Epcot admission). There are also candy sushi demos and an evening dance party at the Fountain View Stage.
Most of the staples are back, too: celebrity chef demos, a nightly concert series and events that happen only during the festival (such as the new Sunday Brunch with the Chef series).
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
New dishes include charred chimichurri skirt steak on a smoked corn pancake with pickled vegetable slaw and a cilantro lime aioli; the steak will be grilled on site at the Flavors from Fire tent. In Brazil, you’ll find a traditional moqueca, a Brazilian seafood stew featuring scallops, shrimp and white fish with a coconut-lime sauce. The jerk spiced chicken lollipop with roasted sweet plantain salad and mango chutney yogurt is another new offering, available in the Islands of the Caribbean area. Our favorite at a recent media tasting was the New Brunswick slider from the Hops and Barley stand (aka America): braised beef brisket, horseradish cream and crispy fried onions on a potato roll.
The RGB beer flight in the Light Lab is worth a try. The three beers that make up the sampler are made exclusively for the festival by Florida breweries. The RGB refers to "red, green, blue," the colors of these vibrant brews. There’s a red cherry tart beer from Playalinda Brewing Co. in Titusville, a bright green kiwi blonde from GrassLands Brewing Co. in Tallahassee, and a blueberry golden ale from M.I.A. Beer Co. in Doral. Also at the Light Lab: Look for the Blueberry Peppercorn Hard Cider from Tampa Bay’s 3 Daughters Brewing.
LIVE MUSIC LOUNGE
The Eat to the Beat concert series will bring 32 musical acts to Epcot. As usual, it’s a lot of your ’80s and ’90s faves, such as Sugar Ray (Sept. 24-26), Air Supply (Oct. 8-10) and Hanson (Oct. 29-31), plus acts new to the series, including MercyMe, Sheila E and 98 Degrees. You can guarantee a seat to the daily concerts if you purchase one of the Eat to the Beat dining packages, available at 15 of the park’s sit-down restaurants.
There aren’t many deals to be found at Epcot’s signature festival, which doesn’t need to offer specials to attract massive crowds. Our best advice: Come up with an eating plan and stick to a budget. Try purchasing a gift card right when you get to the festival (they have ones you can wear on your wrist for easy paying), then put a dollar amount on it and stop when you run out of money. And grab a Festival Passport so you can see what is available at all the booths before you start eating. That way you’re not tempted by Australia’s grilled lamb chop when what you really want is the butternut squash ravioli from the Wine and Dine Studio.
MAKE A RESERVATION
The festival runs Aug. 30-Nov. 12 at Epcot, 200 Epcot Center Drive, Orlando. (407) 824-4321. disneyworld.com.
PAY THE BILL
Epcot admission is required; one-day tickets start at $102 (ages 9 and up) and change based on the day you’re visiting. Prices of the small plates at the different festival stands vary widely, but you’ll generally spend more than $5 and less than $10 for one item. Some premium items are more expensive.
Michelle Stark, Times food editor