For decades, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has been a regional staple for family fun, thrilling rides, top-notch entertainment and the chance to visit many different countries inside one beautifully lush theme park. Since 2013, the park has given people from all over another enticing excuse to visit: the Food & Wine Festival.
If you haven’t yet explored this tasty tour, it’s a chance for guests to unleash their inner foodie with a variety of authentically prepared foods and drinks from around the world not normally served at the park. During the event, visitors can stop at various kiosks located among the usual attractions in each country to sample international eats and drinks. Spain offers exciting eats such as Chorizo Empanada, Gazpacho con Ceviche, a selection of tapas and Venera con Jamón (scallop, wrapped in cured ham with saffron rice and romesco sauce) with the option of red or white sangria. At the Caribbean kiosk, there’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Gamba Fritters, Mojo Shrimp and Pineapple Rum Upside-Down Cake, plus an oh-so appropriate Caribbean Sunset frozen cocktail (not to mention an entire kiosk dedicated to frozen cocktails at Island Freeze Frozen Drinks in Oktoberfest Village).
Even if you’ve been before, there are new offerings this year worthy of inspiring a return visit. The countries of Brazil, Cuba, Japan and South Korea are added to an already-appealing lineup of offerings from the American Southwest, Caribbean, French Quarter, Hawaii, India, Ireland, Italy, Mediterranean, Spain and Virginia.
Franz Kitenko, vice president of culinary operations for Busch Gardens Williamsburg, who has been at the park full time since 1977, says he has been especially surprised at the success of the Virginia kiosk. “You would think people that live in Virginia, it wouldn’t be that big of a hit, but it does fantastic. It’s in the top five.”
Kitenko notes that while most guests come for the kiosks, there are many additional offerings exclusively available during the Food & Wine Festival.
Spam Slider: Fried Spam with Sriracha mayonnaise and grilled pineapple served
with pineapple and coconut coleslaw from the Hawaii kiosk.
Beignets: Fried doughnut squares topped with powdered sugar and drizzled with
caramel from the French Quarter kiosk.
Each kiosk is delightfully decorated to fit the flavor of a specific country or region.
During certain times of day, chefs will demonstrate how to make particular items available in the kiosks and provide samples to onlookers, an opportunity to round out the experience, not just tasting the cuisine but learning how the ingredients splendidly join together during the dish’s preparation.
Wine on the Rhine is a nightly river cruise complete with live music, cheese, fruit, a chocolate truffle and choice of alcoholic beverage, coinciding with the event—a popular option for couples looking to experience an out-of-the-ordinary date night.
Introduced in 2016, the Food & Wine Festival Food & Beverage Sampler allows guests to purchase 10- or 15-item sampler cards (available on lanyards for easy access) to mix and match entrees, desserts, beer, wine or specialty beverages from any of the kiosks for one delicious price. “That’s the way to navigate food and wine now,” Kitenko says. “You save a little bit as far as the cost per item.” Sampler cards can be reloaded and are a popular option for guests who plan on visiting the park during several Food & Wine weekends.
When it comes to developing the various menus available to Food & Wine guests, Kitenko notes, “Chef Justin Watson is pretty amazing. After we talk and agree on a very broad highway that we want to go down, we’ll start looking at these different concepts, different menu items. Through the course of development we may go through a particular testing maybe three times, maybe even more, and we just keep refining that, eliminating some items, bringing some in, tweaking what we’ve tasted.”
Their team also relies heavily on guests’ feedback to determine which food items to offer. “We get feedback from our guests, too, whether it’s formal or informal, and that’s part of the equation of how we decide what we do,” he says. “I spend a lot of time in the park, and it’s good to hear guests that will stop you and tell you what they like about something or even what they don’t like about something.”
Since its inception, the Food & Wine Festival has continuously grown, both in its timeframe and event offerings. What started out as four weekends grew to six in 2017, and what began as a wine-focused festival has evolved to include more beer and spirits offerings.
In 2016 Busch Gardens introduced the Brauhaus Craft Bier Room inside Das Festhaus, offering 30 beers on tap (many local) that rotate seasonally. Throughout the year but heavily during Food & Wine weekends, Busch Gardens hosts brewery talks on Fridays and Saturdays featuring brewmasters from Virginia as well as outside states. “People will come in, they’ll be able to chat with the brewmasters that are here and try some of their product, and it’s a small, intimate setting,” Kitenko says. On Fridays the talks will take place at the Brauhaus Craft Bier Room and Saturdays at Grogan’s Pub.
New this year, the park will offer whiskey tastings in the Ireland Village at Grogan’s Pub, with samples to include Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Jameson Irish Whiskey and Dewar’s Special Reserve.
Coming up with exciting, new offerings and culinary concepts is a challenge, but Kitenko says the best part of his job is inventing things. “It’s pretty gratifying to be part of an idea or concept that has no blueprint and you figure it out with your team as to how you want to do this, what’s going to work, how it’s going to look, what it’s going to taste like, how you’re going to present it,” he shares. “We have a great team here. Literally everybody’s involved and for good reason because they have good ideas, and they’re good operators. They’re pretty visionary in what works and what doesn’t. That’s a blast, and there’s nothing better than seeing it work.”
This year’s Food & Wine Festival is held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 25–July 1. Visit here for more details and a full lineup of menu items for 2018.
Food & Wine Concerts
Busch Gardens takes dinner and a show to a whole new level this year with three summer concerts taking place during the Food & Wine Festival. Make plans to attend these highly anticipated shows featuring national artists.
June 9: Scott McCreery
June 16: Hunter Hayes
June 30: Andy Grammer
All three concerts are held at Busch Gardens’ Royal Palace Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Visit here for more info and to purchase tickets.