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Our Comprehensive Review of Busch Gardens Williamsburg's 2023 Food & Wine Festival

Reviews, Ratings, and Photos of Every Dish at the Park's Annual Culinary-Focused Special Event

Reviews, Ratings, and Photos of Every Dish at the Park's Annual Culinary-Focused Special Event

It is the 10th anniversary of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Food & Wine Festival, and BGWFans’ 7th comprehensive review since we started in 2014. Looking back, it is interesting to see how the event has evolved over the past decade, for good and bad. While we miss some aspects of the early years, this event remains a fun and tasty way to spend an afternoon at the park.

The Basics

This year the tasting team included Zachary, Gavin, Thomas, my friend Renee, and me. As usual, we tasted every dish and non-alcoholic beverage and recorded our scores out of 10. Below, in the itemized review section, you will find our thoughts on each booth, “refresher,” savory item, and dessert. As a reminder (and for those who have never consulted one of our reviews before), here is how roughly to interpret the numbers:

0: Unsafe to eat
5: Indifferent
10: Pure Ecstasy

We have suggested in the past that BGW introduce a “Best Of” kiosk to serve the dishes we all miss. So, we were thrilled when they announced the Decade of Delights booth. It posed a problem for us, however. Since the dishes rotate each week, there didn’t seem to be much utility in scoring the set of returning items that we happened to get. So, as with the “refreshers,” I will only share our comments on those three offerings.

Overall Thoughts

Before launching into our detailed review, the team had a few observations about the event as a whole:

Sauces. We noticed a pattern, which probably stretches back several years. The dishes with dipping sauces tend to stand out for their interesting and creative flavors. The BGW Culinary team really seems to know how to incorporate spices and herbs that enhance the flavors of the main dish.

Expansion Beyond Drinks. BGW recently added two booths that sounded creative and enticing: Herbal Infusion and Sangria Garden. Unfortunately, they both opened exclusively with cocktails and mocktails. As guests interested in experiences other than more booze, this was a disappointment for the team. This year, however, both received fantastic desserts. We really hope this signals a trend toward unusual dishes with unexpected recipes.

Operations. While not true across the event, the speed of service and availability of dishes was a problem at some of the booths. Especially at Japan, Italy, and French Quarter, the lines were incredibly long and service was slow. We had to postpone reviewing the Japan booth because they had run out of both the Matcha Ice Cream and the Spicy Tuna Sushi Cup. We never were able to taste the Bananas Foster Cheesecake from the French Quarter kiosk, because that had sold out, as well. That said, everyone working at the booths was friendly.

Overall Quality. While we will continue to mourn the loss of several of the more adventurous booths and the general dumbing down of the dishes (BGW: please stop serving things like mac and cheese), we did notice that the quality of the food had improved across the board. In fact, all of the booth scores this year were above average. We wonder if this is perhaps a result of reducing the number of kiosks or even just learning over the years which preparations work best in this environment.

Itemized Review

Having now rambled at length about the Food & Wine Festival in general, it is time to move on the individual reviews. As ever, we can only attest to the specific food we were served. Historically, items have varied dramatically from day to day and even hour to hour. So, please take our thoughts with a grain of salt (well, except the tuna cup; it is salty enough on its own).

Decade of Delights

As I already mentioned, we love the concept behind this nostalgia-based booth. We were excited to see the return of dishes from some of our favorite kiosks, especially Scandinavia, Greece, Spain, and France. Since the menus change weekly, there didn’t seem to be much utility in providing scores for anything we tried. We did, however, want to share our thoughts about how much they actually resembled the original dishes.

We found the Steak au Poivre (above, 2016 vs. 2023) more balanced than in the past. The creamy sauce cut the intensity of the pepper and the meat was tender enough to cut with a plastic knife. We were, however, perplexed by the Souvlaki Tzatziki.

As you can see in the photos above (2016 vs. 2023), it seemed completely different than in previous years and lacked most of the flavors we had so loved in the past. The meat looked as if it had been boiled and the peppers, which provided the only discernible flavor, seemed to belong on a cheesesteak. The salad was generic and appeared to have come from a bag.

The baklava remained a perfectly nice dessert. As in the past, we liked the flakey filo dough, the flavorful nuts, and sweet honey.

Jump to a specific booth?


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2022 Heatherdowns 7.27/10

Despite serving some of the most expensive entrees at the event, the team still recommends visiting this booth (especially if you have a food voucher or tasting lanyard). Both refreshers were great. In fact, the light and tart Bondi Beach Punch was Gavin’s pick. We recommend pairing it with the lamb. The Ginger Beer was less strong this year, but still very gingery.

Lamb Chop

Roasted Lamb Lollipop & Cilantro Mint Sauce

Highly Rated
Zachary's Pick
Booth Price Rating
Australia $11.25 8.6/10

The meat lollipop was the highest scoring dish at the Australian booth and also Zachary’s pick. It boasted one of the best cuts of meat at the event. The strong heat on the lamb paired perfectly with the herby cilantro mint sauce.

Lamington Cake

Sponge Cake, Raspberry Jam, Chocolate, and Coconut

Booth Price Rating
Australia $5.00 5.6/10

This dessert still did not wow the team. We could taste all of the components and it wasn’t dry; it just isn’t as good as many of the other sweets at the event. It might appeal to visitors who like the combination of dark chocolate and coconut.

Snag on the Barbie

Banger & Vegemite Caramelized Onions

Gavin's Pick
Booth Price Rating
Australia $7.25 7.6/10

Reviews were generally favorable, and this dish was Gavin’s pick. The sausage had a nice snap and excellent flavor. He found the use of vegemite in the caramelized onions to be quite extraordinary, and is thinking about incorporating it into his own cooking. The bun, however, was large and dry and seemed to add nothing to the dish.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2018 New France 5.95/10

Our favorite booth from 2022 has dropped dramatically in the rankings this year. Neither the quality nor the flavors were up to par, unfortunately. Even the Brazilian Lemonade failed to meet our (admittedly high) expectations. The cup we were served wasn’t even frozen, which could have been an equipment or capacity problem. More worryingly, however, we could find no evidence of the sweet and thick condensed milk that makes this drink so much more interesting than plain limeade.


Grilled Pineapple with Coconut Caramel Sauce

Booth Price Rating
Brazil $5.00 3.8/10

This dessert just didn’t work this year. The grilled pineapple didn’t taste cooked in any way, and was overpowered by the caramel sauce.


Grilled Beef & Chimichurri Sauce

Booth Price Rating
Brazil $7.50 5.4/10

We were initially startled at how small the portion sizes were this year. Then we were dismayed by the flavorless and chewy steak. The only saving grace of this dish was bright and herby chimichurri sauce.

Cocada de Forno

Brazilian Baked Coconut

New for 2022
Booth Price Rating
Brazil $5.00 7.6/10

This new, baked coconut dessert earned the highest scores at the Brazilian booth. The coconut was firm, but there was a creaminess to the dish as a whole. The team thought it reminded them of coconut macaroons.


Grilled Sausage, Portabella Mushrooms, and Peppers

Booth Price Rating
Brazil $6.50 7/10

This sausage had a nice texture and some spice, but we couldn’t find the portobello mushrooms. Essentially, it tasted like smoke and pepper, which is fine, but a far cry from our best in booth winner last year.

French Quarter

Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2015 Aquitaine 5.87/10

One of our tasters spends a lot of time in New Orleans, which may have contributed to the lower scores this year. That said, the park had run out of the Bananas Foster Cheesecake, so we weren’t even able to review it. Given how popular this kiosk always is, I struggle to understand how it remains under-resourced.


Puff Pastry, Powdered Sugar, and Caramel

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
French Quarter $7.50 8.2/10

This perennially popular dessert was this year’s best in booth, but to be fair, it’s main competition, the Bananas Foster Cheesecake was MIA. Regardless, they were light and well-fried, although we did notice that some of ours were a bit doughy. Additionally, we were disappointed in the generic caramel sauce.


Creole Seasoning, Shrimp, Sausage, and Rice

Booth Price Rating
French Quarter $7.50 4.4/10

The base of this dish — the rice — was dry, and the sauce lacked many traditional flavors, especially tomato. There was heat in the stew, but it needed more complexity.


Sliced Mortadella, Salami, Ham, Provolone, Olive Spread, and Cajun Slaw

Booth Price Rating
French Quarter $7.00 5/10

While this traditional sandwich seemed to be prepared correctly, the ingredients weren’t properly balanced. It needed more tapenade and the ham and cheese overpowered everything else between the slices of (overly) dry bread.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2016 Jack Hanna Trail 6.45/10

The Hawaiian booth always gets long lines, very often for the fun and fruity drinks. While people tend to focus on the cocktails, don’t underestimate the non-alcoholic beverages, as well. The Hibiscus Lemonade was a popular Refresher. It had strong florals and, like all of the lemonades at the event, was very tart and not too sweet.

Hawaiian Mac & Cheese

Ham, Pineapple, and Macadamia Nut Crust

Booth Price Rating
Hawaii $5.50 1.8/10

The Hawaiian Mac & Cheese was revolting and far and away our lowest scoring dish. It had a weird aftertaste (like hot dog water, maybe?) and when we finally located a piece of pineapple we desperately wished we hadn’t.

Kālua Pork Slider

Pulled Pork & Pineapple on a Sweet Roll with Pineapple Coconut Slaw

New for 2022
Highly Rated
Renee's Pick
Booth Price Rating
Hawaii $6.25 8.6/10

The newest addition to the Hawaiian booth was also the highest scoring item at the kiosk and Renee’s pick. The pork slider was just a great tasting mini-meal that hit all the taste centers.  The pork was warm and meaty, and the bun satisfied while soaking up the juices. The slaw was cool, sweet, and crisp. That said, the bun became soggy and was unaccountably not the advertised Hawaiian sweet roll.

Pineapple Coconut Mousse

Topped with Sweet Pineapple & Toasted Coconut

Booth Price Rating
Hawaii $5.00 7.8/10

We loved this light and fluffy dessert, which reminded us of ambrosia.We could taste the coconut and pineapple and didn’t find it overwhelmingly sweet.

Spam Musubi

Seared Spam, Sushi Rice, and Sweet Soy Glaze

Booth Price Rating
Hawaii $5.75 7.6/10

We thought the attractive Spam Musubi was improved this year, with nicely balanced salt in the meat and sweetness in the sauce. Japan’s lost nori flakes seemed to have turned up in the rice, which met with some tasters’ approval.

Herbal Infusion

Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2019 Oktoberfest 8.8/10

We were excited to see the inclusion of a dessert to this previously drinks-only booth. The concept here is so great we hope that additional dishes are added in the future. Although the Lavender Lemonade wasn’t quite as floral as the Hibiscus Lemonade, it was my pick for its refreshing tartness and lovely hints of lavender (and it is such a pretty color, too!).

Strawberry Basil Mousse

Strawberry Mousse with Basil Whipped Cream

New for 2022
Highly Rated
Best Sweet
Booth Price Rating
Herbal Infusion $5.00 8.8/10

This light and fluffy mousse was the highest-scoring dessert at the event. It tasted like real strawberries, rather than the overly-sweet, ersatz, berry flavor in so many sweets. The topping wasn’t the thick and oily fake whipped cream the park usually uses. We did wish, however, that we could taste the promised basil.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2013 San Marco 6.05/10

This booth seems to be a revolving door of food; I’ve lost track of how many items have been added and retired in the past 10 years. For 2023, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s culinary team added new savory and sweet dishes to mixed effect.


Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Balsamic Glaze, and Basil Pesto

Highly Rated
Nicole's Pick
Booth Price Rating
Italy $5.00 8.6/10

The light and lovely Caprese is my recommended dish and the highest scoring item at the booth. All of the components worked together beautifully, especially the juicy tomatoes and yummy balsamic.

Giant Meatball

With Marinara & Shaved Asiago Cheese

New for 2022
Booth Price Rating
Italy $8.25 5.2/10

The Giant Meatball was, in fact, a large ball of meat. It is… fine. On the upside, the dish didn’t seem to use the overly sweet park red sauce. Unfortunately, it also lacked any spice other than some red pepper flakes. Despite watching staff slicing wide strips of asiago off of a huge chunk of cheese for the eons that I stood in line for the Italy booth, when I finally received my plate, my meatball was covered in what looked like cheese from a bag. It is worth noting that a friend of the tasting team, Luke, really enjoyed his serving.

Lemon Ricotta Cake

Lemon & Ricotta Cake Topped with Toasted Almonds

New for 2022
Booth Price Rating
Italy $5.00 7.2/10

The team enjoyed the new Italian dessert. It was moist and crunchy and very lemony.

Sundried Tomato Alfredo

House-Made Pasta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Spinach, and Kalamata Olives

Booth Price Rating
Italy $5.00 3.2/10

This (unfortunately) returning pasta dish was NOT fine. In fact, it was barely edible. The only flavor we could detect on our cold fettuccine as of olives. The “alfredo” sauce was strangely metallic, and the only thing tomato-y on our plate was the color.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2019 Rhinefeld 9/10

The Jamaican booth earned the highest overall scores at the event with its incredibly strong lineup of Caribbean-inspired dishes. This kiosk is a great place to buy a complete and satisfying meal. Even the Ginger Limeade won praise from the team and was Thomas’ pick. The ginger wasn’t as strong this year, and the result was a well-balanced, light and refreshing accompaniment to an array of spicy entrees.

Gamba Fritters

Shrimp Dumplings & Pickapeppa Sauce

Highly Rated
Best Savory
Booth Price Rating
Jamaica $6.50 9.8/10

Always crowd-pleasing, these perfectly-cooked fritters earned the highest scores at the event. Although they were excellent alone, boasting tons of shrimp, the sweet sauce took them to another level. We strongly recommend pairing them with the limeade and slider.

Jamaican Patty

Pastry Crust, Spicy Beef, and Coconut Jerk Dip

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
Jamaica $7.25 8.8/10

This thick, savory pastry was warm and filling. The meat had a slow, peppery burn that was complimented perfectly by the sweet and herby coconut sauce.

Jerk Chicken Slider

With Mango Salsa & Cilantro Lime Slaw

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
Jamaica $6.25 8.8/10

The meat on this tasty sandwich was spicy and flavorful. The slaw and salsa complemented its heat and warmth with a cool, sweet crunch. Together it all creates a perfect entree.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Pineapple, Rum, and Brown Sugar Glaze

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
Jamaica $5.50 8.6/10

The fruity and moist cake drizzled with a complex rum sauce created a well-balanced dessert that everyone enjoyed. We could taste all of the layered flavors, including the liquor.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2018 San Marco 7.05/10

Given how popular this booth is, the park really needs to improve operations, which were slow and chaotic. That said, we really enjoyed the fruity popping bobas in the Bubble Tea. The drink was mild and refreshing, but ended up very watered down, because of the tons of ice in the cup.


Impossible Foods Plant-Based Meat, Asian Slaw, and Steamed Bun

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
Japan $6.50 8/10

The event’s meat alternative returned this year. Its bun was well steamed and neither too sticky nor soggy. The slaw was cool, fresh, and gingery. The “meat” was actually lost in the sandwich, but at least didn’t detract.

Matcha Ice Cream

Green Tea Ice Cream, Sweet Soy Glaze, with a Sesame Cookie

Booth Price Rating
Japan $5.00 5.4/10

We were served two large scoops of ice cream drizzled with a soy-based sauce. While we appreciated the generous portion of the creamy, creative, and mild dessert, we think we may have figured out why they ran out the day before.


Steamed Chicken Dumpling & Citrus Ponzu Sauce

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
Japan $6.00 8.8/10

This dumpling was the star of the booth and its sauce the star of the dish. The wrappers were tender and the dip tangy and citrusy. Everything was well-balanced, resulting in a fantastic bite.

Spicy Tuna Sushi Cup

With Sushi Rice, Nori Flakes, and Spicy Mayo

Booth Price Rating
Japan $5.25 6/10

This dish is probably best described as “inoffensive.” The predominant tastes were heat and salt. The nori flakes were completely missing (although we think we found them at the Hawaiian booth), and the rice wasn’t quite right. We did appreciate the pickled ginger, however.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2019 Jack Hanna Trail 7.54/10

The Mexican booth may not be perfectly efficient, but at least BGW has made some effort to manage the perpetual crowds. When we arrived, there were two distinct lines: one to order and pay and a second and completely unconnected queue to pick up the food. The horchata was pleasant and inoffensive. It works well at a booth with spicy food.

Carne Asada Taco

Marinated Citrus & Soy Beef, Queso Fresca, Cilantro, and Guacamole on a Corn Tortilla

Booth Price Rating
Mexico $7.25 7.2/10

The meat in this taco was well-seasoned and its great flavors really stood out and paired well with the corn tortilla. Frustratingly, one of our two plates lacked the guacamole. The team agreed that we really wanted a fresh, crunchy ingredient to complement the meat.

Chili Chocolate & Horchata Mousse

Spicy Chocolate & Cinnamon

Booth Price Rating
Mexico $5.00 7.2/10

As much as we wanted to love this dessert, it just didn’t come together for us. The chilis overpowered everything else. Especially with the sophisticated pairing of chocolate and cinnamon, we wanted a more balanced set of flavors.

Crispy Shrimp Taco

Sweet Chili Sauce, Pico de Gallo, and Cilantro Lime Slaw on a Flour Tortilla

Highly Rated
Booth Price Rating
Mexico $6.25 8.2/10

As expected, this dish scored the highest at the booth. The shrimp was crisp; the tortilla was soft; the pico was fresh; the slaw was crunchy; and the sauce was strong.

Sangria Garden

Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2019 San Marco 7.2/10

In the past this booth has exclusively served sangrias, and while they sounded delicious, we couldn’t include them in our review (we don’t want to dull our taste buds with alcohol). We were pleasantly surprised, therefore, to discover that the park’s culinary team had added a dessert to the booth’s lineup, and we hope the park continues the trend of offering some food options that fit the themes of the historically drinks-only booth locations.

Sangria Cupcake

Berry & Merlot Cupcake with Wine Reduction Buttercream

New for 2022
Thomas's Pick
Booth Price Rating
Sangria Garden $5.00 7.2/10

The Sangria Cupcake was Thomas’ recommended dish. We could taste the wine in the well-made buttercream icing. The cake had hints of berry and wasn’t too sweet, but was a bit grainy. Overall, it was well prepared and the flavors all worked really well together.


Debut Year Location Avg. Dish Score
2016 Heatherdowns 6.3/10

While we still don’t understand why this booth exists, the team acknowledges how consistently popular it is. We were all pleasantly surprised by the Strawberry Lemonade, which was tart and neither overly sweet nor syrupy. In fact, it was Zachary’s pick.

Apple Crisp

Oatmeal Crumble & Bacon Glaze

New for 2022
Booth Price Rating
Virginia $5.50 6.6/10

We were happy with (if not ecstatic over) this new dessert. While we liked the oatmeal crumble, we were confused by the bacon “glaze,” which seemed merely to be chunks of meat. The apples in the filling were crunchy, but the dish lacked any spice.

Bacon & Cheddar Hushpuppies

Cornmeal Fritters with Honey Butter

Booth Price Rating
Virginia $6.50 7.6/10

The highest-scoring item at the booth again this year, these hot corn fritters boasted a crunchy and sweet crust and evident bits of bacon.

Oyster on the Half Shell

Served with Mignonette, Cocktail Sauce, and Lemon

Booth Price Rating
Virginia $5.50 4.6/10

We understand that the culinary team shucks the oysters, themselves. We found them fresh and not “fishy.” The mignonette was very nice, as well.

She-Crab Soup

Crab Bisque, Old Bay Crostini, and Chesapeake Blue Crab Salad

Booth Price Rating
Virginia $8.75 6.4/10

The team disagreed about the elimination of the sherry this year from the She-Crab Soup; some thought it lost complexity, while others found the creamy bisque more balanced. Regardless, everyone acknowledged the abundance of “crab” and liked the (slightly hard) crouton.

Despite our critiques of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2023 Food & Wine Festival, we really enjoyed the event. Looking back over the past decade, we have seen the dishes become more and more successful. We think there are some fantastic plates to be found and some excellent food and drink pairings to enjoy. We are excited to see what new offerings will be on the menu next year, and really hope there will be more creative items like the two new desserts at Sangria Gardens and Herbal Infusion.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on everything you have tried, as well. Join in with the conversation over in the ParkFans Food & Wine 2023 thread, here!

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