Trying to decide on what to eat at Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival? I received an invitation to preview this year with a complimentary 12 sampler pass, and I have all the details you need to know!
If you’ve never been to Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival and you’re in the Tampa area during the spring, you’re missing out. This year, the festival runs every Saturday and Sunday from February 29 to April 26.
With 31 different booths throughout the park, each offering three or more choices, it can easily overwhelm anyone. While some booths offer longtime favorites, each year the theme park adds new items, too.
So how do you know what to get? There’s no way you can eat everything in one or even three visits.
With so many choices, plan to come hungry and think about sharing with a friend or loved one if you’re comfortable with it. That leaves you more space to try more things!
For more info on what this special event entails, check out the Busch Gardens website.
What to Eat at Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival
Southern Fried Chicken and Biscuit Slider
In Cabin 8, Southern Kitchen, you can find several twists on southern classics, but I couldn’t resist the Southern Fried Chicken and Biscuit Slider. Anytime you have friend chicken is a good day.
What really makes this, outside the crispy chicken and amazingly fluffy biscuit is the bourbon blackberry jam. The sweetness really pulls all the flavor from this and makes it a winning combo all around.
Pork Belly Tacos
Find this new item at Cabin 10 – Chef’s Corner – along with arroz con pollo and pork tenderloin with a champagne watercress sauce. And yes, it may be a hard choice, although the arroz con pollo is gluten free or those who have dietary restrictions.
Sweet and savory seems to be a theme this year, as the crispy pork belly (though I wish my tacos had more of it – they were a little lacking) pairs with the slightly spicy kimchee slaw and a sweet, delicious mango and kiwi salsa.
This dish comes with two tacos, which makes it the perfect item to share. Each person gets one taco, so no messing with divvying it up equally!
Sesame Crusted Tuna
My husband knows that if there’s seared tuna on a menu, I tend to order it. This version is another new item at Cabin 17 – West Coast Catch.
The plate starts with a wakame salad. The base of seaweed and cucumber is perfect for the lightly seared with both white and black sesame seeds encrusting the exterior.
Atop the tuna, chefs drizzle a sweet Thai chili-peach sauce that works really well with both the tuna and the wakame salad. Couple that with the crunchy won ton chips, and it’s a fantastic light appetizer, definitely something you’ll enjoy as the spring heats up.
My plate had more won ton chips than I needed. Had I eaten them all together with the tuna, it would have been overwhelming, but instead, I snacked on about half of them before digging into the rest of the dish.
Charred Brussels Sprouts
Anything with bacon tends to win my heart, and Brussels sprouts with bacon might or might not be one of my favorite recipes. This is a fun way to get your veggies in while possibly indulging in less than healthy choices elsewhere.
I appreciated that the Brussels sprouts weren’t overcooked and soggy. They still had a bite to them, which is the right way to serve them – especially when you add a sprinkling of bacon on top.
The version I had wasn’t charred, so make sure you get past that misnomer. They were definitely more steamed, but that’s ok.
Actually, I might or might not have had every single item served in Cabin 14 – Hog Heaven. What can I say? I love bacon.
The cabin and every menu item in it is brand new. I’m not sure how there hasn’t been a bacon focused cabin before now, but it definitely tops my list when I’m trying to figure out what to eat at Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival!
So of course I had to have the bacon itself. Oops, I ate it before I could take a picture of it, but picture a small plastic glass with three well-seasoned pieces of cooked bacon standing inside.
The bacon was full of flavor from cinnamon to cayenne to maple, which gave it a complex flavor my friend and I both loved. It needs nothing else to make it perfect.
Really, you can’t go wrong with bacon, and yes, this is also at the Hog Heaven cabin.
Grilled Skirt Steak Flatbread
Fusion food is so hot, and some of the combos taste like they were made in heaven. At the brand new Garden Gate Cafe – Cabin 31 – the grilled skirt steak flatbread is a perfect example of this potential.
First of all, the portion is fairly large, so plan to share this one. You get two pieces of flatbread, which makes it super easy to share if you’re trying to decide what to eat at Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival.
The skirt steak is thinly cut and cooked well, so you can chew it without taking all the steak from your flatbread in a single bite if you’re careful. The flatbread has enough cheese to provide flavor and help keep the toppings on.
It also has charred tomatoes and arugula for some flavor variety. Unfortunately, it should have a chimichurri pesto, but I did not notice that on mine. It needs that spark from the chimichurri flavor to really take this over the top.
At Cabin 19 – Heartland – you can find the comfort food we all love. We tried both the bison slider and the homemade bacon mac and cheese.
The bison slider was fantastic, and the long line proved we weren’t the only ones excited about this favorite. The grill couldn’t keep up with demand, but I don’t expect that to be the case on a day to day basis.
The bison slider is incredibly fresh – grilled right in front of us – and it had a perfect bun that they coated in butter and grilled before adding the slider. Couple that with the bacon jam that takes the place of any need for ketchup, mustard, or other toppings, and I could happily eat this all night long.
On the other hand, the mac and cheese was just fine but not spectacular. While the four cheese sauce was good, but calling it bacon mac and cheese was a bit of a misnomer. We saw very little bacon anywhere and tasted none.
That said, if you just want an easy classic or something kids are sure to enjoy, go for the mac and cheese. With so many other amazing choices, however, I’ll save my calories for something else.
Hand Carved Espresso Rubbed Beef Tenderloin
Sticking with the meat theme comes another delicious gluten free option from Cabin 20 – The Butchery. No surprise, this had another long line, but it moved much more quickly than the bison sliders.
I didn’t taste the flavor of the espresso rub on the beef tenderloin, but it was a great cut of meat cooked very well. It remained tender and juicy; in fact, by the time I finished eating, my compostable plate was pretty shredded.
The tenderloin comes served with a white truffle mash that works perfectly with the tenderloin. Once again, this is a decent size portion but not so much that you can’t enjoy other items from the festival.
If you like spicy dishes, go with the pork tamale from Cabin 24 – The Cantina – another brand new cabin. I love elotes, as well, and the shrimp version they serve here looked amazing, but I was getting too full to try them, too.
The tamale is a fairly large tamale, which I appreciate. They serve it to you already opened, so you don’t risk accidentally trying to eat the corn husk they steam it in.
The tamale was perfectly steamed, with soft but fully cooked masa encasing a delicious pork. The salsa roja was definitely on the spicy side, so if you’re sensitive, ask to skip it or to go light on it.
The tamale should come with cotija cheese, which would have cut down on the spice a little, but mine lacked it. I also requested no crema, as I’m allergic to sour cream, but otherwise that will have that, which also helps to coat spiciness.
They also top it with cilantro, which wasn’t listed. If you’re one of those who genetically taste soap with your cilantro, make sure you ask to skip that.
Silver and Gold Margarita
If you’re indulging in the Latin inspired dishes, you may want to also take advantage of Cabin 21 – Salted Rims. They have four different flavors of margarita, in addition to a smoked bloody Mary.
If you love fruit, go for the strawberry or watermelon margarita. As more of a purist, I couldn’t resist the silver and gold margarita, though I found the jalapeno margarita option awfully tempting, as well.
The silver and gold margarita starts with Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila, then adds golden turmeric, Cointreau, and margarita mix. It isn’t overly sweet or syrupy, which makes it a well-themed refreshing beverage to enjoy.
ACE Joker Apple Craft Cider
We can’t ignore the drinks side of thing as you decide what to eat at Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival. After all, you have to wash down your food with something, right?
With over 80 craft cocktails and beers and wines, it’s hard to choose just a few, but I love this cider. Find it at Cabin 5 – West Coast Craft.
This cider is the only one at the park, though there are plenty of beers in many styles. It’s on the dry side, so it isn’t overly fruity and sweet, which often makes ciders hard to pair with food.
This reminded me more of a procecco, and it was a great crisp way to refresh my palate before I tried more foods.
If you’re into creative cocktails, The Busch Garden Food and Wine Festival has plenty. I love that they somehow managed to get bacon even into a bourbon cocktail at Cabin 14- Hog Heaven.
This fun cocktail is perfect for bourbon lovers. It’s strong without being obnoxious, and it has nuanced flavors you can find in a craft cocktail bar.
Paired with the Bulleit bourbon comes maple syrup, bacon bitters, lemon juice, and muddled maraschino cherries. You definitely don’t want to pass up this one.
Cactus Pear Sangria
If you are a frose all day kind of person, this is the cocktail you want to go for. Inside the Garden Gate Cafe, you’ll find Cabin 30 – 32 Degrees at Garden Gate Cafe.
In addition to three beers, the bar serves several frozen drinks, perfect for those hot Tampa days and nights. There are also wine pops in four flavors, which are always fun.
I chose the catcus pear sangria because I love the flavor and color of cactus pear. This drink definitely has the color come through, but the flavor is more strongly rose than cactus pear.
Although it’s flavored with lavender and lemon juice, as well, the predominant flavor is the rose. That isn’t a bad thing, but I would have loved to see more of the other flavors shine through.
Maple Bacon Cinnamon Roll
I mean, a good cinnamon roll is always a win, right? Add bacon to it, and it’s even better. I might have to adjust my own no yeast cinnamon roll recipe to make a copycat version of this one.
That said, my cinnamon roll was a little dry. It had good flavor, but I’d love it cooked maybe a minute less or maybe made just a touch more recently.
Ok, and I could go for a bit more frosting, if only to keep the bacon from falling off as much. I might have lost more than one crumble, much to my deep regret.
It was still a decent cinnamon roll, however, and bacon makes it all better. Grab this one at Cabin 14 – Hog Heaven.
Key Lime Pie Waffle Cone
Honestly? This may have been my favorite menu item I tried all night.
Find it near the concert venue at Cabin 9 – Wave Shack. And yes it’s new this year.
Full disclosure: I adore key lime pie. (Think they can make a key lime pie martini next year to complement this?)
To take key lime pie filling and put it into a waffle cone was pure genius. The whipped cream was fun, and the tangy raspberry coulis is the perfect addition.
I love that you can eat it with one hand without making a mess, and the filling doesn’t taste fake or chemical-y to me. If you can only have one dessert, go for this one.
Strawberry Shortcake Sundae
I’ll admit. We ordered the strawberry shortcake thrill shake, but after seeing what everyone else had, go for the sundae instead.
The shake was not truly a shake. It had some of the same ice cream in a cup with the strawberry topping and a tiny bit of whipped cream, but we didn’t really see any pound cake.
I’ve had freakshakes, and this was not even a milkshake let alone a freakshake (or thrill shake, as they called it). However, the sundae looked absolutely amazing.
The sundae was larger and served on a plate with pound cake topped with vanilla ice cream and those glazed fresh strawberries. And then tons of whipped cream. That’s the dessert I’d rather have!
Regardless of what you choose, grab your strawberry inspired ice cream (both new items) at Cabin 18 – Berry Nice.