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Review Posted on Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival picked up a great new event in 2015 called the Rockin Burger Block Party. There are only a few events held in the palatial World ShowPlace Pavilion each year during the festival and if you've never been inside the building for a special event, this is quite possibly one of the least expensive ways to get in.
What You Get, Food-Wise
At the 2015 Rockin Burger Event, there were four "Finger Foods" that included Cheeseburger Spring Rolls, Sticky Pig Wigs, Vegetable Pot Stickers, and Lentil Samosas that were located at multiple serve-yourself stations throughout the event space. There were at least 13 different mini-burgers to try, and those were all located at build-to-order stations… so a Disney chef would make the burger right there in front of you, as you stood at their station, and then they handed it to you. There were over 24 "adult" beverage to sample ranging from wine, beer, tequila, and flavored Vodkas… which could be tasted neat, or in predetermined cocktails. For dessert, there were three items at multiple "Sweet Stations". Those were also "serve-yourself" tables.
All admission levels (more on that in a bit) had access to all of the food in a really fun "pay once and forget" format, where you have probably booked and paid for the event months before. Anything and Everything that was available at the Rockin' Birger Block Party is all you care to eat (and drink) for the full two hours… without any additional funds being needed.
Well, the concept is a little loose. For 2015, there was a "competition" of sorts, where you were supposed to vote for your favorite burger by dropping a guitar pick into a fishbowl at the table where you picked up the burger.
I'm not sure if all the guests were on-board with the voting. It's a cool idea, but it's a little like trying to get folks at a really good tailgate party to stop and take an entrance exam. Once you've sampled just a few of the 24 beverages, it's just plain fun being inside World ShowPlace and walking around, noshing on the burgers and visiting all the tables. I "think" Chef Dale's Asian Burger won on the night I went… I couldn't tell you for sure.
The burgers are small (because honestly, who could eat 12 full-sized burgers), and each was served with a "side" item, again… sized as a tasting portions. The burgers were said to be created for the event by various Disney Chefs and/or for specific product partners at the event. (For example, the "chef" Hanson Oklahoma Burger that was paired with the Hanson Brother's "Mmmhops Pale Ale" was probably created by a Disney chef, to pair with the beer product.)
A DJ supplied music, but not so loud where you couldn't hear anything. In the middle of all of this, a visiting chef (Cake Boss Buddy Valastro was there on the night I went to the party), takes the stage and does a 15 minute segment with an event host... about the chef's take on burgers and some general "celebrity chef" type of interviewing.
The Food and Beverages
The "Finger Food" station items were all actually really good and not "afterthoughts" at all. They were all kept in large "keep warm" trays and so freshness level varied, but if you were carefully watching for new "stock" to be delivered and grabbed those, everything was great!. The Spicy Sticky Pig Wings are a bit messy but are great with beer (it's like a chicken wing, but with pork) and the Vegetable Port Stickers were also a standout. The Lentil Samosa were a little dry on their own (I'm not a huge lentil fan to begin with) and needed a fair amount of the Cucumber Yogurt Sauce.
The mini-burgers themselves were quite different and did not all rely on a "beef patty" as a base. This really gave each "burger" it's own character. Purists might want to think of this as a "Hot Meat Sandwich Party"… but that doesn't really have a marketable ring to it.
A few of my favorites (and to give you some idea of how different the "burgers" were)… Chef Eggie's Mallorcan Burger which featured a Coffee-crusted Beef Short Rib Burger topped with Smoked Gouda, Garlic Potato Strings and Sangria Ketchup, all on a Medianoche Roll, dusted with Powdered Sugar… because it was just plain old great tasting!
Chef Dale's Asian Burger "won" the best burger contest on a few of the nights… and rightfully so. It combined a Chicken and Duck patty topped with Butterkase Cheese, Bulgogi Braised Pork Belly and Sweet Thai Chili Sauce on a Sesame Bun, served with Kimchi Slaw. This one was "different" than the other burgers and so it provided a break from the usual.
Chef Marianne's Sicilian Burger featured a Seared Branzino Patty (Seabass) topped with Pecorino Cheese and a chutney of sorts that combines Blood Orange, Raisin, and Onion Jam topped with Dried Proscuitto served on a Griddled Bun. This one came with a side of Pasta Caponata Salad that was also amazing.
You begin to get the idea that these burger "sandwiches" were all a bit different, and were all just variations on a theme.
The only real issue, was bread overload. Many guests were going topless. Wait… let me rephrase that… many guests were choosing not to eat the "top" bun on the various burgers. Sampling over a dozen "open faced" sandwiches is completely doable, but adding in those 12 "bun tops" would make it pretty difficult to taste everything the event had to offer.
For dessert, a Cinnamon Roll Fireball Bread Pudding with Cream Cheese Glaze, a Snickerdoodle Crusted Apple Custard Crisp, and Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Brownie were all available at multiple serve-yourself "Sweet Stations" dotted around the room. At any other event, these would have been great desserts, but with "bread" already being a bit of a problem, the somewhat heavy (and bread-like) Bread Pudding and Apple Custard Crisp seemed too heavy for the event. Thankfully, the Valrhona Chocolate Brownies were personal sized, dark-chocolate, almost fudge-like bites of goodness.
Where I think sometimes, the mini-desserts are too plentiful at Disney "dessert party" events, they would have been a welcome addition here. We've seen assorted flavored French style Macarons, tiny Key Lime or Mango Cups, and dare I say, even chocolate tipped fruit that would have been less heavy and offered a bit more contrast to the burgers.
Beverage-wise, there was a really good mix of wine, beer, tequila and bourbons to choose from. Various flavored Vodkas also seemed to be quite present. This event is not as wine-heavy as a Party for the Senses, and I'm fine with that. It makes the whole evening much more accessible. Many of the bourbons and Vodkas were available to taste "neat" or mixed into predetermined cocktails (i.e. there aren't bartenders on-hand to mix whatever you want, each station featured one or two beverages.)
The Entry Levels and Value
There are three seating levels at the Rockin Burger Block Party. Category #3 ($99 for 2016) will get you in the door for the two hour event, but doesn't guarantee that you'll get a seat. Now, this event (in 2015 anyway) didn't seem as packed as a Party for the Senses does… so I didn't seem too many instances of guest "wanting" to sit down, or "trolling for tables". There seemed to be ample seating for everyone… even if that meant sitting at a larger table with other guests.
Category #2 ($119 for 2016) gets you in 15 minutes early, and does indeed, get you a reserved table (and chair).
Getting access to the exclusive Category #1 "Nosh Pit" area ($199 for 2016) will get you in 15 minutes early, a reserved private table (and chair), an exclusive mini-bar (where a bartender can make you a drink, and you can get a proper sized beer in a schooner), a special dessert that's not available outside the seating area ("adult" milkshakes of sorts were offered for 2015… and they were "that" good), and in 2015 anyway, you also got to keep your stemless wine glass with the 20th Anniversary Food and Wine Logo printed on the glass.
So which one would I recommend? The Category #1 area was really amazing, because you also had access to a really attentive "helper" who whisked away empty plates quickly, and even went to the bar and got drinks for me! Additionally, (unadvertised... and may not happen at any given party)… Buddy Valastro came down and met with everyone in the Nosh Pit area, to grab a photo and say hello! That was a very cool thing… that's hard to put a "value" price on.
Still, I think I would have to recommend Category #2 as being the best way to experience the event. It's only $20 more than the "base" entry fee, and having an extra 15 minutes in the event space is actually a huge deal. The first few hundred guests that are let in early disappear in the large event space and it really feels like a super private, exclusive event… which is very, very cool. You can easily grab a couple burgers and beverage in that amount of time, and be fully into party-mode before the "normal" guests are let it.
All in all, I really enjoyed the event, and I'm glad to see it return for 2016. If we can figure out what to do with all of those bun-tops and find some slightly lighter dessert options, it will be a great "primer" and "companion" event to the Party for the Senses. It's a little less formal than the "grand" event, and you don't really need a sophisticated pallet to discern the differences in the food and beverages being offered.
The Category #3 price-point is about as low an "entry" fee into the realm of World ShowPlace events that you're going to find, and a great way to get into the building and experience what many guests feel are the "crème de la crème" of events during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.