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Guest Review and Preview: BBQ Weekend at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Courtesy of Andy Jackson from Eating (and Drinking) Around the World, we have a review of last year’s Barbecue Weekends at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. This year’s BBQ weekend begins August 10th! Get details here!

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek resort, located in the middle of Disney World property, offered up a couple of food-related events during the summer of 2011. As part of their “SummerBlast!” promotion the hotel hosted a weekend devoted to Cupcakes, and followed that up with two weekends of Barbecue festivities.

So with the 2012 BBQ Weekend about to begin, I thought it was time to look back at the events from 2011.

Atmosphere

I’d heard a lot of positive things about this resort (as well as the adjoining Waldorf Astoria), and especially its restaurants (I believe a certain Ms. Wolfe is a big fan…), so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to check it out. The resort is located smack-dab inside of Disney property, even though it is not a Disney-owned or run hotel.

The weekend was advertised as featuring cooking demos, cook-offs between the chefs of the various restaurants on the property, a Barbecue buffet, and a beer sampling. Most of the restaurants at the Hilton were also featuring special BBQ items on their menus while all the bars were offering themed drinks during the weekend. In addition there were to be BBQ-themed kids activities such as the “Squeaky Pig Toss” and the “Pigs in a Blanket Relay.”

BBQ Demonstrations

As we entered the lobby we were greeted with a display designed to resemble an outdoor seating area nearby a grill while yet another sign welcomed us to the Barbecue Weekends.

Welcome!

Barbecue Eats

We settled into our room and then headed back to the lobby area where the tasting for the Baked Beans Cook-Off was underway.

The cook-off between several of the chefs of the restaurants was going on that afternoon between 4 and 8 PM, so we had ample opportunity to sample the offerings. A wide variety of styles were demonstrated between the chefs, and most were quite good.

The chefs and their assistants actually seemed quite enthusiastic and really proud of their concoctions. Saturday’s sampling would take place between noon and 2 PM, and the winner would be announced shortly thereafter.

Baked Beans Cook Off

Patrons were asked to mark ballots and vote for their favorites. Bonnie favored the “Safari” beans by Chef Olivier of the Harvest Bistro Restaurant. They featured a variety of beans and flavored with duck confit – it was a delicious and unique take on baked beans.

I was torn between that and the more traditional BBQ-side style of the “Honey Barbeque Smoked Beans with Beef Brisket” presented by Chef Arias of La Luce. The latter (not surprisingly) wound up being the popular winner.

Bean Competition

On Saturday, after our brunch of fries with parmesan and truffle oil from the pool bar, we made our way to the lobby for the first barbecue demo of the day.

This weekend’s chef du jour was Howie “Bulldog” Kleinberg from Miami where he presides over Bulldog BBQ. He was also a finalist on the third season of Top Chef.

Bulldog at Barbecue Weekends

The demo area was set up in the large, open lobby area. A stage with workstation and a large mirror above was in place with about fifty seats set up. We arrived about 15 minutes early and took our seats with just a few others.

Chef Kleinberg was milling around and answered some questions while we waited. The introduction for another event was being given over the speakers so we and Chef Kleinberg (okay, his nickname is Bulldog, and he looks like a Bulldog, so we’ll just call him Bulldog from now on), semi-patiently waited for the intro for the other event to be over before the cooking demo could begin…

Ribs

Clad in a black tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “nice rack” (I’m just assuming it means rack of ribs…), Bulldog covered a few basics of low-and-slow cooking and the types of meats and sauces used at his restaurant.

Following some Q & A from the group in attendance, the chef started slicing and serving plates of delicious ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. The servings were generous and the smoked meats were all tender and very tasty — pretty impressive especially considering he had them prepared ahead at his restaurant and reheated here in steam trays.

As I consider myself somewhat of a barbecue snob, I was quite impressed with the skill of the Bulldog. We came to the conclusion that a trip down to Miami would sometime be in order.

Brisket

That being said, the “demo” itself was a bit lacking in “demo”… the chef covered some very basic info, but a more specific, detailed demonstration on how to smoke and serve a dish would have been more useful to anyone other than the total neophyte. The best info imparted came from the answers he gave to the questions posed by a
couple of knowledgeable audience members.

Brisket And Pork at Barbecue Weekends

With our bellies near busting, we waddled down to the pool level to check out what was being offered at the “The Smokin’ Hot BBQ Buffet.” Ribs, brisket, and grilled burgers shared the stage with some not-so-barbecue items (seafood paella?).

Overall it looked pretty good, even though we didn’t sample anything (stuffed from the Bulldog’s samples, we weren’t exactly dying to dine at the time).

Nearby was the “Beer-B-Q” Station with samples of three brews from the Florida Beer Company. The samples were ice cold with a nice description of each style, but with the exploding number of breweries in the state of Florida it would have been much more interesting to have multiple companies involved for a true sampling of what the state has to offer in the art of beer-making.

Beer Sign at Barbecue Weekends

Beers at Barbeque Weekends

Deciding that more free barbecue samples from Chef Kleinberg would be a good idea, we also attended the second demo by the Bulldog.

He was a bit more at ease during the late afternoon session and, taking a smart cue from the earlier session, there were a couple of “plants” in the audience asking in-depth questions for him to answer. Once again we stuffed ourselves with the samples (not surprisingly, the word had spread after the first session and there was quite a line this time around for the meaty edibles).

Afterwards I decided to sample one of the specialty drinks of the weekend. Three summery/BBQ-inspired adult beverages were being served at all of the bars around the property: BBQ Bloody Mary (with Heinz BBQ sauce!); Raspberry Sweet Tea (with Tea-flavored Vodka and Chambord); and my choice, the Southern Watermelon Lemonade (with Vodka-infused Watermelon and Midori). It was a pretty-darn-tasty concoction – refreshing and with all that watermelon it had to be healthy… right?

Cocktail Menu

Stuffed to the proverbial gills from the day’s samples, we couldn’t force ourselves to dine at the buffet as planned. So we called an end to the Barbecue Weekend part of our weekend and once again made our way to Epcot to finish off the evening.

Overall

So how was the event? Overall it was fun, and a nice addition to a weekend stay at a very nice resort. There were some problems with the locations of the events (especially the food demo) and overall a lack of real “meat” to the activities… if the good folks at the Bonnet Creek Hilton can address these issues and up the informational value of the events this could be a weekend that would be worth planning a trip around.

This year there will be a single BBQ weekend (August 10-12, 2012), and it’s actually headlined by weenies… “Smokin’ Hot Dogs & BBQ Weekend” is the title, with their website describing it as: “featuring the smokin’ Hot BBQ and a selection of mind-blowing gourmet hot dog treats!”

We’ll be there to check it out, and eventually I’ll give a report on the 2012 event over at Eating (and Drinking) around the World. If you’re staying in the Orlando area, or if you’re a local, it won’t cost you more than the parking fee to check it out, so maybe we’ll see you there!

Have you attended a special event at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek? Let us know in the comments.

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