This is a guest post by contributor Donika Haddock.
Memorial Day weekend has several significant meanings to many people. For most people it marks the end of the school year, beginning of summer. For Busch Gardens, it’s also the beginning of their annual Food and Wine Festival.
In its fourth year, the Food and Wine Festival is back again, with its mix of foods and wines from various countries from around the world. It’s a great time to introduce yourself to foods you’ve never tried before, plus it’s a nice change of pace from the same theme park foods we’re used to at Busch Gardens (not that their food is bad, but something different is good once in a while, right?).
This year the park switched out two old booths for two new ones. Gone are the Scandinavia and Scotland booths. While I miss the Swedish meatballs from Scandinavia that is probably the only thing I miss from that booth. In its place, the park brought in Hawaii. What is a common food most people think of when they hear Hawaii? SPAM of course!! The Hawaii booth serves Spam sliders, with sriracha mayonnaise and grilled pineapple with a side of pineapple-coconut coleslaw.
To be honest here, I still can’t bring myself to try it……yet. But I HAVE tried the Huli Huli chicken, a soy BBQ chicken served with a side of sweet potato salad.
Unfortunately, this is one dish I would pass on trying again. I’m not one for potato salad to begin with, but I was curious about the sweet potato salad, and thought that would add an interesting twist with the orange and purple potatoes. Interesting is the key word. The potatoes were barely cooked (still crunchy), making the sweet potato salad unpalatable to me. While I can’t wait to go back each weekend, I have to admit, I have yet to make it through to the Hawaii booth to try everything I want, due to being too full from the other booths. Friends and other park guests have told me the root vegetable chips with Maui onion dip and the tune poke (pronounced pokay) are must tries. The dessert that’s offered is the Haupia Tart, a sweet coconut mousse with Kona coffee ganache. Mmmm…coffee….
The second new booth this year is Virginia, located in the former location of the Scotland booth. (Editor’s Note: Aaaah! Scotland was my fav booth! – Oni)
This is new booth has two of my favorite offerings this year. If you were a fan of the Scottish toffee, you’ll want to try the pecan, bacon, chocolate bars. The only way I can describe this dessert is toffee meets pecan pie meets bacon and chocolate. Seriously, I don’t like pecan pie and this dessert I can’t get enough of. Can’t make it to the park to get your hands on it? You can find the exact recipe (and others) here.
The Virginia booth also offers pork rinds with a variety of Southern dips (deviled ham, pimento cheese), bacon and cheddar hushpuppies, She-crab soup, and my second favorite, the Smithfield Ham Tasting. The tasting consists of three varieties of ham, Red eye country, hickory smoked, and applewood, paired up with apple butter, raspberry jam, and whole grain mustard, finished with a honey biscuit on the side. Sure to please the Southern in everyone.
I did venture out this year and finally tried the ratatouille. While I have to admit I’ve been curious about this, I hadn’t been brave enough to try it until this year. From the France booth, the ratatouille parfait is roasted veggies served in a cup with a twisted parmesan cheese stick. This is a change from previous years as the ratatouille used to be served as a tomato stuffed with the roasted vegetables. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the parfait style. While the presentation was nice, the initial layer of chilled veggies with the drizzle of balsamic vinegar tasted good, the bottom layer lacked flavor and seasoning. Should’ve stuck with the stuffed tomato. If this is how they will present the dish for future Food and Wine Festivals, I’ll definitely be passing on it again.
My biggest disappointments for this year comes from the France (again) and Caribbean booths. Besides the ratatouille, France also serves up Steak Au Poivre, or peppered steak.
I tried it twice this year, and both times I couldn’t eat it. The peppered over powered any flavor of steak, and actually made it spicy. From two people who love steak, neither of us could eat this. So disappointing. If they were to cut down on the amount of pepper, even slightly, it would be close to edible. From the Caribbean booth, the Jamaican Jerk Chicken was second on my list of disappointments for this year.
Last year, the jerk chicken was grilled, nicely charred, and full of delicious smoky, sweet bbq sauce. This year, the chicken was served up buried under its grilled pineapple salsa. Once the chicken was uncovered, it wasn’t grilled at all. Cooked, yes, but not grilled. The drumsticks this year looked and tasted as though they were boiled. No char on the outside, as the skin was still chewy and rubbery, and the bbq sauce was served on the side in a cup. If they can learn one thing from this, GRILL THE CHICKEN!!!!
The park has added several features to the event that have been long awaited and much needed. First off, as the Food is mostly small servings, it gets to be an expensive way to eat and indulge very quickly. The park finally added an option to purchase a food sampler pass. For $35, you get to try ten helpings of whatever food items you want, from any of the booths. $50 will get you fifteen samples. These passes are pure gold, and if you do it right, the average cost drops to around $3.50 per sampling. Perfect for spending the pass on the higher priced items like the bacon wrapped scallops in Spain, which runs $7 per order.
But what about the wine? You can’t have a Food and Wine Festival without wine, right? The wine tastings, located throughout the park yearly, run about fifteen dollars per tasting. The park added a wine tasting pass (wine tasting trio), that allows you to sample three wine tastings of your choice, for the price of $29.95, with a savings of around $15. This is another great deal for the event.
Along with the foods and wines, the returning food artists are a huge hit as always. It’s fun to watch them create masterpieces out of fresh cut melons, cakes, and fondant, and the displays change weekly. There’s also an ice carving demonstration nightly at 6pm in Ireland just outside of the Abbey Stone Theatre, where two food artists compete to be the first to carve a masterpiece out of their block of ice in under twenty minutes.
All in all, the event, even with its highs and lows, is still a great event to check out, whether it’s with a group of friends or a weekend date. It’s the perfect time to try new foods, enjoy the food art, and maybe hit up a few shows and rides while you’re at the park.