and grits is a favorite at the Busch Gardens Food
& Wine Festival
macaroni and cheese or deconstructed duck confit? Coconut
shrimp or goat cheese fingerling potato tart? Busch
Gardens Tampa Bay is holding its first food and wine
festival on weekends through the end of April, and in the
spotlight is a good mix of the comfortable and the bold.
Gardens chefs created 29 small-plate dishes just for this
event. They range from the familiar (shrimp and grits,
smoked beef brisket) to dishes that push just beyond the
comfort zone (venison chili, roasted pork belly with
tomato onion jam) to the sweet (mango eclair, grilled
festival also offers more than 50 brews, many of them
Florida craft beers, and more than 50 wines. Many of the
food items come with pairing recommendations.
always looking for new, unique experiences. … We look
back on what our guests loved and build on that,"
said Heather Harrison, entertainment show manager for
Busch Gardens. "We see this being something that will
reach out to many guests that we haven’t been able to
reach before — different ages, different palates, people
who enjoy wine rather than beer, people who are foodies.
pulling out all the stops."
new event replaces the Bands, Brew & BBQ festival with
a more ambitious array of food and beverages. "We’ve
got everything from grilled food, seafood, vegetarian to
soul food," Harrison said. "They all have some
kind of a Southern or Florida twist."
stood recently at small tables sampling a little of this,
a little of that. "There isn’t anything we haven’t
liked yet. The food’s been good, and there’s a good
variety," said Elizabeth Kara of Spring Hill, Fla.
"It’s a little bit better than what I
there’s a good assortment of drinks," added her
husband, Christopher Kara.
favorite? "It’s a toss-up between the coconut
shrimp and the short ribs," she said.
short ribs," he said.
Norman van Aken, a Miami/Key West chef celebrated for his
contributions to South Florida cuisine, gave cooking
demonstrations, handed out samples of his sauteed shrimp
and answered questions from a small audience.
shady courtyard where people sought refuge from the sun, a
living statue — a woman dressed or painted in ivory from
head to toe to resemble statuary — stood still, and at
time moved gracefully to music. Sometimes water sprayed
from her fingertips as if they were sprinklers.
festival is set up in the shadow of Gwazi, an
old-fashioned wooden roller coaster that Busch Gardens
shut down in February because it was no longer popular
with guests. The park has not yet decided how it will
replace the coaster, which is still standing.
area is lined with midway games, but for the Food &
Wine Festival, some of the games were themed for the
event. In the ring toss, for example, the targets were the
necks of wine bottles.
the large field next to Gwazi, a stage was set up. Young
guests grabbed seats as soon as the doors opened at noon
for a 6 p.m. concert by Fifth Harmony, a popular girl
group, then lined the road and shrieked as the singers
were driven away after their performance.
are scheduled every Saturday and Sunday through April 26,
the last day of the festival.
park’s regular attractions were open, and some
festival-goers took their cups of beer or plates of
dessert to watch cheetahs strolling through their habitat
or fat alligators sunning themselves by a nearby pond. In
the background, roller-coaster riders screamed and
Busch festival is not on the scale of Disney’s annual
Epcot Wine & Food Festival held each fall. The Busch
festival doesn’t have the galas, wine-tasting seminars
and food workshops that the Epcot festival does. But on a
recent Sunday it sounded as if it might develop its own
loyal following. Of half a dozen guests interviewed, all
said they have annual passes, come to Busch Gardens
regularly and would return for the festival.
festival is included in regular park admission. Food and
beverages cost extra. The small plates were mostly in the
SURE TO TRY …
weren’t available, but anecdotal evidence suggests the
most popular items included:
Coconut shrimp cigars with mandarin orange salad
Pan-seared shrimp with roasted red pepper grits
cheese cake sandwich
Goat cheese fingerling potato tart with pistachio oil.
Braised lamb with roasted corn and merlot jus lie
Pan-seared salmon cake
GARDENS FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL
Noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 26
Busch Gardens, 10165 N. McKinley Dr., Tampa
Included in park admission; one-day ticket $85. For
Florida residents, a $95 Fun Card buys unlimited admission
through Dec. 31