Eat This: The Grand Floridian Cafe

Occasionally I find myself having run a good, healthy, calorie burning distance on property and, as such, famished beyond all pretensions of self control and within reach of some very excellent food. It’s a dangerous combination. Such was the case a week or so ago as I stumbled into the Grand Floridian after a long training run.

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The menu at the Grand Floridian Café was calling to me and who was I to deny it?

I grabbed a last minute reservation and was quickly seated at a lovely window side table. My waitress was darling and talked me through the many options – though I’d known going in where my meal would take me. After ordering my Chipotle Bloody Mary – prepared with a chipotle-infused vodka and garnished with a jumbo shrimp (!) and chorizo with a lime-salt rim – I settled into reading the rest of the menu and confirmed what I’d come for. (You can tell we’re getting close and comfortable with each other as I just dangled a preposition….) The Lobster ‘Thermidor’ Burger.

Let me say that again for you. The LOBSTER. THERMIDOR. BURGER. Described on the menu as a 7-oz. artisanal burger patty with lobster-parmesan thermidor sauce on a seared brioche bun and served with the café’s signature seasoned french fries, I knew it had to be mine. (Confession – I got the cucumber salad instead of the fries. It looked like a sad little cup of sliced pickles. Learn from my mistakes. Get the fries.)

So my drink and my burger arrive and holy hell. This photo shoot was quick because momma was hangry.

Confession #2: I don’t usually do random foods with lobster. I’m a bit of a lobster purist. I want it with butter and nothing else and generally think that piling it into other foods is wasteful at best and sacrilege at worst.

But you guys. YOU GUYS. It melted into itself. The roll was buttery and soft with just the right amount of resistance. The burger was cooked a perfect medium rare and the lobster and sauce on top were everything right in the world in the form of a burger topping / condiment. It went down easier than I thought possible and erased my run with happy fullness.

I could have happily rolled out of there and home at that moment but for you I powered on. I asked for a dessert menu.

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Choosing was hard. The waitress came over and we briefly discussed my dilemma. She jokingly suggested the sampler for 2. “YES” I said. “BRILLIANT.” She seemed concerned and promised to bring a to go box with this last course.

The cheerful little row of shot glass sized desserts arrived soon after. “For 2?!”, I laughed. Though truly for the reasonable prices of each item, any of them would have made a light and happy way to end a perfect meal. Still, I’d gotten them all, and I soldiered on.

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The sampler included tastes of 4 popular desserts – the fresh berry tart, the mocha pot de crème, the chocolate timbale, and the wild strawberry cheesecake. The mocha pot, a coffee-flavored custard and whipped cream, was light and delicious. The chocolate timbale, a chocolate gateaux with bittersweet chocolate mousse, was rich and decadent. The wild strawberry cheesecake, whose name spoke for itself, was creamy and wonderful with sweetness cut by the (at least comparatively) tart berry. And last but oh-so-definitely not least, the fresh berry tart, a layer of almond cake topped with seasonal berries and apricot glaze, was hands down my personal favorite. Given the choice of one, that would easily be my dessert order. I am a sucker for almond drenched cake and fresh fruit. Had the sampler been nothing but four slices of this, I’d’ve been in bliss.

I did not need a to go box.

I am so happy to know that a relaxed and decadent spot like this is just around the corner. And while I ordered a heavy lunch, in part because I was post-run famished and in part because I wanted the full experience of the place, you really could have a lovely lunch here without leaving feeling stuffed or having spent a fortune. I will most definitely be back, and soon.

Eat This: Food & Wine’s Farm Fresh Booth

I had a chance to stop by Epcot yesterday night after an already busy day of running, Magic Kingdom, and Skipper’s Canteen. I was actually there with my partner in crime, who had scored tickets to both tapings of Wheel of Fortune, but before the show started we had a chance to sample both food offerings from Food & Wine’s Farm Fresh booth. And these were calories well spent.

  • Crispy Chicken with Griddled Cornbread and Red Eye Gravy ($4.75)

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This took me a minute to absorb but actually turned out to be delicious. I had walked past this booth 1,000 times and always just assumed they were serving up pieces of chicken with sides of cornbread. It’s actually more of a sweet cornbread cake with chicken and gravy icing – and if you can’t get behind that then we probably can’t be friends.

Seriously, though, this one surprised me. The cornbread is very sweet – with a distinct maple flavor that my friend likened to cornbread pancakes. It sort of needs the chicken and gravy to balance it out, but if you can get it all in your mouth at once your tastebuds will make quick work of blending it all together and making a single taste that’s just right.

  • Roasted Beet Salad with Green Beans, Feta Cheese, Minus 8 Vinaigrette, and Toasted Walnuts ($3.75)

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I’m not a huge lover of beets but enjoy them when they’re playing in the right setting. This salad was so fresh and lovely. The beets are a warm and cozy addition to this crisp salad full of greens, walnuts, and fresh green beans. The feta gives it just the right punch and I don’t know what Minus 8 dressing is but apparently I dig it. For the $3.75 price tag, this was a healthy serving and a great value.

  • Two Henrys Elderberry Cream Hard Cider ($4) and Florida Orange Groves Mango Mamma Wine ($5.50)

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It’s good to know going in that the Two Henrys Elderberry Cream Cider is in fact very much an elderberry. cream. cider. It has that round sort of taste that almost tastes malted and the elderberry is a bit syrupy. It wouldn’t be a go to drink for me but in the right mood it would do the trick.

The Mango Mamma Wine is very light and crisp and went down easily on a hot night. It made a good partner to the earthy beet salad and rich fried chicken dish.

 

The Many Pleasures of Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen

I tend to be at the Magic Kingdom either alone with two small children or actually alone – but with a limited amount of time to kill before picking up those same two small children from school. As such, I don’t often have the luxury of a proper meal in the park. It’s more often hot dogs at The Lunching Pad (which, don’t get me wrong, are tasty enough in a pinch) or popcorn or, when I’m feeling a little indulgent, a Nutella (sorry “chocolate-hazelnut spread”) and fruit covered waffle at Sleepy Hollow.

But, as usual, I digress….

Yesterday I found myself spending the rare full morning and early afternoon in the park with my husband, so we decided to take advantage and finally try out the new-to-us Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. So what did this spot have to offer, other than the longest restaurant name I’ve seen in recent memory?

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To start, quite a lot of kitchy fun if you’re into that sort of thing. Nothing as over the top as, say, the ketchup loving cast at Whispering Canyon. But the place has a fun storyline that makes for a good time. According to Disney’s own description, and our fully committed waitress, “[t]he same skippers who guided your steamer down the Nile, Amazon and Congo Rivers have opened the doors and kitchens of their tropical headquarters to fellow adventurers and famished families like your own!” So you’re hanging out with your Jungle Cruise skippers and should expect a campy good time. And they deliver. The waiting area sets the stage with displayed awards and an array of art that looks like Renoir and the love child of Picasso and Frida Kahlo were put in charge of decor and had a blast with it.

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We were promptly seated in the S.E.A. Room–said to be a once-secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers–and given menus that had me drooling and utterly unable to choose. The menu is self described as offering the bold and flavorful cuisine of Asia, South America, and Africa.

We finally settled on the Shiriki Noodle Salad, made up of noodles, edamame, mushrooms, green mango, and cucumber, and tossed with sweet chili sauce. It was as pretty as it was delicious. The noodles were thin and light, the mushrooms were chewy, the edamame popped, and the sauce pulled it all together without being overpowering. We made quick work of it.

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For our main dishes, I had the sustainable fish, which was a red snapper, served over Chinese broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and red bell peppers in a lemon grass broth. I cannot say enough good things about this dish. The fish was light, sweet, and flaky and the broth and vegetables were fresh and bright. Digging into this, it was easy to forget that the Magic Kingdom was waiting for me outside.

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I was so glad that my husband was ordering with me, because his dish was, to me, the big surprise. Cheerfully named “‘Tastes Like Chicken’ Because It Is!”, it was a fried chicken with the most heavenly citrus and ginger-scented rice, chili glaze, and veggies. I would never have thought to order fried chicken at Skipper Canteen, but it was so, so good. Crisp and juicy and sitting on a bed of rice that made me want to have its babies. I love me some Homecomin’ – but this chicken is a contender.

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At this point I was fairly certain I’d need to be rolled home, but what’s a restaurant review without a dessert item? We hesitantly asked for menus and scanned for something more to stuff into ourselves.

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Quick Sand!!!??? Hell yeah I’ll take some quick sand!

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Per the menu: Jasmine rice pudding, mango sauce, lemon curd, hibiscus meringue, and pineapple. I need more of this in my life. It reminded me very much of the lovely dish that I often find at Japanese restaurants with soft mango, warm sticky rice, and sweet coconut milk. It was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

All in all, if you couldn’t tell already, I’ll be back. I love knowing that a meal like this can be found within the gates of Magic Kingdom. I left full and happy, rode Pirates, and went to pick up my kids. An afternoon well spent.

Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – Hawaii Booth

You know how they say everything tastes better in Disney? Well, it does. But it tastes even better in Hawaii. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to live there. But while I’m relatively convinced that most of it was fairly normal food, every damned thing that I ate during my 2 week honeymoon on Maui, the Big Island, and Oahu tasted better than pretty much anything else I’d ever had. The pizza was divine. The kimchi popped. The bibimbap was a downright religious experience. The shrimp trucks… don’t even get me started on the shrimp trucks. It’s the joy of eating in a place that brightens every color and forces you into the moment. If you’ve ever eaten miracle fruit and sucked on a lemon……I’m pretty sure it’d taste just as sweet on the North Shore.

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So basically when you’re trying to serve up some Hawaiian food, you’d better do it right.

So how did Epcot do? They did good.

  • Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour DOLE(R) Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise ($4.75)

My only issue with this this is that it ended a few bites after I started eating it. Why is pork hitting it out of the park at F&W this year?? The pineapple chutney was SO good and the spicy mayo was more of a little kick than real spice. As far as the roll, I don’t know if it was actually King’s Hawaiian or just channeling one, but either way it was alright with me.

  • Grilled Tuna Tataki with Seaweed Salad, Pickled Cucumbers, and Wasabi Cream ($5.25)

Yes!! Here is my simple seared tuna dish – while Japan is over there serving up BLT sushi. Simple and delicious – give it a swirl in the wasabi cream sauce and eat up. The seaweed salad and pickled cucumber were mild and added the necessary texture. (Plus we all know seaweed basically gives you superpowers….)

  • Teriyaki-glazed SPAM(R) Hash with Potatoes, Peppers, Onions, and Spicy Mayonnaise ($4)

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I so wanted to love this. I mean – teriyaki SPAM(R)?! How fun! And judging from others I’ve spoken to and the people I’ve watched around the Hawaii booth, a lot of people *do* love it. For me, it was not a favorite. The mix of ingredients sounds amazing on paper but it just didn’t come together for me and the overall taste was a little bland. I was expecting a major punch of flavor from the description and it just didn’t get there.

  • Passion Fruit Cheesecake with Toasted Macademia Nuts ($4)

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Unquestionably one of my top 3 desserts at F&W this year. This is a creamy cheesecake, lightly flavored with passion fruit sauce and sprinkled with macadamia nuts that bring their typical soft texture. Unless you are vehemently opposed to any of those things, please eat this. More than once if possible. Your thighs will forgive you and your taste buds will be forever grateful.

  • Florida Orange Groves Sparkling Pineapple Wine ($6)

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Oh sadness. I love sparkling wine. I love pineapple. I love a pretty drink in a tall glass. And at $6, the price (for a F&W alcoholic beverage) wasn’t bad. I so wanted to love this. As always, just my most humble opinion, but this didn’t work for me. It was syrupy sweet – almost like an ice wine, but not in a good way, and I honestly had to force myself to finish it so as not to have wasted the money. Oh well. Many others will love it and plenty of other options for me.

In short, I think that so far Hawaii overall hit it out of the park more than any other booth I’ve tried so far. I didn’t love everything personally but what I did love I’d rank as among the best dishes at all of F&W.

On Loving Japan…and Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – Japan Booth

Japan is my jam. I’ve been intrigued by this fascinating, dichotomous culture since high school and borderline obsessed since college. I studied the language from my freshman year of college through my first year of law school (running from Japanese to civil procedure several mornings a week, trying desperately to switch my head back into English before Elena Kagan started in on us with her uniquely brilliant approach to the  Socratic method). I’d taken the language since college and hadn’t been able to envision an academic environment where I wasn’t *also* taking Japanese. It hadn’t crossed my mind that adding Japanese classes three mornings a week across campus to the load of a 1L at Harvard Law might not be a great idea. But I digress…

In college I’d delved into the language head first. Poured over the history of each Kanji. I spent an embarrassing number of my nights watching Neon Genesis Evangelion (“fly me to the moon…”), picked up onigiri and adzuki bean cakes from a spot near campus for too many meals, and watched as my political science major slowly morphed into comparative politics with a focus on the far east. That last snippet got me in with an incredible Japanese government specialist who got my foot in the door of a program that allowed me to spend about 6 months stationed in Bumblef$%# Japan working on my thesis, doing widespread community outreach. and eating copious amounts of the best sushi I’ve had in my life – made by an old woman in a hut by the river at 2 a.m.

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So there’s your long winded way of learning that, while my hardcore Japan days have been been behind me for a decade or two, pushed aside by such excitement as merger agreements and laundry, I dig Japan and all things Japanese and would happily sit around a low table with friends and family eating Japanese food and drinking tea and sake for the rest of my days.

 

As such, I’m always excited to see what Japan has concocted for Epcot’s various festivals. It was one of the first booths that I hit at Food & Wine this year and I’ve been back a few times since.

 

  • Wasabi Shumai Steamed Pork Dumplings ($6.95)Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 8.11.38 PMI wish I had a better picture of these things but oh well…they’re dumplings. And sadly (because I have been craving some dumplings like nobody’s business) they probably wowed me less than anything else that Japan is offering this year. Don’t get me wrong – they’re solid shumai and tasty enough. But I wanted something to dip them in, they fell apart a little too easily, and for the $6.95 price tag I just wanted something more.

 

  • Salmon BLT Sushi Roll: Futomaki Roll with Lettuce, Cucumber, Cabbage, and Carrots topped with Yuzu Miso Salmon, Tomato, and Bacon ChipsScreen Shot 2017-10-07 at 8.10.18 PMI have such mixed feelings about this thing. I want to hate it. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato have no place in my sushi. My sushi should be simple and full of good tuna. It tastes very good though. I’ll give it that. The rice is cooked perfectly and the lettuce adds a refreshing crunch that’s more than welcome in this lingering heat. And there’s the everything is better with bacon argument – but here it wants to take over too much. I almost wish they’d ditched the BLT schtick and gone inventive with a little something softer and milder, like a prosciutto. All that said, it tastes good and I’ve gotten it more than once.  So I guess I should stop complaining.

 

  • Teriyaki Ginger Pork: Marinated Pork with Sweet Chili and Teriyaki Sauce

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This is without a doubt one of my biggest winners (and biggest surprises, since I’m not typically a huge fan of pork) of F&W this year. I cannot do this thing justice on paper. The meat is incredibly mild and falls off of the bone and the sauce is perfectly sweet and not overly spicy at all. To date I think I’ve had this more often than any other food item at F&W, perhaps only tied with China’s duck dish. At $8.25 it’s one of the pricier items that you’ll find on the promenade this year, but it’s worth it.

  • Pom Pineapple Sake Cocktail ($7.25)

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Tragically tiny like most F&W beverages, but so, so good. If sake and sangria had a baby, it would be this drink. Grab yourself one if you’re in the mood to spend more than $7 on a delicious little something to wash down your dumplings.

Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – France Booth

There are a handful of booths that, through no fault of their own, often take me some time to hit at Food & Wine each year. Sometimes it’s location related…. (Who still has room for waffles when they reach Belguim??) More often it’s the play of the type of food against the heat and humidity of central Florida well into “fall”. I dig French and Italian food, but I tend not to crave it while strolling outside in 90+ degree heat and 1000% humidity.

That said, I wasn’t going to let France slip by this year. So when a childless, relatively mild weathered Friday lunch hour presented itself yesterday, I seized the day and ordered the full slate.

These are the sacrifices I make, my friends. These are the sacrifices….

So, without further ado, my thoughts:

  • Croissant aux Escargots: Escargot Croissant with Garlic and Parley ($5.75)

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This is a returning item and, in short, if you’re cool with snails and not planning on going on a first date later (because you will reek of garlic for the rest of the day), it is delicious. The croissant is perfectly flakey and fully saturated in butter and garlic and the escargots do their usual job of adding texture and transporting garlic from plate to palate as they should. If your young children are anything like my older son, they will cry when they learn that something like this exists in the world. so maybe save it for an adults-only visit.

  • Moelleux au Fromage de Chèvre et Épinards – Warm Goat Cheese Pudding with Spinach ($4.25) (Vegetarian, GF)

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I am a goat cheese fanatic, so I was excited for this. And as you can see from the picture, it is a pretty little dish. That said, while it wasn’t bad by any stretch, it was probably my least favorite of the group. When I eat a dish with goat cheese, I want to be punched in the face with it. This was more of a spinach quiche with a dollap of goat cheese (see it there?) perched on top. It was fine, but not my favorite thing. I marched on…

  • Bouef Bourguignon, Purée de Pommes Terre: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised Beef with Mashed Potatoes ($6.25)

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Damn this was good. Even in the early October, mid-afternoon Florida sun, I could have enjoyed a few of these. The beef fell apart at the touch, was just the right amount of salty, and sat on a happy little bed of potatoes that were as simple as they were delicious. It was true to France and it went down easy. No frills, no silliness, just solid yum.

  • Crème Brûlée à la Confiture de Framboises: Crème Brûlée with Housemade Raspberry Jam ($4.25) (Vegetarian, GF)

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There are few things in the world as satisfying as the crack into a perfectly fired crème brûlée. With one bite it frog leaped into one of the top spots for desserts at F&W. It’s sweet but not overpowering, cut by the tartness of the raspberries. Again, nothing over the top. Just simple and delicious.

  • La Passion Martini Slush: Vodka, Grey Goose Le Citron, and Cranberry Passion Fruit Juice ($10.75)

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I can’t tell you how many people asked where I’d scored this as I walked with it. Get yourself one on a hot day. Please. You deserve it. You’re welcome.

Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – Faves

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I’ve done some damage at Epcot’s 2017 Food & Wine Festival. Where possible, I like to take a systematic approach to the food offerings and knock out each booth in a clean sweep. With 3 or 4 food items per booth costing anywhere from $3ish to $8ish each, this is a fairly doable way of tackling things – especially if you have the luxury of visiting often.

To date, I’ve eaten every item in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, the Cheese Studio, the Wine & Dine Studio, Hawaii, Canada, Japan, Germany, Coastal Eats, Flavors from Fire, India, and China – as well as a smattering of items elsewhere.

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I’ll be digging into each booth separately, but wanted to start by taking moment for a quick and dirty list of favorites to date. There have only been a small handful of things that I truly didn’t like (and even those are loved by many others) – but my personal big winners to date are…*

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  • Coastal Eats – Seared Scallops with Roasted Corn and Butterbean Succotash and Chili-Chipotle Butter Sauce ($6)
    • The scallops were cooked and seasoned perfectly. The roasted corn and succotash were a perfect compliment and the sauce was light and brought the little dish together perfectly. (I used some form of the word “perfect” 3 times here and I’m cool with that. It’s that good.)

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  • The Wine & Dine Studio – Trio of Artisan Cheese: Fromager d’Affinois de Excellence with Toasted Baguette, Point Reyes Original Blue with Apricot Jam, Point Reyes Toma with Honey ($5.25)
    • While the cheese trio at The Cheese Studio was excellent, I actually preferred this one. Then again, I am a sucker for a strong cheese sitting in a bed of honey or sweet apricot jam. My sons actually love this too. Despite always aiming to try new items at each visit, we’ve gotten it several times.

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  • Hawaii – The Grilled Tuna Tataki with Seaweed Salad, Pickled Cucumbers, and Wasabi cream ($5.25) was simple and perfect. (I might have licked the plate clean….) The Passion Fruit Cheesecake with Toasted Macadamia Nuts ($4) was one of my favorite desserts to date – rich and creamy and beautifully balanced against being overly sweet by the macadamia nuts. And while I’m at it the sliders weren’t much to look at from a presentation perspective but that was okay because we inhaled them and so didn’t need to look at them for long. ($4.75) All in all, Hawaii might be my winner as the booth with the highest batting average. I didn’t love the SPAM item (though many others do) but everything else hit it out of the park.

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  • Mexico – Cajeta Mousse served with Cajeta Sauce & White Chocolate Flakes. ($4.25)
    • Oh how I miss the shrimp tacos. But this offering at the Mexico booth might be my favorite dessert at F&W so far. It is light and sweet and I was sad when I couldn’t scrape any more out of the bottom of the little container. Oh and I looked it up and cajeta means caramel. Which makes sense, because it tasted like caramel and was covered in caramel. God it was good. I might need to Uber over to Epcot right now…..

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  • China – Beijing Roasted Duck Bao Bun with Hoisin Sauce. ($6.50)
    • This duck bun. Ohhhhh….this duck bun. It has quite simply been my F&W daydream since I first tried it. Is it shaking up the food world with inventiveness? Probably not. But it was delicious. The duck is perfectly prepared, the bun is soft and spongy, the accompanied crunch is lovely, and the hoisin sauce adds a touch of sweetness without being overpowering.
    • It is worth mentioning that the Spicy Chicken Bao Bun ($5.25) offered by the China booth is also wonderful and probably would have made this list if the duck hadn’t so stolen the show.

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  • Germany – Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll. ($5.25)
    • What more to say? It’s a perfect bratwurst in a soft and chewy pretzel roll with a happy little dollop of spicy mustard on the side. It’s delicious in its simplicity and also is a great break from the sorts of spices that otherwise dominate the promenade during F&W. Call it a sausage-y palate cleanser.

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  • Japan – Teriyaki Ginger Pork: Marinated Pork with Sweet Chili and Teriyaki Sauce. ($8.25)
    • This has been my other F&W daydream since I first tried it. The meat is perfectly mild (overpowering pork doesn’t do it for me) and falls off of the bone. I could have cleaned off the bone and, had it been narrower, happily picked my teeth with it. My only complaint is that I want the damned thing to be prettier. It doesn’t pose well for pictures.

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  • Brazil – Pão de Queijo: Brazilian Cheese Bread. ($4)
    • Oh BCB. How do I love thee? How are you both gluten free (answer: corn) and full of hot soft cheese that somehow does not melt and drip (answer: type of cheese used, apparently). Cheese bread is my older son’s reason for being from September to mid-November and its soft, squishy goodness probably puts a few inches on my frame during that time as well. #WorthIt

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  • Epcot Legacy Showplace – Odyssey Center – Zesty Cheeseburger and Cheddar Cheese Macaroni Handwich ($5.50)
    • Any food offering that can all at once bring me to my knees, make me feel like I’m back in Cars Land out west, and be eaten with one hand while I use the other to deal with my children and/or hold a glass of glowing champagne deserves a standing ovation.

*All item descriptions are taken from and credited to the Festival Passport Booklet.