The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic has grown as large as its name. What once was contained to the causeway that links the two hotel properties now spreads out along the waterway and extends to themed areas around the pool and in various courtyards and even into the hotel, where the Bubble Lounge was festooned with champagne colored balloons as attendants poured high end sparkling wines.
All of the event was moved indoors for the Friday edition of the of the two-night festival because of rain. I can recall that happening at least once before, in 2011, so I know the hotel staff as a good contingency plan. But there’s no doubt that the Food & Wine Classic is at its best when its outdoors.
And it was on Saturday evening when I attended along with a few thousand other folks. Despite the high turnout, lines for food and drink were short and manageable. That could be because there were so many food and wine stations that it kept everyone spread out.
One of the new themed areas was Hang 10, which had a double meaning. The surfer term indicated that it was a beachside scene, but the 10 was also a reference to the 10th anniversary of the event. They were serving a fry basket of clams, shrimp and oysters and a delicious ceviche fashioned out of hearts of palm, one of several vegetarian and vegan items added this year.
Nearby was the Pig & the Poke where a large earth-baked pig was on display. The pig provided the Kalua Pork with steamed white rice, barrel aged tamari and napa cabbage. There was also Hawaiian yellowfin tuna poke served on sushi rice. Both were quite good.
But I was lured away from the water by the sight of roast ducks hanging in the Chinatown pavilion. The duck, served in a bao bun, was pretty tasty but I liked the pan roasted pork-filled Shanghai dumplings even better.
In the Carnival Corner, guests played midway games and noshed on macaroni and cheese (with smoked angus brisket on top), grilled sausage sandwiches and fried Oreo cookies.
Todd English was in town and his bluezoo restaurant served a very nice Pan Seared Rockfish with cotechino sausage and toasted fregola pasta.
I also liked the Arkansas BLT from the Cabana Bar and Beach Club, which had a smear of pimento cheese with the thick double-cut bacon.
Over in the Beer Garden venue, the favorite was the Wagyu Sloppy Joe, best paired with the Poutine with curds and beef gravy. (Not one of the vegetarian options.)
And the resort’s renowned pastry chef, Laurent Branlard, was serving up a Molten Chocolate Banana Foster that had people moaning along the causeway.
In all, there were 28 different food options, and I found it impossible to try them all. I certainly couldn’t sample the more than 70 wines and 30 or so beers. I valiantly tried.
It was a lovely evening, the first coolish weather to roll in, and the sounds of the live bands filled the air and the Dolphin hotel served as an immense canvas for projected lights and swirling images.
I can’t wait to see what the food and beverage team comes up with for next year’s event. Hang 11? Probably not, but I’m sure it’s going to be great.