The wildly popular Food & Wine Festival has returned to Busch Gardens for its fourth season. The event takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 27 through June 26, 2016. In addition to delicious food, desserts and beverages from around the world, park guests can enjoy live music, themed decorations and culinary demonstrations such as cake decorating, ice carving and fruit and vegetable sculptures.
Each year, the Williamsburg theme park adds a new region or two to spice things up a bit. The new regions for 2016, chosen by a fan-based survey, are Hawaii and Virginia. I recently had the chance to check out and taste test a few (okay, all) of the new items. There is also a new Argentinian wine tasting experience that can be found in the Oktoberfest village.
What’s new at Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival 2016
From the mountains and the southwest to the coast and the Colonial era, Virginia was tough to narrow down to just four or five items. Chef Justin explained that the difficulty arose not because of lack of choices, but because there are so many different foods associated with Virginia as well as different interpretations of how the dishes are prepared. For example, nearly everybody has their own opinion about ham biscuits. For that reason, Chef Justin chose to provide a “sampler” for his take on the Virginia ham biscuit scene.
Planning for the Food & Wine Festival begins in November, and it is evident that a lot of thought and preparation went into the choices for the Virginia kiosk. The park did a stellar job of choosing just the right dishes and recipe interpretations.
On the menu for Virginia:
She-crab soup – My family really enjoys their she-crab soup, and this did not disappoint. Rich and creamy, it’s made with sustainable Virginia crabs and finished with sherry, Old Bay crostini and Chesapeake Blue Crab salad.
Pork rinds with Virginia dips – This is your average, run-of-the-mill pork rind, but the dips are amazing. Dips include deviled ham pate, Pimento cheese spread, smoked bacon and onion jam.
Bacon and cheddar hush puppies – These cornmeal hush puppies are with local Virginia honey butter, which was a delicious and unique addition to the hush puppies.
Smithfield ham – It’s just not Virginia without Smithfield ham. This plate includes red eye country ham, hickory smoked pit ham and Applewood carved ham served with honey biscuit, apple butter, raspberry jam and whole grain mustard.
Pecan, bacon and chocolate bars – Sweet pecan caramel bars topped with smoked bacon and chocolate drizzle make a rich and gooey treat.
Beverages include an apple pie moonshine cocktail, Alewerks Chesapeake Pale Ale and several selections from the Williamsburg Winery. I did not get the chance to taste test any of them on this visit. Maybe next time.
The Virginia kiosk is located in the Scotland village near the Highland Stables. It replaces the Scotland kiosk from previous years.
Complete with thatched roof, a tiki bar and Hawaiian music (and, yes, Elvis is among the selections), Hawaii was easily my favorite kiosk (and that was before I even tasted the food).
The Hawaiian kiosk menu includes:
Root vegetable chips with Maui onion dip – Colorful and crispy, these fried sweet potatoes, taro root and beet chips are served with caramelized sweet onion dip.
Spam slider – Since Hawaii is the second largest consumer of Spam in the world, it’s only fitting that it would be on the menu. Now, if you only remember Spam as a bland tub of meat, you definitely need to try this version. A fried slice of Spam is combined with sriracha mayonnaise and grilled pineapple on a soft roll and served with pineapple-coconut coleslaw. This dish is one of my top five favorites.
Huli Huli chicken – Sweet pineapple and soy BBQ chicken is served with orange and purple sweet potato salad. This dish was delicious, and it makes the list as my favorite from the Hawaii kiosk.
Tuna poke – Soy and sesame sushi tuna are served in a wonton flower with wasabi aioli. Wakame seaweed salad is on the side. I’m not a sushi or sashimi person, but I did enjoy this item. The tuna was tender, and the salad quite tasty.
Haupia tart – This yummy treat consists of sweet coconut mousse with Kona coffee ganache in a crispy tart shell. It did not last long.
Hibiscus lemonade – Made with hibiscus leaves and lemon juice, this stuff is the nectar of the Gods. It was light, tart and incredibly refreshing.
Beer choices include Kona Big Wave Golden Ale and Kona Longboard Island Lager. There is also a Blue Hawaiian frozen cocktail that I plan to taste the next time I visit.
The Hawaii kiosk is located just past Castle O’Sullivan in Ireland as you’re headed toward Wolf Haven. It replaces the Scandinavian kiosk that was previously in Ireland.
Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival basics
Guests can sample food, wine and other culinary treats from themed kiosks, 14 in all, located around the park. There is no extra charge to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival, but menu items are in addition to park admission. Food & Wine menu items are sample-sized and range in price from $4 to $10.
The Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival makes a great girls’ day out or date night excursion. Kids will even enjoy the food carving and decorating demonstrations. You may find that you have a budding culinary connoisseur on your hands.
In addition to Hawaii and Virginia, the Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival features Greece, Italy, France, the Caribbean, Spain, Asia, Germany, the French Quarter, Canada and the American Southwest as well as a Crepes & Coffee kiosk.
Tips to enjoy Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival 2016
Purchase pre-loaded wristbands, located at several locations around the park, to enjoy “hands-free” purchasing of food items. Eliminate all of that digging through bags for wallets, cash or credit cards.
Food and Wine Festival menu items are sample-sized, so have fun and share a few different items to get a taste of everything.
Grab a booklet, which can be found at most kiosks, that lists all of the food and beverage items. You can decide ahead of time where to go and what to eat as well as check off what you’ve tried.
Food & Wine Festival packages
- Busch Gardens has made it easy to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival with a couple of new packages. The Food & Wine Festival Food Sampler Package is $35 and allows you to mix and match 10 entrée or dessert dishes from any of the kiosks. This is the perfect choice for one person, or even two people to share.
- The Food & Wine Festival Deluxe Food Sampler Package is $50 and allows you to try 15 entrees or dessert items. Beer, wine and other beverages are not included with the sampler packages.
- The Wine Tasting Trio allows you to enjoy any three of the park’s five wine-tasting experiences for $29.95, which is a savings of approximately $15.
For more information, complete food and wine kiosk menus and to purchase tickets, please visit buschgardens.com/foodandwine.
Disclosure: The author received complimentary samples at the Food & Wine Festival as part of the park’s Ambassador Blogger/Thrill Chaser media day. All opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author.
This article was previously published at Examiner.com in May 2016.
Check out previous food events at Busch Gardens:
- Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival 2014: Menus and Pictures
- Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival 2013: Food and Fun Combine for a VIP Experience
- Schnitzel, Schnaps and lots and lots of Bier: Oktoberfest Bier Fest at Busch Gardens (2015)