When it comes to Disney World, the hive mind of my social media groupthink splits two ways. If you hit up Magic Kingdom as a kid and have children of your own these days, an eventual visit is almost a necessary evil. Sentimental memories of Space Mountain, Mickey and friends outweigh the long lines and Florida’s oppressive sunshine. Those opposed would rather take their vacation coins and do some serious traveling instead. Why fly to the Morocco pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase if you can actually, y’know, go to Morocco? And when it comes to my worldly Facebook foodies, Disney ain’t even in their conversation.
However. The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (September 25 – November 16) entered its 20th year last month. Tasting my way through eating events like Party for the Senses and savoring a whirlwind tour of upscale theme park restaurants weeks ago silenced my inner elitist for a few days. Maize-crusted halibut at Jiko, pan-seared black grouper at The Brown Derby, raw oysters on the half shell at The Boathouse and more filled me and my wife—a French pastry chef in her own right—plein comme un œuf as she might say: “full as an egg.”
1. Jiko—The Cooking Place | 7 p.m.
After a 30-minute Eat to the Beat concert by the Pointer Sisters (full props to 69-year-old Ruth Pointer still doing the “Neutron Dance”), we headed over to Animal Kingdom Lodge. Full disclosure: my family filmed a Disney promotion this year, resting our heads there for a few nights back in February. But we’d never eaten the fine-dining African cuisine (with added blends of Indian and Mediterranean dishes) at Jiko, our first stop on Disney’s guided culinary tour.
House-made naan flatbread for assorted dips was served with a choice of South African wines: a 2013 pinot noir from Stark-Condé; a 2011 cabernet sauvignon from Thelema Mountain. A delicious halibut, served in tomato-butter sauce, satisfied my pescatarian palate, but Nigerian-spiced pork shank and Botswana-style seswaa beef short rib set things off for the meat eaters among us. As a pièce de résistance, the Ghanian chocolate dessert killed, but the true star? The 2009 Klein Constantia. To call it a natural sweet wine does a disservice. Its hints of pineapple and marmalade had everyone at the table making the vin de constance an instant Instagram star.
2. The Boathouse | 7 p.m.
Known as Downtown Disney ’til just this year, Disney Springs is where the theme park resorts’ “nonfamily guests” (that is, visitors without kiddies in tow) spend their adult time. Billed as upscale waterfront dining, The Boathouse gives great shimmering moonlight views of Lake Buena Vista and serves seafood galore. Jumbo lump crab, spicy firecracker shrimp, cedar plank salmon and a lobster bake (clams, mussels, Andouille sausage and whole Maine lobster) were all set out with a smile, topped by an immense baked alaska dessert.
3. Morimoto Asia | 10 p.m.
Iron Chef America’s Masaharu Morimoto opened the pan-Asian Morimoto Asia on September 30, a huge two-story restaurant full of terraces, waterside seating, a grand hall and cocktail lounge. An enormous sushi platter of salmon, tuna, white fish, yellowtail and the like eased us in to courses of tuna pizza, vegetable dumplings, Morimoto spare ribs and peking duck. Convincing a pack of writers already filled to the brim from The Boathouse to find room for more was nowhere near as hard as it sounds with food this delectable.
4. Paradiso 37 | 11:30 p.m.
Come close to midnight, the Paradiso 37 experience turned into an excuse to dance away our full stomachs. We all dabbled on nachos, chips and guacamole, but the dance floor was full with the music volume cranked up to 11. The salsa on everyone’s mind had more to do with Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara” than the tomatoes, jalapenos and chiles dip on our table. Without a kid in sight, Paradiso 37 proved to everyone how adult the Disney experience can be, complete with flirtatious waitresses and a plenty of shake your body down to the ground.
Miles Marshall Lewis is the Arts & Culture Editor of EBONY.com. He’s also the Harlem-based author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Irrésistible. Follow MML on Twitter and Instagram at @furthermucker, and visit his personal blog, Furthermucker.