The biggest “new” feature at the 2013 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is the introduction of 12 Garden Marketplaces (similar to Food and Wine Marketplaces). Stationed in front of each marketplace are at least two giant planters overflowing with fresh-growing produce -- vegetables and herbs, ingredients all used in the dishes being prepared in the marketplaces' tiny kitchens. The tie-in with the Flower and Garden Festival was obvious, and I thought made a lot of sense. Why not showcase the seasonality and freshness of the ingredients in an event that is essentially all about reconnecting with nature?
> GALLERY: Flower & Garden Festival Highlights - Part 2
Deb Koma’s Top Picks
Winner #1: Shrimp and stone-ground grits with andouille sausage, Zellwood corn, tomatoes and cilantro, from the Florida Fresh Marketplace ($5.50). Tender, perfectly cooked and seasoned shrimp coupled with creamy grits and a subtle kick of spicy sausage made for my favorite dish of the festival.
Winner #2: Watermelon Salad with pickled red onions, baby arugula, feta cheese and balsamic reduction, also at the Florida Fresh Marketplace ($3.50). Who would have thought that the sharpness of feta would pair so well with juicy, sweet watermelon and onions? The combination of tastes and textures -- sweet, salty, crunchy, crumbly -- made for a totally surprising, and totally delicious, dish.
Winner #3: Lasagna Primavera at the Primavera Kitchen (Italy) $6.00: Vegetable lasagna NEVER tasted so good. A slightly sweet tomato sauce, tender spinach pasta sheets, layered with peas, zucchini, mushrooms, broccolini and some of the best bechamel sauce I've had in a long time. The only reason I didn't go back for seconds was because the portion size was so generous.
Honorable Mentions: Limoncello Panna Cotta with wild berries $5.00 and Green Asparagus and lobster with garden cocktail sauce $7.75 (both at Primavera Kitchen); Frushi $4.50 (Fruit Sushi at Hanami); and Rocky Road Brownie Mousse $3.00 (The Smokehouse).
Deb Wills’s Top Picks
Winner #1 Potato, Chive and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare and Sour Cream $4.25 – The Cottage – The savory biscuit complimented the salmon perfectly and the touch of sour cream added additional flavor. The salmon is fresh, biscuit is large and filling – well worth the price!
Winner #2 Baghrir - Moroccan pancake with honey, almonds and Argan Oil $3.00. Delightful blend of flavors but be sure to ask them to go LIGHT on the Honey and Oil!
Winner #3 Waterkist Farms Heirloom Tomatoes with house-made Mozzarella, Minus 8 Vinegar and Basil - $3.50 – The Cottage – farm fresh tomatoes and creamy mozzarella topped lightly by the vinegar and basil, surprised this wasn’t offered at Florida Fresh.
Winner #4 Smoked Beef Brisket with Collard Greens and Jalapeno Corn Bread $6.75 - Not sure why I included this one as I don't eat collard greens or care for Jalapeno. I think the smells from here influenced me, yea that's it! But seriously, I thought the brisket was very good.
Honorable Mention: Grilled salmon, cooked shrimp, and crab stick served over a bed of fragrant ginger rice with Volcana and Dynamite sauce $6.00 (Hanami), Limoncello Panna Cotta with wild berries $5.00 – Primavera Kitchen; Rocky Road Brownie Mousse $3.00 (The Smokehouse).
The Deb’s agree thumbs down to: Ginger and Green Tea Trifle at The Cottage, Guava Flan at Jardin de Fiestas, Dried out Ratatouille Tart with Goat Cheese at L'Orangerie, and the heavy and dry Savory Bread Pudding with Peas and Mushroom Ragout.
While lots of the items were fresh and tasty the biggest complaint we both have is that the natural goodness was often masked under gorpy, sweet sauces and dressings. The Angel Food Cake with macerated strawberries at Florida Fresh, for example, was nearly ruined by the gloppy, oversweetened strawberry sauce. It was so much better when the chef prepared a separate dish using only plain, fresh berries with the cream on the side. We had a similar issue with the Baked Goat's Brie with Kumquat Chutney, a savory pastry pocket with a scant amount of cheese, drowning in what tasted like peach pie filling. This had the potential to be a favorite -- love goat cheese, love pastry, love kumquat. Instead it fell somewhere in the middle, after I scraped off most of the chutney.
TIP: Ask for sauces and dressings to be served on the side.
For comprehensive information on this year’s Epcot Flower and Garden Festival visit http://allears.net
Debra Martin Koma, AllEars.Net's Senior Editor, fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit there -- when she was 35! She's lost count of how often she's returned to her Laughing Place in the ensuing years, but knows that she still isn't tired of it. (And doubts she ever will be.). AllEars.net (established 1996) is the ultimate independent website covering Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line and SeaWorld.
Deb Wills is the founder and webmaster of AllEars.Net (established January 1996), which also publishes the AllEars weekly e-newsletter. A veteran of numerous trips to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Deb is an internationally recognized expert on these vacation destinations, as well as on the Disney Cruise Line. Follow Deb on Twitter at @allearsdeb.