Happy (almost) spring everyone! We just got home from the first few days of the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival 2017 and you know, I’ve learned the absolute best cure for the post-Disney sads is writing about all the in-Disney fun. And so, without further ado, let’s talk all about this year’s festival and by this year’s festival, you know I mean this year’s (gluten free) FOOD!
A little introduction first, the Flower and Garden Festival, or as I like to call it Food and Wine Light, is an annual event held in Epcot that showcases beautiful flower and topiary displays, impressive gardens, and overall promotes sustainability. It’s one of the absolute most beautiful times of year to be in Disney because these Displays all around World Showcase and really all around all of Epcot are just so impressive and colorful and gorgeous! There’s a few traditions like this enormous flower display across the entire division between Future World and the World Showcase. There’s also a selection of classic and brand new topiaries throughout the park as well as special tented areas and events like the butterfly garden. Of course there’s also food! Lots and lots of food! Just like Food and Wine in the fall, Epcot breaks out the Outdoor Kitchens throughout the World Showcase featuring fresh-inspired dishes from around the world. You’ll see lots of local artisan products (especially in the beverage department) as well as produce grown right there in Epcot at The Land throughout the menus. It’s a beautiful and incredibly fun time to be in Epcot.
Before we start our tour around the world showcase, let me just talk gluten free for a moment. Just like other festivals in Epcot, the very handy passports with all the menus have markings for “gluten friendly” dishes. This means there are no gluten containing ingredients although Disney reserves the change that there could be cross contamination. One consistent frustration I’ve had over the last year or so is that these menus often are inaccurate in that there are dishes that ARE gluten friendly and not marked as such (usually for reasons of cross contamination). This trip I decided to just start asking why things aren’t safe for me and you know what I found out? SOMETIMES THEY ARE! I’ll talk more about this with the Frushi at Japan but for now let me just say if you have food allergies please please please just ask why you can’t have certain items. The chefs are so accommodating and happy to help you enjoy the festival and whether it’s leaving off a sauce or hey it actually should have been marked good for you and we don’t know why it’s not, the payoff of being able to try these amazing dishes is absolutely worth the time, energy, and potential “I feel like I’m annoying” factor (that’s the one that always gets me). Just do it, trust me, you will be so happy you did!
Okay, ready to go around the world with me? Well then we have to start with the frozen violet lemonade, this is located right next to the bridge connecting Future World to the World Showcase. This is the stuff of legends and for good reason! It’s both beautiful and delicious! Beverages do not get allergy warnings so keep that in mind as you look at drink options around the showcase. This has a fruity, floral, sweet taste that’s just so perfectly balanced and the frozen slushy element of it is fantastic! Definitely great as the weather gets warmer (and the first day of the festival wasn’t just HOT it was SOMEPEOPLEAREWORTHMELTINGFORBUTMAYBENOTYETHOT).
Next up we hit the Canada area booth “Northern Bloom.” The first dish is the Beef Ternderloin Tips with Mushroom Bordelaise, Whipped Potatoes and Garden Vegetables and the second dish is the Seared Scallops with French Green Beans, Butter Potatoes, Brown Butter Vinaigrette, and Applewood Smoked Bacon. Now what’s interesting here is that the scallops are marked Gluten Friendly and the Beef is not. And before launching into the incredibly wonderful experience we had at this booth, I have to start by saying the scallops are PHENOMENAL! Seriously one of my favorite dishes of any festival, they were perfectly cooked (not at all rubbery or slimy) and there was ample bacon for every bite. SO GOOD.
Now the beef was one of those times where Disney just makes me happy. It’s not marked as Gluten Friendly and when I asked it’s apparently because of something in the mushroom bordelaise sauce. I was also told the other items, although not gluten containing, have a higher risk of cross contamination (probably because it’s not intended to be a gluten friendly dish). The chef at this booth really was remarkable though! She knew I wanted it so she held my order aside for a few minutes while making a new fresh round of the beef tips. She then personally assembled my dish separately from the other dishes so the sauce never came near my plate. Now I know depending on the severity of your reactions it might not be worth the risk and honestly I am usually a very sensitive person and have been glutened in Disney before but it’s worth saying I did not have any reaction at all. I think it’s completely personal preference but I was glad I went for it, if the chef hadn’t been so easy to talk to and happy to work with me though I would not have. She really made my day special just by her kindness. Also THOSE POTATOES THOUGH! Holy moly they were some of the best mashed potatoes around! Someone get them on a menu please!! David (the king of potatoes) said after his first bite that he would have been happy to just have a bowl full of them and nothing else!
Next up one of my absolute favorite stops! This was last year’s festival favorite for me and they actually seem to have made it better! This is the warm lemon scone with creme freshe and mixed berries along with the hard strawberry cider. The cider is really delicious, super light and refreshing and only $4.50 which is a nice break from how expensive most alcoholic drinks are around the world. The lemon scone is crisp on the outside but then really surprisingly moist on the inside. It’s absolutely perfect with the toppings, I would not change a single thing about this except maybe getting a few more!
Hop across the pond and you’ll get to another one of my go-to favorites, the large raspberry macaron with chocolate fudge and raspberry jam. I’m always a fan of the macaron sandwiches in France (the gelato ones more than the box set though) and this certainly lived up to my expectations! The chocolate is rich and fudge, the cookies are perfectly baked and the whole thing is wonderfully chilled and the jam in the center is just the perfect touch.
FRUSHI! Okay I have so much to say here beyond the food so let me just start with YES this is gluten friendly NO it’s not marked in the book YES you need to get it! It’s perfectly sweet and delicious, it seems a little weird but the fruit inside and the sauce and ugh the whole thing is just so fantastic please do not miss this one!
So here was the allergy deal with this. It’s not marked as safe and I’ve read at past festivals when people ask sometimes it’s safe and sometimes it’s not and sometimes it’s the coconut or the whipped cream or the I just don’t want to risk it. When I went up to the booth there was a manager standing there who, as soon as I asked the cashier why it’s not gluten friendly, immediately said “The Frushi is gluten friendly, that’s safe, there’s no gluten in that.” The cashier proceeded to pull out an allergy cheat card showing what allergies are at risk with each item they serve and sure enough no gluten in the Frushi. I really have no understanding of why it’s not marked in the book when it is gluten friendly (and honestly why wouldn’t it be?) and when the staff know it’s gluten friendly but that’s a grump for another day. Also let me say again, I’m a very sensitive person and I did not have any reactions. Maybe the recipe changes based on who is working but they said it was safe and I didn’t react (#testdummy) so I strongly suggest asking, making your own judgement call knowing yourself, and hopefully enjoying it!
YOU MUST BRING US….
…A SHRUBERY (David told me I have to say that somewhere in here haha)
Last up I tried the Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer with Steamed Rice and Coconut Lime Sauce at La Isla Fresca (also located right near walkway to Future World). This was another item that is not marked Gluten Friendly simply because of possible cross contamination so I went for it. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the sauce was delicious! The rice seemed simple but had a lime-ness to it that was great. It was a little tough to eat because it was tail-on on the skewer but overall it was great!
Of course I have to end with one more look at the prettiest drink in all the land, the violet lemonade! And that’s it! There still a few things I’m looking forward to investigating around the world showcase but overall I was much happier at this year’s festival than last year’s. The big difference wasn’t the number of options, though, it was just that I tried speaking up and often found that things that sounded safe really were. It’s a gamble with the cross contamination and if you’re going by the book with what’s safe you’re almost entirely going to be sticking to desserts. I hope that in the future they take more time to be careful about marking everything Gluten Friendly (like Frushi) as such so more of us can enjoy it and to maybe take the time in kitchen practices to make no-gluten-containing items safe for us in places of potential shared-kitchen cross contamination. In short: there’s a LOT Disney could do to make the festival better for allergy guests but it was still a fantastic time and I can’t wait to go back! 🙂