Busch Gardens Williamsburg is always deserving of the title “America’s Most Beautiful Park.” And it truly is one of the best places a family can go for a good time, there is something here for everyone whether you are a thrill seeker, animal and nature lover, you enjoy live entertainment or are just there for the food. The Food & Wine Festival, suitable for all foodies, is also a grand time for the latter. As far as this review is concerned it will focus on the Food part. As it was too hot for me to drink (except for the Scotch Tasting, because it is rarely too hot for me to have that…which will be a separate piece)
The food at Busch Gardens is a much higher caliber than you will find at the majority of theme parks. All of their desserts are made on the premises, they smoke all of their own meats, the pasta and sauces are homemade and the fruits and much of the vegetables are locally sourced. According to Executive Chef Justin Watson "All of our fish is sustainable...and our ingredients come from higher quality products." Which I can attest you can fully taste (and feel if you have a sensitive system). Nearly everything is homemade.
The Mama Stella platter at Ristorante Della Plaza Italy(Chicken and Eggplant parmigiana and beef cannelloni) enough for 2 when getting dessert...or when you are very hungry
I would consider the event a walking tour of Europe and the tastes of culinary dishes from around the world without the high price tag. There are 13 kiosks, plus the Crepes and Coffees (in France) which is open year round. The samples range in price from $3-$7 and each kiosk has about 3 meal offerings, a dessert, and beverages. Most have wine or beer pairings, a few have alternate cocktails beverages such as Sangria in Spain, Frozen Hurricane in French Quarter, and Ouzo in Greece. The Asia kiosk also has 2 specialty drinks that are non-alcoholic. The portions are nice, where about 3 of them would equal a meal. Most kiosks offer specialty dishes such as vegetarian, gluten free and vegan, you will have to read the descriptions to decide which are your best choices.
A little "throwback" to when Ireland was Hastings in honor of the 40th anniversary
We went to Food & Wine last year as well. Between both years we have sampled from all the kiosks and most of the meal offerings (there are approximately 37 meals we have tried 28), and 6 out of 15 desserts. Each Kiosk has one, but Italy has 3 for the dessert lovers in your group. I am lacking a sweet tooth and when we were here most recently it was quite warm, and when it’s warm I stay away from dessert and alcohol so, I am still yearning to try the Pumpkin Mousse in Canada.
Last year we tried the Toffee in Scotland, Panna Cotta in Italy and the Chocolate Lava Cake in the American Southwest, all delicious.
You can see these are nice portions (the Panna Cotta is small so you can eat a second dessert!)
And this year we tried 3, the Bananas fosters cheesecake (France/French Quarter), Lemongrass & ginger custard (in between Italy and Fiesta Italy /Asia kiosk), and the Guinness Mousse in Ireland. I did have a bite of the Tiramisu in Italy, it was authentic, and once you try this you will be disappointed in the falsehood of what you thought Tiramisu was from places that don’t make it correctly.
Lemongrass & Ginger Custard from Asia Kiosk
The two new kiosks added this year are Asia and the French Quarter. You can find the Asia kiosk along the pathway from Pompeii to Italy/entrance to Fiesta Italy. We tasted everything they had to offer at the Asian kiosk, it was all delicious and light. The Lemongrass & Ginger custard was light and not overpowering in flavor, if you are leery of those give it at least 2 bites before you decide if you like it or not.
In Asia there is a lettuce wrap that was made with Tofu and we didn’t even know it, thought it was chicken and then read it was the vegan version, it did not disappoint.
The French Quarter, inspired by Cajun and french influences of New Orleans is located in France across from the shops near Griffin. We tried the Gumbo, Muffatta Sandwich, and the dessert in the French Quarter but unfortunately we were so hungry and it was do delicious we did not take any photos.
Everything in both new kiosk (and the festival in general) was incredible. I can see why they picked these two. We also tried the new Italian bites in Italy that replaced the previous one, my Dad a true carnivore was disappointed there wasn’t meat in it, but the spicy pickled veggies were delicious and the price tag was half of what it was last year. Nothing was disappointing, you can't go wrong really.
The extra work on making the kiosks themed and beautiful is well appreciated
Our Favorites from Food & Wine 2015:
Dessert: Bananas Foster Cheesecake at the French Quarter (even the employees throughout the park are drooling over this one)
2nd place- Guinness Mouse in Ireland. And its adorable, a chocolate mouse topped with cream to look like a glass of Guinness.
Appetizer: Greek Dip Trio in Greece (plenty to share) Feta dip, Humus and kalamata olive puree
or Gazpacho in Spain.
Meal: Bangers in Colcannon with Guinness brown sugar gravy in Ireland, which was a surprise to me, as Ireland isn't known for its cuisine. But everything about it was top notch, good value, appealing, great taste, fresh (they grill the sausage to order) and something I wouldn't make at home so it was a special treat.
2nd place: Venison Sausage and Corn Porridge in Canada
For a lighter dish: Lettuce wrap in Asia, or the Fish Taco in American Southwest (New France)
For the carnivore: the Pepper crusted sirloin in France in Brandy cream sauce, nice portion, delicious and tender. Jamaican Jerk Chicken is still a favorite for us two years in a row.
Most bang for your buck: Shepherd’s Pie in Scotland or Gumbo in French Quarter. (and the Bangers in Ireland)
Best Sandwich: The Muffaletta in the new French Quarter, its made of mortadella, salami, ham and provolone with cajun slaw (that I chose to add to the sandwich). 2nd place the Schnitzelwich in Germany. A pork slider with a lemon wedge and caper sauce.
And I still love the Scottish egg.
How do they do it?
We used the cashless wristbands one day during our trip. I linked a credit card, which closed out at the end of the day. I was able to also use this for regular dining, not just the Food & Wine. It was really convenient and I kept to my budget. You also have the option to prepay cash to your band if you are concerned you will spend too much. The bands can be found at the Welcome Center before you enter, England at Guest Services, Castle O Sullivan (back of Ireland) and three other locations in the park (Griffon Gifts in France, Marketplace in Germany and Bella Casa in Italy).
The Wine of the Food & Wine
There are 3 main locations for Wine tastings that are usually available all year, not just for the festival. You can taste various wines from Italy, France and Germany in a store in each of those lands. For the Festival there are 2 additional kiosks for exclusive tastings which will also come with an education on the beverage and how it was made. In Scotland you can try 3 12 yr Scotches, and in the Oktoberfest village near Dark Castle there are dessert wines.
Food and Wine is from May 22-June 28 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The Kiosks open around 11 am and serve all day. Saturdays are the busiest days in the park, so consider this if you have concerns about crowds and parking. The kiosks ran smoothly and being here on a very crowded holiday weekend didn't yield long lines for the food (just everything else).
Be sure to bring your appetite, the more you walk, the more calories you need after all.
This was the Swedish meatballs in Scandinavia, you get about 5 of them
Here is a list of the complete menus from the Busch Gardens Website. Food & Wine is only here a short while, so if you have been considering it, now is the time.