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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!