As you all probably know, a group of pleasure-seeking people has invaded Busch Gardens Williamsburg. From May 23rd through June 29th the park is hosting the second annual Food & Wine Festival. Once again, Busch Gardens has been turned into a playground for foodies, wine-lovers, and other brave individuals, all of whom want to try new flavors and experience unusual parings.

In my opinion, the Food & Wine Festival is the best event hosted by the park. In addition to giving people an opportunity to sample over 50 interesting dishes, the event includes clever and creative food art and charming up-charge experiences, like the Wine on the Rhine cruise. For me, it also boasts the advantage of not having been overtaken by cheesy shows and tacky glitter. It is a simple, low-key, but brilliantly-executed foodie extravaganza.

Last year my friends and I innocently attempted to sample everything in one day. Between the heat and the sheer volume of food, that experiment failed miserably. We returned this year wiser and better prepared for what awaited us in the Old Country. In addition, we set ourselves a brave — and possibly insane – goal: to sample everything in one weekend. Our mission was to rate and compare all of the food at the Festival, so we could report back to you and spare you any gastronomic heartache.

There were four “core” members of the tasting team: Zachary, Applesauce, Renee (my friend), and I. Alpenghost and TheExpozay joined us periodically, as well. So, we maintained a fairly consistent, but broad-based set of participants. Everyone had to try everything. We split each plate at least three ways, so that we could each sample everything, without overeating. We tasted only a few of the drinks, because we did not want the alcohol to affect our palates. I took notes; Zachary took pictures; and Applesauce served as a hand model.

We judged each booth by the following factors:

  • Taste and quality of the food;
  • Quality and friendliness of the service; and
  • Overall appearance and presentation of the booth and food.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss the “performers” at the event booths. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this new addition to the Food & Wine Festival. I do not believe food can or should be either “immersive” or “interactive.” I’m not even entirely sure what those phrases mean. It turns out I grossly overestimated the value of the booth babes. As far as I can tell, for the most part, when they were at their booths at all, they waved and occasionally said “hi” in a foreign accent. I felt bad for the actors to be honest. I really don’t think this was a good use of the park’s limited resources, and it certainly didn’t improve my gastronomic experience.

So, what did we think of the edible offerings? We have put together three lists of recommended dishes, which you can find below.

[hr]

Six Dishes That Everyone Must Try

There are certain dishes that have gotten a lot of “press” in our forum and on the Busch Gardens Williamsburg blog, itself. I’m looking at you, Scottish Egg. With all of the hype surrounding those items, we fear that some of our less well-known favorites might be overlooked. Indeed some of the dishes we have selected for our must-try list surprised us; we never would have tasted them at all, if we hadn’t set out to eat everything at the Festival.

[one_half]

Gravad Lax Rarakor
Gravad Lax Rarakor

Though it may not appeal to everyone, those who expected to enjoy the cured salmon and dill adored this dish. The Gravad Lax Rarakor can be found at the Scandinavian booth.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Wafel met Waterzooi

Though it’s not a particularly visually appealing dish, Belgium’s Wafel met Waterzooi happens to be one of only two successful chicken dishes at the event.

[/one_half]

[one_half]

Heart of Palm Salad
Heart of Palm Salad

A unique and refreshing offering, we cannot emphasize enough how strongly we feel that everyone should try the Caribbean booth’s seafood and vegetable salad.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Gazpacho con Ceviche

Another brilliantly light and summery seafood dish, this cold, tomato-based soup was exceptionally popular even with our seafood-haters. The gazpacho is one of several excellent options at the Spanish booth.

[/one_half]

[one_half]

Halloumi
Halloumi

This unusual combination of griddled cheese and honey tastes much better than it looks, beautifully pairing three complementary flavors. Stop by the Greek booth to try this dish.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Champignons et epinards Crepe

The pairing of the balsamic with the feta in this mushroom crêpe is exquisite.

[/one_half]

[hr]

Taster’s Favorites Foods

Our group of reviewers had wide and varied tastes. One of us won’t eat fish and seafood, two hate chocolate, and third actually dislikes cheese. We thought it would be helpful, therefore, to list everyone’s favorite dish. Naturally there were overlaps with the fantastic must-try items, so we excluded those from consideration. The result, we hope, is a selection of foods that should include something for everyone.

[one_half]

Zachary’s Pick

Venera con Jamón

These scallops wrapped with cured ham from the Spanish booth will please most palates.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Applesauce’s Pick

Gamba Fritters

Another popular seafood dish, this tasty, stuffed hushpuppy served at the Caribbean booth pleased everyone in our group.[/one_half]

[one_half]

Renee’s Pick

Coq au Vin
Coq au Vin

When these Spanish pork sausage-stuffed pastries are warm the spicy heat really comes through.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Nicole’s Pick

Shepherd’s Pie
Shepherd’s Pie

The flavors, especially rosemary, were perfectly balanced in this traditional British dish, which can be found at the Scottish booth.

[/one_half]

[one_half]

Alpenghost’s Pick

Kottbullar
Köttbullar

These Swedish meatballs are consistently well prepared and classically good.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

TheExpozay’s Pick

Chorizo Empanada

When these Spanish pork sausage-stuffed pastries are warm the spicy heat really comes through.

[/one_half]

[hr]

Taster’s Favorites Desserts

Who doesn’t love dessert? We knew that if we included the creamy, gooey, chocolatey, fruity, and sweet in our comparisons, very few savory items would make the cut. So, we agreed to compare the deserts to each other. What surprised us, as we rode the train and discussed our notes, was that everyone had a different favorite.

[one_half]

Zachary’s Pick

80_IMG_2390
Tres Leche con Mermelada de Piña

This light and creamy dish has just the right amount of pineapple. Be sure to try one, when you visit the Spanish booth.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Applesauce’s Pick

Pumpkin Caramel Mousse

The Canadian maple glaze transforms this dessert, saving it from being ordinary.

[/one_half]

[one_half]

Renee’s Pick

Krumkake

The tart berries paired with the fluffy cream make this dish perfect after a heavy, Swedish main course.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Nicole’s Pick

Panna Cotta

This simple vanilla custard boasts a perfect texture, lovely flavors, and a pleasing paring with ripe strawberries. Swing by the booth in Italy to sample one yourself.

[/one_half]

[one_half]

Alpenghost’s Pick

Linzer Torte

At its best this torte of buttery pastry filled with sweet raspberries is easily the best dish at the Germany booth.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

TheExpozay’s Pick

Chocolat et de Banane Crepe

The bananas balance chocolate perfectly in this popular crepe.

[/one_half]

[hr]

Reviews by Booth

Below you will find our thoughts on each booth, including impressions of the food, service, and appearance.  We have listed them alphabetically.  The numbers in blue next to certain savory dishes indicate that many members of our group selected those foods as their favorites.

American Southwest

[one_half]

The staff was charming, but the food wasn’t very good. Most of us enjoyed the flavors in the pork, but the Chicken Adobo with Sauce Mole was bland. The fish taco tasted like Taco Bell. The Lava Cake lacked any spice. We did enjoy the Harpoon UFO Big Squeeze Shandy, however.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Chicken Adobo with Sauce Mole: Bad
Fish Taco: Bad

Sonoran Spice Pork: Good (5)
Chocolate Lava Cake: Don’t Bother

[/one_half]

Belgium

[one_half]

The staff was nice, and we saw that the waffles were freshly prepared. We were completely confused by the Beer Pairing Sampler, as we had no idea which food to pair with which beer. I was deeply disappointed in the Beer Flight: with the wide variety of excellent Belgian Ales easily available in the US, I cannot fathom why the park elected to include four low-end options; everyone preferred the Kronenbourg to everything in the Flight. There are several Belgian dishes that I would have preferred to see on the menu.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Belgium Beer Pairing Sampler: Don’t Bother
Huis van Lum Chocolate Wafel: Bad
Wafel met Waterzooi: Good (5)

[/one_half]

Canada

[one_half]

Our overall impression of the booth: it was “adequate.”  The food was bland, and they even managed to ruin mac & cheese.  They had also run out of the pear cider, which was one of my favorite drinks at the Festival.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Cheddar & Lager Chowder: Don’t Bother (2)
Macaroni & Cheese with Peameal Bacon: Bad
Venison Sausage & Corn Porridge: Good (4)
Pumpkin Carmel Mousse: Good

[/one_half]

Caribbean

[one_half]

The staff was very friendly, but the Caribbean is not in Europe, much less Germany.  The food was very good in general; even our seafood-hater loved (and voted for) the fritters.  Everyone was surprised by how light and refreshing the salad was.  The jerk chicken, however, was a huge letdown; the chicken was bland and the sauce lacked heat.  The Frozen Caribbean Sunset was pleasant, but it wasn’t well-blended.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Jamaican Jerk Chicken: Bad
Gamba Fritters: Good (3)
Heart of Palm Salad: Good (2)
Tres Leche con Mermelada de Piña: Good

[/one_half]

Crepes & Coffee
Crêpes & Coffee

[one_half]

The servers were rude and we saw that some of the crêpes had been made in advance. The flavor combinations were generally very good; I enjoyed the brie and marmalade. Several of us particularly liked the pairing of the balsamic with the goat cheese. The Cordon Bleu Crepe, however, was a huge disappointment, lacking the cheese and ham flavors and being overpowered by the unnecessarily-sweet sauce.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Asperges et Fromage de Chévre Crêpe: Don’t Bother
Brie et Marmelade d’Orange Crêpe: Good
Champignons et épinards Crêpe: Good (3)
Chocolat de Noisette et de Banane Crêpe: Don’t Bother
Poulet Cordon Bleu Crêpe: Bad (2)

[/one_half]

France

[one_half]

The French booth was the prettiest and had on-site kitchens and private seating. Sadly, however, everyone would have been better off skipping France entirely. This booth should have been the centerpiece of the event; instead it offered poorly cooked and badly seasoned dishes. Sadly, the park was out of the Tartlette au Citron when we visited as a group however on a return trip two of us were able to sample it. While we both loved the incredibly tart lemon flavor, we acknowledge that the intensity may be too much for some pallets. The moules were rubbery, and the steak was so over-peppered that it burned our mouths. We were unable to finish the ratatouille. Everyone missed the vichyssoise, which had been served last year.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Coq au Vin: Good (5)
Moules á la Crème et a l’estragon: Bad
Steak au Poivre: Bad
Tomates Farcies á la Ratatouille: Bad
Tartelette au Citron: Good

[/one_half]

Germany

[one_half]

We all recommend that everyone skip this booth altogether. The food was heavy and bland. There was nothing that stood out as worth a visit. Although inconsistent, the Linzer Torte is a possible exception to this blanket prohibition.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Currywurst: Bad
Schinken Nudel: Don’t Bother (5)
Schnitzelwich: Bad
Linzer Torte: Don’t Bother

[/one_half]

Greece

[one_half]

All of the flavors seemed on point; even the cheese-hater in the group enjoyed the Halloumi. The Greek Dip Trio is a great dish to share, and will appeal to a wide-variety of tastes. The Salata was inoffensive, but we can’t see why it was included as part of the Food & Wine Festival.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Greek Dip Trio: Good (2)
Halloumi: Good (1)
Souvlaki Tzatziki: Good (2)
Salata: Don’t Bother
Baklava: Good

[/one_half]

Ireland
Ireland

[one_half]

The booth lacked a headlining item and needed more dishes, in general.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Bangers with Colcannon: Don’t Bother (5)
Irish Cheese Sampling: Don’t Bother

[/one_half]

Italy

[one_half]

Italy is a country known for its food. Unfortunately, the booth was so bad, it should probably be skipped altogether. When the cashier finally showed up to take our order, she was completely confused, and the service was slow. We found it worrisome, when she disappeared into the back and returned with pre-fabricated plates of food in plastic containers, reminiscent of airplane food. The salad in a cup was not only unattractive, but it was also difficult to eat. We returned our first Italian Cheese Sampling, because the strawberry was moldy; the second tray had significantly smaller slices of cheese. The Cannoli was stale and sour, and may have been going bad. No one was able to finish the tiramisu, because the flavors and textures were so bad.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Caprese Salad: Bad 
Italian Cheese Sampling: Good
Italian Bites: Good (5)
Tiramisu: Bad
Cannoli: Bad
Panna Cotta: Good

[/one_half]

Scandinavia

[one_half]

We liked everything at this booth. The favors were interesting, and well-balanced. In addition to the meatballs and salmon, we all enjoyed the roast beef sandwich. The Frozen Dirty Shirley was one of our favorite drinks of the day.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Gravad Lax Rarakor: Good (2)
Köttbullar: Good (2)
Smørrebrod: Good (1)
Krumkake: Good

[/one_half]

Scotland

[one_half]

The staff was friendly and very helpful. We enjoyed everything except the Neeps & Tatties, which was dry and bland. Even our chocolate-hater enjoyed the toffee, but we agreed it would have been better if it were colder. The ginger beer was good, but we didn’t understand the pairing with the food that was offered.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Neeps & Tatties: Bad
Scottish Egg: Good
Shepherd’s Pie: Good (5)
Scottish Toffee: Good

[/one_half]

Spain

[one_half]

The presentation and flavors were lovely. Our only complaint was with the texture of the Hazelnut Custard, which we found too grainy. Our seafood-hater listed the gazpacho as her favorite, despite the shrimp and scallop, because of the light, cool flavors. There were so many great dishes at this booth, that we have recommended several of them, and could not agree on which was the best.

[/one_half]

[one_half last=”true”]

Chorizo Empanada: Good (1)
Gazpacho con Ceviche: Good (2)
Tapas: Good (1)
Venera con Jamón: Good (1)
Hazelnut Custard: Bad

[/one_half]

[hr]

The Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food & Wine Festival is a breath of fresh air in a special events calendar that is packed with cheesy shows and over-hyped re-theming of the park. The subtlety of the event allows Busch Garden’s charm to shine through, while giving guests a vast collection of scrumptious edible experiences to add variety to their visit. The two days we spent at the Food & Wine Festival were the most fun I have had at the park in at least a year, and I cannot wait to see what new flavors and experiences the Busch Gardens Culinary Department cooks up for us next year.