Recently I journeyed to Walt Disney World Resort on a foodie adventure. Travelling without my kids (ok, let’s pause there a minute – travelling….without kids…..aaahhhh), I had a defined purpose: eat and drink at all 13 Outdoor Kitchens at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival in one day. I meticulously scrutinized the festival passport and menus of the various Outdoor Kitchens before embarking on my quest, and with map in hand I was ready to tackle this culinary journey around the World Showcase. For a downloadable digital copy of the passport, click here.
Did I sample the food and a drink at all 13 kitchens? Yes. Did I do it in one day? No. I made it within 30 hours total from start to finish, but I neither have a stomach of steel nor the alcohol tolerance to conquer all 13 kitchens in just one day. Can it be accomplished? Probably. My partners and I in this food exploration started at the 11:00 a.m. opening of the World Showcase and I soldiered on until 7:30 p.m. I thoroughly enjoyed 8 different kitchens before calling it a night and heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular. I wandered through the 5 remaining kitchens the next day, and even though I didn’t make it to all 13 Outdoor Kitchens in one day, I’m pretty proud of my foodie efforts. The biggest bonus of this whole endeavor? I got to sample some incredible food and drink along the way.
Even though I only had a small snack and a cup of coffee for breakfast on the first day, and was legitimately hungry by 11:00 a.m., eating what amounted to 8 small entrees and drinking 8 full drinks was a challenge even in one day. The food portions for each small plate definitely are not small. For many people these could easily be a full entree, which is why using your snack credit if on the Disney Dining Plan is an amazing cost effective plan. Paired with full size drinks, that’s a lot to consume for someone used to only eating 2 1/2 meals a day. Granted, I could have just tasted each dish and drink and moved on, but let’s face it, I hate to waste food, especially really delicious food, so for the most part, I wasn’t throwing anything away. Plus, I wanted to really enjoy the entire cultural and entertainment experience presented by each kitchen in the various World Showcase countries, as well as actually enjoy the food and drink I was consuming. It was less about reaching the finish line and more about enjoying the journey along the way.
I wandered through the 5 remaining kitchens the next day, and even though I didn’t make it to all 13 Outdoor Kitchens in one day, I felt as if I had still accomplished my goal.
Why even embark on this endeavor? While the food at Walt Disney World Resort, and Epcot in particular, is spectacular, the Outdoor Kitchens at this and similar festivals give Disney Chefs the opportunity to really shine. Creativity flows and small plates like Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapeños come to life. For me, it’s not so much about being a Disney fan (which I am) but more about being a foodie fanatic.
My top favorites from the festival:
- Small Plates:
- Freshly Baked Lemon Scone with Crème Fraîche and Mixed Berries, Cider House, United Kingdom
- Jerk-spice Grouper with Mango Salsa, Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette, La Isla Fresca, World Showcase Promenade
- Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce (but no Spiced Pecans for me!), The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews, The American Adventure
- Key Lime Sparkling Wine, Florida Fresh, World Showcase
- La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush, Fleur de Lys, France
- Oolong Peach Bubble Tea, Lotus House, China
I also have to commend the Chefs at the Outdoor Kitchens for accommodating not only my food allergy (peanuts and tree nuts), but special diets in general. Every kitchen offers a vegetarian option, and 8 of the 13 kitchens offer a gluten-free small plate. As noted below, on the two occasions when I wanted to try a small plate with tree nuts, my small plate was specially made with the attention to avoid cross contamination that I have become accustomed to at Quick Service and Table Service restaurants. These efforts help make the festival magical for all guests.
For anyone headed to the festival between now and May 30th with a similar desire to visit all 13 Outdoor Kitchens, here are a few words of wisdom from my experience:
- Plan to visit Epcot on a weekday, preferably Monday-Thursday, when crowds will be lower. On the weekend crowds will be higher due to local visitors. You don’t want to spend all your time waiting in line.
- Have a plan and pace yourself. On a normal day you have 10 hours to make it around Showcase Plaza and World Showcase. You may get lucky and the kitchens in Showcase Plaza may open a tad bit early, so I would suggest being front and center at Showcase Plaza a little before 11:00 a.m. Regardless you have about 45 minutes for each kitchen if you space it equally, including time waiting in line, so plan accordingly.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. I walked approximately 20,000 steps on the first day, and wore pants with an elastic waste. Trust me, that will make you so happy at the end of the day.
- Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and drink lots of water. Several Outdoor Kitchens have a non-alcoholic beverage option (Pineapple Promenade, La Isla Fresca, The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews, Florida Fresh and Cider House). On a hot sunny Florida day you will be happy you took this approach. You also can refill water bottles at the many water fountains throughout the park, like this one located in The American Adventure, or you can ask for a glass of water from any Outdoor Kitchen.
- Go with friends and share. The more the merrier really is true here, and then you get to taste so many more options.
- If you are staying on property use your MagicBand to pay or purchase a festival-themed Disney Gift Card. So much easier than fumbling with money at every kitchen. Plus the gift cards are orange scented, work like regular gift cards for use elsewhere, and make a great souvenir.
- Take time to enjoy your food and beverage while experiencing the entertainment each country has to offer. I was fortunate enough to have the best seat in the house for Serveur Amusant™ in France while sipping my La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush, and I am positive my Elderflower Watermelon Sangria tasted even better as I listened to Mariachi Cobre in Mexico.
We started our culinary adventure at Urban Farm Eats and proceeded around World Showcase with Cider House in United Kingdom, ending with La Isla Fresca and Pineapple Promenade.
Urban Farm Eats, Showcase Plaza
In addition to a beautiful outdoor area, Urban Farm Eats provides both a vegetarian and gluten-free small plate option as part of its small plate selections. There are no non-alcoholic beverage options, however, so plan accordingly if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage. Very close by is Pineapple Promenade and the delicious Frozen Dessert Violet Lemonade.
All of the small plates at Urban Farm House looked wonderful, but I love quinoa so I chose the Vegetable and White Bean “Naanwich” with Argula Pesto and Oven-dried Tomatoes, featuring Seeds of Change ® Quinoa, Brown and Red Rice. I paired this dish with the Avivé Natural Peach Sparkling Wine.
This was a great way to start the day. The sparkling wine had an ever so slight peach taste and was light and refreshing. The “Naanwich” was bursting with flavors and could easily have been a full lunch if paired with the watermelon salad or seared pork tenderloin. If you are not going to sample from every kitchen make sure this one is on your list so you don’t miss Urban Farm Eats.
Cider House, United Kingdom
Cider House is a new Outdoor Kitchen this year located in the United Kingdom. There are two gluten-free plates available at this kitchen, as well as one vegetarian plate.
Hands down Cider House offered one of my favorite items of all the kitchens: Freshly Baked Lemon Scone with Crème Fraîche and Mixed Berries. For me, this is one of those dishes that you remember days, weeks, months later and wish you could experience over and over again. The scone was moist and tender, not dry as some scones tend to be, with just the right amount of lemon flavor. It was warm and topped with a perfectly tart mixed berry topping. The creme fraîche provided an excellent rich and tangy balance.
Since I had just finished my peach sparkling wine from Urban Farm Eats, and I wanted to actually make it to France, I opted for the non-alcoholic Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. This is an excellent non-alcoholic beverage option for kids and adults alike. If you are eating your way around the World Showcase with kids, make sure to stop here for a fun bubbly drink for the kids.
For adults, a beer and cider flight is available. If I wasn’t trying to make it all the way around the World Showcase in one day, I definitely would have tried this. When else could you sample 4 different hard ciders plus a beer?
Fleur de Lys, France
Having lived in Paris for 2 years, visiting France in the World Showcase always has special meaning for me, especially when there is the addition of an Outdoor Kitchen. The small plate options here are quintessentially French: Tarte a l’Onion, Cassoulet au Confit de Canard and a Macaron Chocolat Framboise. There are no non-alcoholic beverage options so you may want to make your Sparkling Cider from Cider House last through France, or buy an extra if you want a non-alcoholic drink. There is a gluten-free and vegetarian small plate available.
I opted for the Tarte a l’Onion Alsacienne since I had just had a sweeter small plate at Cider House. Let me say this upfront: I am not a huge fan of onions, but I LOVED this tart. For an Outdoor Kitchen I was surprised how flaky the crust was, and the rosemary and thyme perfectly complemented the understated onion flavor.
For my beverage I chose the La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush. Last year I had the Ice Pop Grand Marnier Peach Cocktail and the Kir Imperial (both delicious, although on a hot day the Ice Pop melts quickly), so I wanted to try something different this year. I was a little skeptical of this pink drink, but my skepticism was very misplaced. Not only is it served in a fun glass, it was very refreshing and the alcohol taste was not overpowering. I tend not to like sweet drinks, and this drink is somewhat sweet, but the St. Germain liqueur adds a bright floral elderflower note offset by the tartness of the cranberry juices. I already am researching how to make this drink at home.
Florida Fresh (between France and Morocco)
Florida Fresh is exactly that – full of fresh food and beverages. This Outdoor Kitchen offers 2 gluten-free options as well as a vegetarian option, and 2 non-alcoholic beverage selections. I could easily eat every small plate here and try several beverages on a day when I am not trying to sample all 13 Outdoor Kitchens, although I must confess, I couldn’t resist sampling 2 of the beverages.
I am one of those people who loves kale, so I wanted to try the Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Almonds, Goat Cheese and White Balsamic Vinaigrette, but with a tree nut allergy I wasn’t sure I could eat this small plate. Not surprisingly, the Chef at this Outdoor Kitchen had no problem accommodating my food allergy. Because the food is all made to order, they were able to specially make the salad for me with fresh gloves and without any almonds. Just one of the many reasons I love Walt Disney World Resort. My friend ordered the Shrimp and Stone-ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro and declared it as delicious as the Kale Salad. Pair the two together and you would have a complete meal.
When it came to selecting a beverage, I had a very hard time making a decision, so I went with an alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage. The non-alcoholic Watermelon Cucumber Slush sounded too refreshing to pass up, and I was very intrigued by the Key Lime Sparkling Wine. I am very glad I was so indecisive, as these were both deliciously unique drinks. The Watermelon Cucumber Slush was cool, sweet and refreshing all at the same time. As with the sparkling cider at Cider House, this is a great beverage option for kids, not to mention packs a pretty decent amount of nutrients. Yet another beverage I will attempt to recreate at home.
The Key Lime Sparkling Wine is one of my favorite beverages of the entire festival. I love sparkling wine and this was brought to another level with the addition of the tart key lime flavor. With crisp tart citrus this sparkling wine was bursting with flavor. Produced in Florida by Florida Orange Groves Winery, it was like drinking Florida with bubbles in a glass. Definitely an alcoholic beverage not to be missed at the festival.
Taste of Marrakesh, Morocco
Dining at Restaurant Marrakesh has long been on my bucket list, so I was especially looking forward to this Outdoor Kitchen. It includes two vegetarian options for small plates, but no non-alcoholic drinks. I love cucumbers so I chose the Falafel pocket with Cucumber-Tomato Salad and Tahini Sauce paired with a Desert Rose (sparkling wine topped with Pomegranate Liqueur).
If you like falafel, this is your dish. The tahini sauce had a perfect garlicky lemon flavor that paired well with the cucumber-tomato salad and falafel. I especially liked the contrast of the cucumber tomato salad to the falafel. This small plate would easily be enough for me for an entire lunch. Pair it with the Baklava and you have a delicious Mediterranean meal. Add the Desert Rose, sparkling wine topped with pomegranate liqueur, and you have a complete dining experience.
Hanami in Japan is an Outdoor Kitchen I look forward to every year for one particular small plate: Frushi. I do love sushi but even if I didn’t I would love this dish. Fresh pineapple, strawberry and melon rolled with raspberry coconut rice, sprinkled with toasted coconut and finished with whipped cream is a small plate and dessert all rolled into one. Not too sweet but bursting with a variety of fruit flavors with coconut overtones. This is definitely a plate I never share.
Hanami has one vegetarian small plate, but no non-alcoholic drinks. As a side note, when we first tried to go to this kitchen the line was incredibly long, so we circled back later that evening. You may want to keep this in mind if you want to be certain to visit this Outdoor Kitchen.
I paired the Frushi with Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy. This is one of the strongest alcoholic drinks I had from the Outdoor Kitchens. It is refreshing but for me, definitely packed a punch. Slightly sweet, it was a very nice complement for the Frushi. Just keep in mind that while it is a pretty pastel color and looks like an Icee, it is no a frou-frou drink by any means.
The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews, The American Adventure
The name pretty much describes everything offered at this Outdoor Kitchen. Take one look around and with this massive smoker, you know the chefs mean business here.
The Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapeños quickly became legendary after it was introduced, and rightfully so, but as a native of the bourbon capital of the world, Kentucky, I had my eyes set on the Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans. In addition to this vegetarian dish, a gluten-free small plate also is available. There are two non-alcoholic beverages available, Frozen Lemonade and Sweet Tea.
Once again, the Chef at this kitchen was more than accommodating when I asked if it was possible to have the Warm Chocolate Cake without the Spiced Pecans. My small plate was specially made with clean gloves and extra attention. I just love that Walt Disney World Resort makes these efforts to accommodate guests with food allergies.
I ordered the Warm Chocolate Cake thinking I would only take a few bites as I was a bit full by this point, but I have to admit, I ate the entire dish. With intense chocolate flavor, warm and covered with a sweet and salty caramel sauce with hints of smoky bourbon flavor, this decadent cake was addicting. I would have licked the plate had I been alone in my own house. Pair with the Beef Brisket, Pulled Pig Slider or the Smoked Pork Ribs for an unbelievably delicious all-American meal. I opted for the Sweet Tea at this location to truly round out my American experience.
My friend had what she billed as one of her all time favorites, the Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapeños. This dish is infamous for all the right reasons, and it has built a cult following since its debut last year. She was gracious enough to share this picture so you can see why guests are obsessed with this small plate. Definitely not a small plate to miss.
Primavera Kitchen, Italy
Primavera Kitchen in Italy is one Outdoor Kitchen to visit if you are looking for a truly hearty small plate. With one vegetarian and one gluten-free option, as well as 11 alcoholic beverages, to me this is the Outdoor Kitchen to visit if you are using Disney Dining Plan Snack Credits. The Pollo alla Parmigiana and Mezze Lune Primavera both are small plates that could easily serve as small dinner or lunch entrees.
I opted for the Mezze Lune Primavera, egg pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach in a creamy sauce with spring vegetables and pecorino cheese. For me this was definitely not a “small” plate. It was everything one would expect from an Italian pasta dish, creamy, delicious and sparked with just a touch of saltiness from the pecorino cheese. My friend chose the Polla all Parmigiana, a classic chicken parmesan dish with breaded breast of chicken, tomato, parmesan and mozzarella cheese and declared it equally delicious.
Unfortunately, I was not as happy with my drink. Of everything I ate and drank during this foodie escapade, which was a lot, my drink in Italy was the only one I was not thrilled about. Deciding I wanted to try something different, I chose the Rossini, sparkling wine and marinated strawberries. Everyone loves champagne and strawberries so I was excited to try this combination, expecting to see actual marinated strawberries in the bottom of my glass with the sparkling wine. Instead, I watched as the Cast Member squirted out some prepackaged strawberry puree into the bottom of the glass and then poured the sparkling wine over it. It did not produce a light bubbly beverage with a hint of fresh strawberries. Instead it was over-sweet with flavors that did not meld well together. Even the bubbles seemed sad and the effervescence died quickly. Next visit I will stick with a Prosecco or Moscato.
Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market, Germany
Bauernmarkt is another Outdoor Kitchen that provides stick to your ribs food that can easily serve as a entree or meal. Not surprisingly, beer is the predominant beverage, and no non-alcoholic beverages are served here. With a gluten-free and vegetarian option, the Chicken Fricassee, Currywurst with Paprika Chips, or the “Armer Ritter” Egg Battered Toast are all small plates that will not leave you hungry.
I chose the Chicken Fricasse with Green Asparagus and Peas served with Uncle Ben’s® Rice Pilaf. This dish was delicious and was like pulling a chair up to the table at your grandmother’s house for a unbelievable home cooked meal. This also would be a small plate many kids would enjoy and would be a great option for lunch or dinner for kids. I paired this dish with the Hugo-Charles de Fere “Organic” Brut with Elderflower and Mint. I prefer a drier sparkling wine so this Brut was perfect, with the Elderflower and Mint adding a delicate floral undertone with a hint of mint.
My friend opted for the “Armer Ritter” Egg Battered Toast with Cherry Compote and Powdered Sugar and gave it a definitive two thumbs up. A drier french toast, the tartness of the cherry compote was perfect and produced a well balanced meal or dessert.
Lotus House, China
Like Hanami in Japan, I look forward to visiting Lotus House each year as I cannot leave the festival without having the Beijing-Style Candied Strawberries. Two of the three small plates offered are vegetarian, and while there are no non-alcoholic beverages, the beverages that are offered are very unique, including the Dragon Pearl (beer, honey, cream and tapioca pearls) and Oolong Peach Bubble Tea. I tried the Oolong Peach Bubble Tea because, well, anything with the word “bubble” in it had to be interesting.
As in years past, the Beijing-Style Candied Strawberries did not disappoint – fresh strawberries coated in a hard sugar syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Delicious is all I can say – there is something about cracking through the hard outer shell to a fresh fragrant strawberry, with the added salty crunch of the sesame seeds. The Oolong Peach Bubble Tea was a wonderful complement. I have to admit, the tapioca pearls were a bit weird for me to have in my drink at first, but that is most likely due to the fact that I had never had a bubble tea before. The tea taste was creamy and slightly sweet with chewy tapioca pearls.
Jardin de Fiestas, Mexico
I had such a hard time deciding which small plate to try at this Outdoor Kitchen as they all looked outstanding: Tacos de Camarón (tempura shrimp served with hibiscus flower, caramelized onions and habanero sauce); Corn Tortilla Quesadilla served with Roasted Mushrooms and Zucchini Blossom topped with Green Tomatillo Sauce; and Flan de Rosas served with Hibiscus Reduction. The last two small plates are vegetarian offerings. Three beverages are offered, all alcoholic. The Elderflower Watermelon Sangria was too tempting to pass up, which I paired with the Corn Tortilla Quesadilla.
I have had many variations of sangria in the past, and the combination of elderflower and watermelon was a perfect match. Fruity and fragrant with just the right amount of watermelon flavor, this sangria was unique and refreshing. Yet again another drink I am determined to replicate at home. It was a nice complement to the Corn Tortilla Quesadilla filled with warm gooey cheese, pungent roasted mushrooms and zucchini blossom.
My friend opted for the Tacos de Camarón, and while she enjoyed the flavors in the dish, with so much sauce it was hard to eat this small plate as a taco. If you want to eat it more like a taco than with a fork, ask for less sauce when ordering.
La Isla Fresca, World Showcase Promenade
This Outdoor Kitchen is new this year, and with a Jamaican flair, this kitchen is all about flavor. It offers a gluten-free and vegetarian small plate, as well as a non-alcoholic beverage option. While the Jamaican-braised Beef with Pigeon Pea Rice and Micro Cilantro was tempting, as was the Tres Leches with Guava Purée, the Jerk-spice Grouper with Mango Salsa, Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette was calling my name. You also can get this dish with chicken instead of grouper. I opted for a non-alcoholic beverage here, choosing the Frozen Simply Tropical™ Juice Drink. I loved this small plate and the beverage – the beverage in particular would be a great option for kids as it is akin to a fruit slushy, but with a sweet mango flavor that may be a new taste experience for many kids. The jerk-spice grouper was bursting with flavor and, as with many small plates, was substantial enough to be a small entree. I particularly enjoyed the tart citrus flavors of the lime offset by the fresh cilantro, heat of the jerk-spice and sweetness of the mango.
Pineapple Promenade, World Showcase Promenade
This Outdoor Kitchen offers a Spicy Hot Dog with Pineapple Chutney and Taro Chips and Pineapple Soft-serve (vegetarian) for small plates, as well as a non-alcoholic beverage option. Either of these small plates are a great choice, and paired together make a perfect lunch or small dinner option. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love Pineapple Soft Serve?
While I was intrigued by the Sparkling Pineapple Wine, I was even more intrigued by the Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade, and not only because I had had many alcoholic drinks over the course of the day and evening by this point. This drink is the most beautiful color of purplish pink. It completely looks like it could be nothing other than refreshing and wonderful to taste. And it was. Undoubtedly this will be the drink of choice for my 8-year-old purple and pink loving daughter, not only because it is lemonade, but because it is purplish pink.
While I am immensely proud of my passport with all of its stamps, I am really looking forward to returning to the festival in a few weeks to try more small plate and beverage options. Thankfully on my next trip I will have several days to make my way around the World Showcase and Showcase Promenade – who knows, maybe my challenge on this next trip will be to fill in the blanks and be able to say that I tried EVERY single small plate and beverage available from the festival? Check back in a couple of weeks to see how I did.
Lastly, I have to thank my friends Joyce and Jessica for accompanying me along this culinary adventure, as well as our friend in spirit, Linda. It would not have been as fun or entertaining without them along for the ride.