We attended the media event for Seven Seas Food Festival’s debut, where eleven kiosks dotted along the main walkway throughout the park featured over 60 food items and more than 50 craft beers, plus wine and some interesting, summery cocktails. With our first sample it was immediately obvious we would not be able to try everything; these were not small portions, and we quickly discovered it would be easy for guests to make a full meal out of grazing at a few kiosks, or sharing one plate among two and sampling twice as many items. Take a walk around the park with us for a run-down of the dishes we tried:
Our tour started at Asian Market, where the Peking Duck Lo Mein tossed in Teriyaki sauce had a moreish sweet and salty bite, while the Mushi-Gyoza steamed pork dumplings with plum citrus sauce were tame and approachable. Frozen Lagoon Punch (with blue curacao) was candy-sweet but surprisingly refreshing and the Ty Ku Sake Junmai Silver was exceptionally smooth and enjoyable, not too strong and with a very delicate flavour (a terrific introduction to sake if you’ve been too afraid to try it).
At the Korean Market, the Bingsu Salted Vanilla Ice Cream was a magnificent visual creation with its caramel popcorn and heavy drizzle of caramel sauce, but the ice cream was heavy and somewhat bland, mysteriously holding its shape in the warmth of a Floridian afternoon. Korean Beef Tacos had a spicy kick at the end and excellent crunch from the vegetables. The Sweet Potato Taco was an imaginative dish, with the smoothness of the potato contrasting well with the crunch of the coleslaw. The Korean BBQ Rib was sweet and smokey, with a delicious apple plum sauce; again a bit on the sweet side (a recurring theme).
The Caribbean kiosk’s Cinnamon Slow Roasted Pork Belly was the meaty, less fatty version of pork belly that we so enjoy, but its bed of plantain tasted a bit like apple pie, for an unusual counterpoint. Seafood Ceviche was tangy and tart with a sharp, peppery finish, and made a nice pairing with an Argentinian Malbec.
Mediterranean Market offered what turned out to be one of Simon’s faves, a huge melt-in-the-mouth sensation of Sea Scallops Provencal with mushroom risotto; extremely aromatic and a must-try for anyone who enjoys their seafood. Susan’s Grilled Lamb Chop was beautifully fork-tender, if a bit fatty, though it could have used a bit more char for a touch of crunch.
North Atlantic Market featured a large portion Grilled Venison Sausage Slider, extremely smooth and nicely set off by the coarse-grained mustard and red pepper. Bacon & Cheddar Hushpuppies had a pleasingly crunchy exterior and a soft interior, albeit slightly sweet (again) with the honey-butter. Here we really enjoyed the Blue Point Toasted lager, dark and malty, while the Dogfish IPA was a good choice with both dishes, with the food taking the bitter edge off the beer.
Feijoada Black Bean Chili at the Brazilian Market was more like a black bean soup, nicely heavy on the cumin and distinctly smokey. The big hit, though, was the Brazilian Churrasco, with a huge portion of skirt steak beautiful complemented by garbanzo frito and a gorgeous, tangy chimichurri; a MAJOR dish, and Susan’s ultimate favourite. Imperial Costa Rican lager had a sweet, honeyed edge, while the Don Guerino Chardonnay Reserve was mild and slightly sweet; not the best choice when paired with such strong food flavours, but a lovely, light wine in Florida’s heat.
The size of the Wild Berry Chocolate Bread Pudding at Gulf Coast Market and Hawaiian Pineapple Dream Cake at Polynesian Island Market took our breath away – easily enough for 2 (or even 4!) as dessert, or for 1 as a (large!) afternoon snack. The Chicken & Sausage Gumbo at Gulf Coast was nicely peppery, with good flavour from the okra and a lovely smoked sausage that really rolled well across the tastebuds. The Braised Short Ribs were another big hit, with a great depth of flavour and good value for money. Shiner Bock was our favourite beer of the day, dark and toasty, and ideal with the gumbo.
As you can imagine, even a bite or two of each of those samples proved extremely filling by the time we were done, but with so many other tempting choices we will certainly return (Shrimp Mac & Cheese and Nitrogen Infused Kettle Corn, we’re looking at you!).
We had the opportunity to speak with Executive Chef Héctor Colón, who brings 25 years of experience to bear in creating each market’s offerings, and we asked him about how he came up with dishes for the festival.
“You can come to a theme park and have a chicken tender, hamburger, hot dog,” he told us, “but this is something different. You can have short ribs, a lamb chop, ribs, sustainable fish. You can have different foods from different regions. And the best thing is, it’s not in one area. You walk around and see the park, have a good time, and enjoy the food and the music. It’s family time.”
We asked if he was primarily in charge of coming up with each item. “It takes a lot of decision makers, a group of people to think about it. It’s not just myself. I can come up with anything, but if my guests don’t like it, then why? We have to test it. We have to taste it. That’s how you work it out. It is an effort to put something like this together.”
How did the team decide on themes? Chef Colón said, “We were thinking about it as regions, and what are the best things that we have in those regions. We thought, we have the West Coast, we have the Pacific Coast, we have the East Coast, we have Florida. They have a lot of roots with food that people enjoy. We put in a little Brazil, South American, Argentina, and even some flavours from Cuba, and everything comes together.”
And then, that all-important question: What should guests be sure to try? “I’m from Puerto Rico, and I love the Southern food. I love home cooking, but I love new things too. Something I tell everybody they must try because it’s simple and it’s good is the Grilled Cheese Pound Cake with cheddar cheese and macerated berries. It’s something simple that you can even make at home.”
Don’t feel like pulling your wallet out every time you want to try a food or drink? In the mood for some serious sampling at a discount? Pick up one of two festival lanyards, and simply have it scanned each time you order. The Food and Brew 10 Item Sampling Lanyard allows for 10 samples of food and drink for $40, while the 15 Item Sampling Lanyard adds 5 more samples at $55.
How do you get the most out of your lanyard? We toured with the 10 Sample lanyards, and our recommendation is to arrive at the park early and use your lanyard for 5 samples at each of lunch and dinner, or 3 samples at each meal with a drink and a snack in between. For a hearty meal, choose the duck lo mein, churrasco, venison slider or New England lobster roll; Bingsu ice cream, Bananas Foster cheesecake cone, bread pudding, or Dream cake for dessert; and the any of the craft beers or the non-alcoholic Brazilian frozen lemonade or Caribbean Sunset.
And if the markets aren’t enough, there are 6 additional kiosks serving limited-time menus (through 15 April), plus Brew Huts with local craft beers, and cocktails with whiskey, rum and vodka.
The festival runs each Saturday from February 11-May 13, 11am until 1 hour before park closing, and also features big-name bands including Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, The Commodores and the Village People. Concerts are free with park admission.
If you have questions about what’s coming to Orlando for 2017 – or anything else about the wonders of Florida – be sure to join Susan and Simon on the ATD forums, on this link: https://www.attractiontickets.com/forum/forum.php.