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Review: Epcot Food and Wine Festival Beer and Pizza Tasting Event

Beer lovers beware! Beer and Pizza Tastings at Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy is a new event being offered at this year’s 2011 Epcot Food and Wine Festival!

We got a chance to head to the very first one last week, and we really enjoyed ourselves! Here are the specs on these new-this-year events:

When: Tuesdays from 2-4pm
Where: Via Napoli, Italy, Epcot
Pricing: $50, plus tax. Gratuity included.

All beers

Atmosphere

We checked in for this event at the regular podium at Via Napoli and were then escorted into the side room at the restaurant (the side room had recently been enclosed — it was all open to the elements last year when the restaurant opened).

Room Display

place setting

This side room was filled for the event (I know that the event was sold out), and I’d bet there were about 100-150 people there. It didn’t feel intimate, but it didn’t feel like the event was too large either. In the end, it didn’t really matter all that much how big the event was, however. The presenters didn’t actually do much by way of actually discussing the beers or the tasting pairings.

In fact, the tasting felt more like a luncheon than anything else. The day’s presenter — in management at Via Napoli — welcomed us to the event and noted that we would be sampling four different beers during the tasting. He then introduced us to the mask painter in the Italy pavilion and discussed a bit about Carnivale in Venice (I’m still not sure why this was part of the tasting). …And that was pretty much it!

Nobody came forward to describe the beers or why they were paired with the food in front of us. There was no Q&A session. It was as though these folks had never been to one of the many tastings and pairings that have gone on at the Food & Wine Festival for 15 years.

Presenter

At the end of the meal, the Chef came out to thank us for coming, but there was no discussion of the food or why certain items had been chosen and paired with the beers.

chef

Usually I go to tastings and pairings at the festival so that I can learn more about the food and the beverages. I’m not trained in beer pairings, and I know pretty much nothing about Italian beer. It would have been really nice to have a little background on what I was drinking, what flavors I was supposed to be looking for, and what beers I should pair with food at home.

My guess is that the beer and pizza tastings will change significantly in the future. Food & Wine Festival patrons are quite often looking to be educated when they attend things like this, so I’m hoping that message will get through and a few changes will be made.

That said, the food was incredible! Definitely what we’ve come to expect from Via Napoli, which is one of our favorite mid-priced restaurants in Disney World.

Eats

The menu at the tasting included four distinct courses — an appetizer, pizza, entree, and dessert — so this really was more of a full lunch than just a tasting. Four beers were to be poured throughout the event: one with the appetizer, one with the pizza, and two with the entree.

Menu for the day - click image for larger version

Appetizer and Birra Moretti
The appetizer, a vegetable croquette, was served with Birra Moretti lager. Each patron received a half-bottle of beer per pairing, and the servers were happy to top off your glasses if you liked a particular brew.

We weren’t too impressed with this particular beer; it lacked flavor and didn’t have much oomph to it, but we’re not beer-masters, so don’t take our word for it! ;-)

pouring

Moretti Beer

We thought this was particularly generous of them, and the amount of food and beer we received made the event reasonably priced. Again, it would have been worth more had there been an educational component to it; I might have been able to order the same amount of food and beer in the restaurant for a similar price point.

The vegetable croquette appetizer was delicious! Veggies were tucked into ricotta cheese, fried, and paired with marinara and salad for this course.

Vegetable Croquette

Veggie Croquette inside

Pizza and Birra Menabrea 1846
This Menabrea 1846 lager was better-loved than the first Moretti. Another light lager, this was one of my favorites from the event. It wasn’t as bitter as the others, and had a lighter, fruitier taste.

Menabrea Beer

We were pleased to see during this course that each patron received his or her own individual pizza, which had been topped in three different ways. One section was margherita, one section was artichoke, and one section was melon and prosciutto. As a whole, it paired nicely with the 1846.

Pizza

We really enjoyed tasting the different flavors on the pizza (different cheeses were also used) with the beer. It was like having three tasting courses in one.

Veal Parmesan, and Menabrea Ambrata and Moretti “La Rossa”
The Ambrata was largely a forgettable beer compared to the La Rossa, which is the featured beer at Via Napoli right now. Both darker brews and slightly bitter, the La Rossa has a stronger flavor — many will taste caramel and possibly even coffee flavors.

Ambrata Beer Pour

Ambrata Beer

La Rossa Beer

The darker beers paired well with the phenomenal veal parmesan entree. This dish screamed flavor from the very start, and it smelled wonderful.

We don’t ever order veal when we’re in a restaurant, but we were really surprised by the gorgeous flavor of this dish.

Veal Parmesan

Coppa Amarena Dessert: the Ugly-But-Good Sundae
This sundae is one of Via Napoli’s great dishes. While it’s not what we would normally have ordered, we really enjoyed it. It definitely lived up to the hype I’d heard when reading reviews of the restaurant!

The vanilla gelato was extremely creamy — much more so than I was expecting — and the whipped cream, cherries, and chocolate shards were great accompaniments! Yum!!

dessert

Overall

Like I said in the intro, we had a really good time at this event and thought that the price wasn’t too far off the mark based on how much food and beer the patrons received.

All beers

That said, I do wish there had been an element of education to the tasting. I think that bringing the Pizza and Beer tasting concept to the Food & Wine Festival is a fun, daring addition; I know that people are interested in learning about beers — especially foreign and craft beers — and I really don’t understand why that background wasn’t added to the event. It would have been an easy, cheap way to make this one of the most popular events at the festival.

Again, I hope this changes as this year’s festival goes on! If you go to one of the upcoming Beer and Pizza tastings, keep me updated! :-D

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11 Comments

  1. Courtney says:

    That dessert looks so much like my extremely missed favorite dessert, the ‘ugly but good’ sundae (may it rest in peace).

  2. Great Review and excellent pictures. You did a great job of covering the event. I agree with your statement that there should be an educational element included with the Food & Wine Tastings. The educational element is what really makes these events special and I can see where you would feel that something is “missing” at a tasting without it.

  3. Pudge the Fish says:

    Wow, that’s a bit of a bummer of an event. It seems like this is something that they should offer as a fixed price menu option, with suggested beer pairing, as part of their regular restaurant menu; but it’s not worthy of a food and wine caliber event. And maybe it’s just me but I find it odd that the beer was served in stemware.

    I really miss the Sam Adams beer seminars of old. They here held in the open air courtyard to the right of the American Pavilion. It was a 30 minute tasting of 4 beers plus a great little history of beer in America presentation and Q&A with a master brewer from Sam Adams. And it was free!!

  4. Downunder Sugarglider says:

    hmmm … yes I am stereotyping – but the organisation looks pretty ‘Italian” to me. so in keeping – just saying ….

  5. Nikki says:

    Excellent review!!!! Thanks you so much for your great information!! I was thinking of attending this event as a surprise for my boyfriend. I might have to try and get us a reservation for the week of the 24th..

  6. AJ says:

    Courtney — I think that’s what it was…and it’s back on the regular menu!!

    Jamie — Thanks for the comments!

    Pudge — Agreed — great idea to make it a fixed price option with the beer pairing. The Sam Adams beer seminars were truly a great deal! ;-)

    Downunder — Usually we’re very impressed with Via Napoli’s presentation and service (we went to the restaurant for lunch just a few days later because we’re such big fans). I think this situation was simply a little hiccup — hopefully they’ll get it down next year. :-)

    Nikki — I think you’ll love it! Let me know if there are any changes :-D

  7. Adhi says:

    Awesome review as always! Im a touch disappointed to know that there was not much of a discussion on the pairings, but the food looked exceptional. I was pleased with the beer selections as a whole this year at FW ’11 (having made several trips the beer stand in Germany…), but on the 3 occasions I have tried to get the la Rossa without entering Via Napoli, I was disappointed to hear you can only get the standard moretti. Nonetheless, on a future trip, this is a pairing I feel I will be adding to the list!

  8. JoAnn says:

    I was excited to see this event even though I’m not able to attend since I arrive after the last day of this event. Call me crazy – but I would have expected more pizza.

  9. Melissa says:

    There’s nothing better than beer and pizza! But I definitely would have loved to learn more about why they were paired up! Great pics!

  10. Charlotte Tanner says:

    Totally hope this event comes back to Food and Wine 2012!!!!! Had a GREAT time!!!!

  11. Summer says:

    Hopefully the kinks are worked out for 2012…we’re planning to attend. Looks like they’ve addressed the naming issue too as I think it’s being called Italian Food and Beer Pairing this time rather than Pizza and Beer Pairing. I would have expected more pizza had I attended last year! :) We’re looking forward to the food, even if we don’t get an education!

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