Friday, May 30, 2014

Busch Gardens Food & Wine 2014: Food, Glorious Food!

                           Caribbean Kiosk in between Land of the Dragons and Germany

Oh my, food glorious food. And true to its higher standards (not your typical theme park food) the Food & Wine Festival at Busch Gardens did not disappoint.  If you can fully immerse yourself into the experience, you can have a lovely-pseudo European vacation, in just a day or two right here in the United States.

                                                  Walkway into Germany from France

Busch Gardens Williamsburg was previously named “The Old Country” because of its theming. The park is sectioned as European countries, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, France and “New France” (which is the France of Canada). So you are already enjoying themed architecture, specialty shops and food from those areas. The Food & Wine Festival is Busch Gardens food “kicked up a notch” as Emeril would say. If you have never eaten at Busch Gardens then you may not understand what this means. But it isn't your typical theme park food, sure there are burgers and pizza available in two of the six main dining locations,  but overall the food is specialized to the area--such as Irish stew in an Irish soda bread bowl in Ireland, or the German sausage platter with 3 types of sausages, cabbage and German potato salad in Germany. (Both meals are also under $10.) Offering themed dishes is of course delightful (ask anyone who loves Epcot), but it is the quality and the price that makes it outstanding. According to executive chef Justin Watson all the food in Busch Gardens is made from higher quality products. Much of it is fresh and some is locally sourced. All fish products are sustainable. And the desserts, well they are baked on premises, fresh and delicious.

                                    Strawberry shortcake, with real cream and real strawberries.

The festival was inspired by the current trend of "street food" that is mobile and in smaller portions allowing foodies to taste many items. So you can enjoy the many different foods from all of these countries in a true park setting (with fun rides and live entertainment). Busch Gardens is aptly named because the park is full of trees, flowers and shrubs; it is not like many theme parks full of concrete and no shade. Frankly, I can spend the day here and ride next to nothing and still feel like I had a wonderful time, it’s that beautiful.

                                                       The Gardens in Italy

                                                   View from the bridge into Ireland

                                           Canada kiosk, featuring Pumpkin Mousse

There are 14 kiosks and about 55 tastings available (not including beverages), though we did not eat every single item, we did enjoy about 20 tastings over the weekend.  Some were better values than others, and some were so delicious you will want to make a meal out of them. Like most things, each tasting, still comes down to personal taste.

                                                        Entrance to Ireland 

You can also enhance your European vacation by enjoying Europe in the Air in the Ireland section of the park; here you can take a journey through most of the same lands represented in Busch Gardens, in just 17 minutes. I don’t advise eating first, it’s not the type of ride to make you sick, however it is a little jarring to those with sensitive systems and eyes. I am someone who cannot ride things like the Battering Ram, or any type of ride that spins (yes, even the carousel makes me queasy) I have ridden this at least a half a dozen times, probably more. I know to close my eyes when the clouds show up in the show meaning we are taking off like lightning speed to our next destination.

                                                           Ice Sculpting in Ireland

One of our favorite foods was outside of Germany (between the Land of the Dragons and Germany) at the newly created Caribbean kiosk. The Jamaican Jerk Chicken was good on every level, from the flavor of the meat, the pineapple salsa, the guava barbecue sauce and the value. I am not a fan of BBQ sauce, too much vinegar normally-however the smoothness of the guava made me appreciate it. At the same stand you can also get Gamba Friiters (Gamba means shrimp) which was right up there with my favorites, which really there were too many and it almost dosen't seem fair to number them.

                                      Jamaican Jerk Chicken at Caribbean Kiosk outside Germany.

As far as best bang for your buck, if you are hungry I recommend the Pork Schnitzel sandwich in Oktoberfest section of Germany, it is a more thin than thick slice of breaded pork, topped with a caper sauce and slice of lemon. If you love curry, you must get the Curry Kielbasa…just the right spice without being spicy.  Over in Canada the Venison Sausage & Corn Porridge was one of the best things I have ever tasted. It was a nice size portion. If you have never had venison this is the time to try it. If you love seafood, the mussels in France are also an excellent choice, they were all open, beautiful and a nice portion for $5. 

                                        Venison & Corn Porridge with caramelized onions

                                           Gamba (Shrimp) Fritters at Caribbean kiosk

If you want to make your day simpler (it should be a vacation or at least a day off after all). Then consider the cashless wristbands, you can buy them in several areas of the park. There are two different spots before you even get to food (a well signed booth after the entrance but before the turnstiles and guest relations after you enter on the right), plus a few stores throughout the park. You can prepay with cash or link to a credit card. Then you just scan at the locations. If you don’t spend all of your cash, you stop at guest relations in England when exiting and they will refund you any money not spent. You can also purchase a Trio Certificate which will allow guests any 3 items (dessert, beverage or entree) for $12.

                             Cruising down the "Rhine River" in Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Va.

For a special treat you may want to spend the $20 and do the "Wine of the Rhine" cruise. During the festival you get to enjoy an extended version of the Rhine River cruise while listening to a jazz band and enjoying some fine cheese, fruit, wine, chocolate and some wine of course (juice for the kids).

                Chefs James Parker and James Butauski  creating art from watermelons. 

Even if you don’t wish to eat all day (maybe just drink) or perhaps you have a restrictive diet, there is more to the festival. There are three Art of Food booths (France, Ireland, Italy) where you can watch these master chefs carve beautiful sculptures out of food.  I can never understand how someone knows to make a rose out of watermelon, I can't even draw a rose. Chef James Parker said he can't draw one either and he doesn't plan what he sculpts,most of his sculptures take their own shape. Food isn't just sustenance, it is art, it's pleasure and it's culture. The festival celebrates all of this. Each kiosk also has information about the country represented, so you learn things like the country of Italy is the same size as the state of Arizona, and the lollipop originated in Spain.

Like many food & wine events, those who are the most adventurous will have the most choices. But there still are things you can try if you are vegetarian, vegan or even gluten free. Vegetarians can find items at every kiosk. When you get to the festival pick up a small guide with descriptions.  The truth is carnivores and vegetarians will have the most choices, but that can be expected for this type of event.

                         Time is ticking, don't miss out on the festival it only goes until June 29th

Facts on the Festival
Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Food & Wine Festival (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays May 23-June 29) included with admission to the park, pay for the tastings you wish to taste. Food becomes available at 11 A.M until the park closes.

Majority of tastings are $4-$5, most desserts are $2-$3. Some that are higher include the cheese plate in Italy, beer flight of 4 beer tastings in Germany and the cured salmon on a potato pancake in Scandinavia are all $12. And on the flip side the Toffee in Scotland is just $2 and enough for 3 people to taste.

There are 71 varieties of wine and beer available for tasting.

As 2 adults tasting around for dinner, the cost was about $40 for about 9 different tastings, which we shared. It was all plenty filling as a meal.

The kiosks/countries represented are : France,  Belgium, Coffee & Crepes (in France), Canada, American South West; Ireland, Scandinavia, Scotland, Italy , Spain, Greece; Germany, German Beer, Caribbean.

Every area has beer and wine tastings, except Spain, which only has Pancho Sangria.  You can also find cocktail tastings in the Caribbean, Scandinavia, France, Italy & Greece.

Festival is inspired by the popularity of street food that is mobile, and eating smaller portions so you can try more items.

The Caribbean Kiosk was added by facebook fans.

The Austria kiosk from last year was omitted but the 2 most popular items (Schnitzelwich and Linzer Torte) were added to Germany's kiosk. And 3 New kiosks were added (American Southwest, Scandinavia and Caribbean)

Vegan Options

Scotland: Neeps & Tatties - Roasted Turnips & potatoes with carrots and chives

France: Ratatouille (hold the parmesan bread crumb topping)

Caribbean:  Palm Salad -Palm hearts, black beans, shrimp and citrus on a bed of spinach-(hold the shrimp)

Spain: Tapas (paprika roasted marcona almonds, marinated olive medley, quince pasta); Gazpacho (chilled cucumber soup)-also comes with a salad that has fish and ham, but you can opt out of that or give it to someone else in your party.

Greece:  Greek Dip Trio (humus, Pasta Elias)-also comes with a feta dip; Salata (traditional Greek Salad with lemon vinaigrette, oregano & pita chips)

Unfortunately due to the fact the food was so delicious, sometimes we ate it up before we could photo it. 

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