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I was lucky enough to go to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival this year the day before it opened and was rewarded with non-existent crowds and, you guessed it, great good. Here’s a quick rundown of what I saw that first day.

The Mexico pavilion is consistently one of my favorites and each year they do a special taco that I end up getting several times during the festival. This year, the fantastic (and spicy) ribeye taco was no more. I was sad, but I’ve moved on with this:

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Delicious shrimp and a spicy, creamy sauce. I’d say it’s a fair trade.

As a former historian, I always chuckle at Germany’s proximity to the Polish booth (always looming, in the distance).  Both booths were pretty much the same as last year,  although Germany took away the extremely popular Berliner (jelly filled doughnut). Poland had kielbasa and pierogies again this year, but you can get the same kielbasa at the market and pierogies, if they aren’t made by your grandmother, should be made in a church basement by someone else’s grandmother and these clearly aren’t, so why even bother?

South Korea consistently serves up delicious food, including a bulgogi barbequed shortrib that come with a side of cucumber kimchi. It’s easy to miss this booth, which is just past China as you walk toward Africa, but you’ll want to make a stop.

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In Ireland, the chocolate pudding cake with Bailey’s cream is delicious. If you don’t like alcohol, you can ask them to leave the sauce off, but that sort of misses the point of this dessert.

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No big surprises in Canada.

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The mushroom filet and beer cheese soup is back again. And while we’re on that subject, can we put a stop to this filet? I get it every year in the hopes that it will be good and it is, but it’s not $7.50 worth of good. Not even close. It’s just an overcooked, thin piece of meat. The real highlight is the mushrooms and the truffle butter. But you can do better.

In fact, this is how much better you can do:

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The crispy pork belly with black beans and cilantro in Brazil. At only $5.50, this large portion is a bargain and it’s one of the most flavorful items I’ve had at Food and Wine.

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Epcot’s China pavilion has never been known as a culinary destination for most Disney fans. The food is only slightly better than what you would find in your mall food court. But their festival kiosk always seems to have one or two items that end up being on my top 5 list. This year is no exception. My dining companion loved the Beijing duck in a steamed bun with hoisin sauce and we were both ready to fight over the Happy Peach, which features peach liquor with a substantial amount of rum on top.

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Our favorite booth was easily the Farm Fresh booth, which features local Florida favorites. The delicious watermelon, greens, and goat cheese salad is off the menu this year, but they’ve replaced it with “yardbird” with collards and a loaded macaroni and cheese.

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At only $4.50, the chicken was the best deal at  Food and Wine. It was also one of my favorites, with a crispy flavorful skin and juicy chicken. Even if you don’t like collard greens, give it a try. They can be unfamiliar to people who don’t live in the south, but I generally find that most people who try them become converts. I had it with the key lime wine, which was good however my companion’s elderberry cider was amazing–I will definitely get that next time.  In face, the booth has a cider flight, so if you’re looking to maximize your experience for only $10.25, it’s a great deal. Plus, there’s more than enough to share.

Before I finish, there’s a bunch of fun, new merchandise this year, including a set of flatware for those of you who take your forks seriously!

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I thought these souvenir plates were cute too.  I’m a sucker for dessert plates though.

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I’ll be back next weekend with a full report on what I’ve missed (and more tacos, always more tacos). Until then, what are your favorites?