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March 1, 2016

Preview 2016 Outdoor Kitchens at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

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Now in their fourth year, the Outdoor Kitchens at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival are as much a part of the festival experience as the beautiful blooms. With multiple dishes and drinks at 13 kitchens, there is a lot of sampling to be done!

I attended the Tables in Wonderland preview on Friday, where I was invited to taste many of the new foods and beverages that will be available to the public, beginning Wednesday. Here are my thoughts about what you will find. Of course, different people have different palates, but perhaps my suggestions will give you a starting point in your culinary journey and help ensure you don’t miss the best of what the festival has to offer!

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Jerk-spice Chicken

There are two new outdoor kitchens in 2016: La Isla Fresca and Cider House. La Isla Fresca is located on the World Showcase Promenade and will feature items inspired by Caribbean flavors. I tried the Jerk-spice Chicken with Mango Salsa Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette and enjoyed it. Some guests at my table noted that the dish was a little spicy, but it did not seem overpowering to me. The booth also will have Jamaican-braised Beef with Pigeon Pea Rice and Micro Cilantro and, for dessert, Tres Leches with Guava Puree. Beverages will include Red Stripe Jamaican Style Lager and Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink (with and without Mango Rum).

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Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare


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Land-harvested Field Greens


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Cider House beverages

From Cider House, which is located in the United Kingdom, we could try the House-made Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare and the Land-harvested Field Greens with Apples, Dried Blueberries, Stilton Cheese and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. I’m not a big fan of fish so I skipped the salmon dish, but I really liked the salad and would purchase it at the festival. This kitchen also will feature Pear Cider-brined Shredded Corned Beef with Braised Cabbage and Pears and Branston Dressing and Freshly Baked Lemon Scone with Créme Fraiche and Mixed Berries. Cider House will, of course, have a selection of fruit-flavored hard ciders – pear, black cherry and blueberry – plus a sparkling cider. Guests also can try the Cigar City Brewing Tampa-style Lager by itself or mixed with McKenzie's Black Cherry Hard Cider to create a Snakebite. In addition, there is a beer and cider flight available.

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Currywurst with Paprika Chips


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Armer Ritter

Bauernmarkt: Farmer's Market is returning to Germany after a two-year absence from the festival. At the preview, we could sample two dishes: Currywurst with Paprika Chips and Armer Ritter (Egg-battered Toast with Cherry Compote and Powdered Sugar). I didn’t get a chance to try the currywurst, but I loved the Armer Ritter, which is like French Toast. The other new dish at Bauernmarkt is Chicken Fricassee with Green Asparagus and Peas served with Uncle Ben's Rice Pilaf. These items are paired with Hugo-Charles de Fere "Organic" Brut with Elderflower and Mint and a selection of lagers and beers and a beer flight.

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Florida Larder Board

The Florida Fresh kitchen has a new Florida Larder Board that contains all Orlando-sourced ingredients: Ricotta Cheese, Cahaba Farms Micro Onions, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic, Country Pate and House-Made Pickles. I was told by pate lovers that this combination was delicious. Florida Fresh also has a new Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Almonds, Goat Cheese and White Balsamic Vinaigrette that will be available at the festival. New drinks include Watermelon Cucumber Slush with Hendrick's Gin (or without), Sea Dog Acai Berry Hefeweizen and non-alcoholic Fresh-squeezed Watermelon Juice.

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Mezze Lune Primavera


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Cremoso al Pistacchio

Primavera Kitchen in Italy will be serving up a new version of its perennial favorite, ravioli: Mezze Lune Primavera (Egg Pasta stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach in a Creamy Sauce with Spring Vegetables and Pecorino Cheese). I tasted this at the preview lunch and enjoyed the mild flavors, which are sure to appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. The new dessert, Cremoso al Pistacchio: Pistacchio Cream, Strawberries and Mascarpone Cream, also offered muted flavors, but in this case, I found them to be more bland than tasty. The other new Italian dish guests can try is Pollo alla Parmigiana: Breaded Breast of Chicken, Tomato, Parmesan and Mozzarella Cheese.

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The Great American Wine Company Red Blend

Located at The American Adventure, The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews kitchen is always popular with festival-goers. There is one new meat dish this year -- Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad. Sadly, the Piggylicious Bacon Cupcake has been replaced with the Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans. I’m sure I will try this new dessert at the festival, but the combination of flavors in the Piggylicious cupcake was something to look forward to all year. There also is a new beer, Orlando Brewing Company Uncle Matt's Organic Grapefruit Pale Ale, and a wine, The Great American Wine Company Red Blend.

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Beef Teriyaki Udon

At Japan’s Hanami kitchen, be sure to try the new Beef Teriyaki Udon, which is thin-sliced beef, onions and noodles, tossed on the grill with soy and ginger. This dish was available at the preview lunch, and it was really delicious. Japan also is introducing Chicken Edamame Bun: Steamed Bun filled with Chicken and Edamame and topped with Curry Sauce and Suigei Sake this year.

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Macaron Chocolat Framboise

Even when it’s not time for Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival, France is known for its mouth-watering desserts. But a new macaroon was so popular at the preview lunch that the station ran out before the end of the event! If you’re a fan of macaroons, you’ll want to make a beeline for the France kitchen to sample the Macaron Chocolat Framboise (Large Raspberry Macaron with Chocolate Fudge and Raspberry Jam). While you’re there, you also might want to check out the new Tarte a l'Onion Alsacienne: Alsatian Onion Tart with Sauteed Onions, Fresh Thyme and Rosemary on a Flaky Puff Pastry Crust.

At the Tables in Winderland event, we also were treated to returning menu items that have become guest favorites. Among them: Watermelon Salad with pickled Onions, B&W Gourmet Farms Baby Arugula, Feta and Balsamic Reduction (Urban Farm EATS); Shrimp and Stone-ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro (Florida Fresh); and Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapenos (the Smokehouse). My family and I also look forward to the return of Frushi - Fresh pineapple, strawberries and melon, rolled with coconut rice, topped with raspberry sauce, sprinkled with toasted coconut and served with whipped cream on the side (Hanami); Pulled Pig Slider with Crispy Onions and Coleslaw (The Smokehouse); Beijing Style Candied Strawberries (Lotus House); and Pineapple Soft-Serve (Pineapple Promenade).

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Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade


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Sparkling Pineapple Wine & Key Lime Sparkling Wine

I also tasted three returning beverages that I somehow missed last year, and I won’t make that mistake again when I’m strolling around World Showcase this year. Two of them are conveniently located at Pineapple Promenade at the front of the Showcase. Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade is a non-alcoholic drink that is presented with a real, edible flower garnish, and the Sparkling Pineapple Wine was appealing to someone who isn’t a regular wine drinker. From the same winery, Florida Orange Groves in St. Petersburg, Fla., comes the Key Lime Sparkling Wine at Florida Fresh. Both wines were refreshing and sweet without being cloying.

Epcot Executive Chef Gregg Hannon gives his recommendations for guests with different food preferences in the video below:

Find out how to pair beverages with the dishes at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival, as well as what not to miss this year, in the video below:

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its Tables in Wonderland Epcot Flower and Garden preview event. My opinions are my own.



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March 21, 2013

Kids tour Epcot Flower and Garden Festival TRYit food booths and rate favorite menu items

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Last weekend, Deb and I walked around World Showcase with my 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Our goal was to have the kids sample the TRYit selections at each Garden Marketplace so we could give readers an idea of where their time and money would best be spent.

TRYits are foods that Disney chefs have prepared to encourage kids to try something new. The term TRYit, though, has been associated with Disney's Magic of Healthy Eating campaign for some time now. The national initiative, which was launched in 2010, aims to help children and their parents lead healthier lives. It focuses on nutritional guidelines and, most recently, standards for food advertising. One of the touchstones of the campaign is teaching kids to try new foods and activities.

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Fruits By The Glass

We started our food journey with the Fruits By The Glass booth in the center of World Showcase Plaza. The TRYit is a Wild Berry Slush for $2.50. It was no surprise to me that both kids loved this drink. After all, it essentially is a fruit smoothie, and they would drink those every day if they were allowed. My children also shared the Honest Kids Super Fruit Punch ($2.75), which is a juice pouch that is available at most of the Garden Marketplaces. They said that it tasted "watered down," which I'm sure is because of the low sugar content, especially when compared with the Capri-Suns they normally drink. A better option for them and other kids more accustomed to something sweeter probably would have been the Minute Maid Light Lemonade for the same price.

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Pineapple Promenade

Next, we decided to walk counter-clockwise around the lake. At the Pineapple Promenade, there are no TRYits, so we moved on. The adults, however, reserved the right to come back and reward themselves with the Dole Whip with Siesta Key Spiced Rum after the afternoon trek.

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The Cottage: Savories, Trifles and Tea

In the United Kingdom, chefs suggest that kids try the Baked Goat's Brie with Kumquat Chutney ($4.50) and the Waterkist Farms Heirloom Tomatoes with house-made Mozzarella, Minus 8 Vinegar and Basil ($3.50). Both of my children liked the brie, which is baked in a flakey pastry and served with a sweet chutney. When Deb Koma sampled this dish, she noted that the chutney made what could be an excellent dish too sweet for her taste. But perhaps that is the difference between a refined adult palate and a child's taste for as sugary treats - and the sweeter the better. The Heirloom Tomatoes were not met with the same enthusiasm, though; my daughter liked them better than my son did.

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L'Orangerie

We arrived in France, and the kids saw they would be tasting the Tarte á la Ratatouille et frommage de chévre (zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, onions and tomato tart with goat cheese -- $4.50). That doesn't sound too kid-friendly, does it? Both kids sampled the dish, but it was my daughter who was quite enthusiastic about it. I took a bite and enjoyed the tarte. I would compare it to a thin-crust pizza topped with an abundance of vegetables. Although it wasn't a TRYit, the Verrine charlotte au péches (carmelized peaches with rosemary and light vanilla cream -- $5) also was on our list to sample. This resembles a fruit parfait and is quite appealing visually. Unfortunately, both the kids and adults in our group agreed it was delicious until your spoon tucked into the rosemary sauce, which left an unfamiliar if not unpleasant aftertaste.

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Taste of Marrakesh

In Morocco, the TRYit is Baghrir (a Moroccan pancake with honey, almonds and Argan Oil -- $3). While both children were willing to try this dish, I don't think they were able to get past their Western association of syrup with a sweet pancake, and they definitely didn't like the nuts. They also sampled the Harissa and Lemon Confit Chicken Drumettes with chermoula and cucumber salad ($5), which is not a TRYit. But with chicken a perennial kid favorite, we thought we'd give it go. Both children did like the chicken, though they were slightly unaccustomed to its spicy flavor.

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Hanami

I'm not sure how everyone was still hungry when we got to Japan, but we ordered one of each dish. Both children really liked the YakiSoba Pan (fresh grilled vegetables, carrots, onions and cabbage with Japanese noodles and teriyaki sauce served on a bun with mayonnaise and Beni Shoga -- $4) and didn't want to put it down. My daughter and another friend in our party tried the Chirashi Hanazushi (grilled salmon, cooked shrimp, and crab stick served over a bed of fragrant ginger rice with Volcana and Dynamite sauce -- $6). They both declared it good but so hot and spicy that their eyes watered. The TRYit for this Garden Marketplace is the dessert Frushi (fresh strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe rolled with coconut rice atop a raspberry sauce sprinkled with toasted coconut and whipped cream -- $4.50). Both kids enjoyed this dish, and my picky son actually asked for seconds.

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The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews

The smells of good old barbecue at the American Adventure led us to the courtyard, where traditional favorites are served. There are no TRYits at this marketplace. Still, we ordered the Pulled Pig Slider with Cole Slaw ($5.50) for the kids because they enjoyed a similar item at last fall's Food & Wine Festival. Unfortunately, this was not the same thing, and they just picked at it. The adults in our group raved about the Smoked Beef Brisket with Collard Greens and Jalapeño Corn Bread ($6.75) and the Rocky Road Brownie Mousse ($3). My husband tried the Beer Flight: Mama's Little Yella Pils, (pilsner), Liberty Ale (IPA), and two organic selections: Red Ale, Blackwater Porter ($13). He said it was a good sampling of beer he typically wouldn't encounter in the parks. He especially enjoyed the smooth porter, though he said he would have like a little more bitterness in the IPA.

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Primavera Kitchen

Next door in Italy, the Lasagna Primavera (spinach Lasagna, green peas, zucchini, mushrooms, broccolini, béchamel and fresh tomatoes with garlic and basil leaves -- $6) is the TRYit selection. We all gave this "two thumbs up," or as my daughter says, "10 Mickey fingers." Despite the greenery, the kids were willing to taste this lasagna and actually enjoyed it. Deb didn't have to twist the kids' arms to get them to try yet another dessert -- the Panna Cotta al Limoncello (limoncello flavored Panna Cotta with wild berries -- $5). They liked the overall dessert well enough, but it was the berries that really excited them the most.

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Bauermarkt: Farmer's Market

Germany was my children's favorite stop on our food tour. They still are talking about the food they ate there! The TRYit is a Potato Pancake with house-made Apple Sauce ($2.75). The applesauce usually is served on top of the pancake, but we asked for it in a separate container, and both children liked the dish divided this way. The real must-have, though, is the German Meatloaf Sandwich with Sweet Mustard and Fried Shallots ($3.75), which is not a TRYit. My daughter loves meatloaf anyway, and my son does not. Both, however, could not stop eating this sandwich. They said the meatloaf actually tastes more like a sausage.

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Lotus House

Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes! My children tasted their third version of the day in China with the Spring Pancake with Grilled Chicken and Green Apple ($4.50), which is the TRYit. This combination did not wow anyone in our group. However, my daughter ate every one of the crunchy pieces of fruit in the Beijing-Style Candied Strawberries ($3.50).

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Jardin de Fiestas

The TRYit in Mexico is another dessert: Flan de Guayaba (guava custard -- $3.50). We somehow skipped this Garden Marketplace, and I think it was because we all were trying to save room for the goodies at the next, and final, food booth.

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Florida Fresh

Perhaps one of the most-talked-about dishes at the Flower & Garden Festival is the Watermelon Salad with pickled Red Onions, BW Farms Baby Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction ($3.50). It also happens to be a TRYit. Certainly my children like watermelon, but I was curious to see if the addition of red onions would stop them from enjoying this version. It did not, though they had to compete with the adults for the remainder. The other TRYit at this marketplace is the Angel Food Cake with macerated Florida Berries ($3.25). It, too, was a hit. Finally, my son wanted to compare the Strawberry Slush ($2.50) with its Wild Berry counterpart he had first sampled. The verdict: Wild Berry is better, though he wouldn't turn either down.

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What did we learn from our fun-filled feast around World Showcase Lagoon?

All kids, of course, have different tastes and culinary expectations. Such was true of my oldest child, who was more reserved in his excitement about new food dishes, and my youngest, who was more adventuresome and willing to try new things.

Yet it was clear that, regardless of whether my kids enjoyed all the menu items they tried, our station-to-station journey showed just how much variety there is in TRYit dishes at this year's Flower & Garden Festival. With a little effort to try something new, it's quite possible your children will find their own unique TRYit dish, and they just might LIKEit, as well.

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