ORLANDO - "Wanna try a Flaming Moe?" the chef asks as his bushy eyebrows inch up his forehead.
"Yes!" I say enthusiastically.
For years, I have seen this bubbly concoction featured on The Simpsons. Now, it's my chance to try it in real life. Inside Moe's Tavern, nonetheless, while I'm at Universal Studios Florida sussing out the new Springfield attraction.
As he hands me the fluorescent-yellow-colored drink with dry ice billowing over the sides, it hits me. On the show, the secret ingredient is a splash of cough syrup. Eeks!
He grins as I take my first sip. I have my doubts.
Turns out it has a refreshing citrus flavor, thankfully, rather than a NyQuil one. And with the entertaining smoky effect, it's the stuff Facebook posts are made of. In other words, it's a slam dunk for executive chef Steven Jayson. He led the team at Universal that created the popular beverage.
Now it's a must-have for guests visiting Springfield, a 30,000-square-foot attraction that officially opened Thursday. But it's not the only signature item. There are culinary treats pulled straight from the show around every corner. Plus, there's a new outdoor ride, water play area, a statue of Jebediah Springfield and two new walk-around characters, Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob.
"For longtime fans, it's the realization of a dream," says Mike West, an executive producer with Universal Creative. "We tried to make it as authentic as possible."
Moe's Tavern certainly mirrors that sentiment. From the pool table to the Love Tester machine to the Isotopes pennants hanging on the walls, it all looks just like it does on TV. The red rotary phone on the bartop even rings occasionally, and the bartender yells for a guest to pick it up. Then, a prank call ensues, courtesy of Bart Simpson.
Even the food-court area has fans smiling, as it's home to Cletus' Chicken Shack, the Frying Dutchman, Flaming Moe's, Krusty Burger and Luigi's Pizza. They serve crowd-pleasers such as chicken-and-waffle sandwiches, Meat Liker's Pizza and the legendary Krusty Burger. Personally, I'm glad to spot lower-calorie alternatives like hummus and veggies at Lisa's Teahouse of Horror, a grab-and-go area of pre-made items.
"You should see this place in the afternoon," West says. "The line goes out the door."
Fortunately, though, finding a seat is no problem; once your food is ready, an employee escorts you to your table. A huge bonus, indeed, for any frazzled, sweaty parkgoer, especially one with kids in tow. Prowling for an empty table at theme parks is typically no small feat.
"We seat people this way to ensure that everyone who orders food has a seat in the dining room," Jayson says.
What's on tap?
Across the way is Duff Brewery, an open-air brick building serving quick meals, such as 2-foot-long hot dogs, and the famed Duff Beer, brewed exclusively for Springfield by a Central Florida microbrewery.
After tinkering with about a dozen versions of Duff for months, Jayson and his team flew to California so Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, the show's creators, could sample everything.
Simpsons fans: Don't worry. Each beer is distinctly different, unlike the joke on the show that Duff Beer, Duff Lite and Duff Dry are all actually the same thing. In reality, Duff Beer is an American-style amber lager. Duff Lite is a traditional pilsner. And Duff Dry is a toasted dark ale.
The perfect place to polish off your beverage is around the back of the building, where there is plenty of seating facing the lagoon. From there, you can easily see the construction site that in 2014 will become the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley.
Afterward, as I poke around in the gift shop, I see a twentysomething guy posing next to the Duff Man statue. In a bright tank top with puffed-up pecs, he bares a striking resemblance to the fictional superhero himself. Springfield clearly appeals to his crowd.
On the other hand, Springfield is equally attractive to youngsters. Take Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl, for example. With the one-eyed, octopus-like alien sitting on top of the ride and flying saucers as vehicles, labeled with names such as Barf Simpson, it's perfect for the 10-and-under set.
The slow-moving saucers travel in a circle, similar to the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish ride at Islands of Adventure, and riders take aim at spinning targets.
"It was good because the sensor makes you go up and down," says 9-year-old Kiefer Bairstow, whose Cookham, England, family checked out Springfield on their August vacation. "And you can hold your hand out in the wind."
New (and approved) in town
"The guys at Gracie (Films) have been involved with all of the design," West says - even down to the color scheme of the K&K ride. "They get so into it; Matt (Groening) was like a little kid. They never expected to have a Springfield for real."
The show's creators even approved new things that don't exist on the show, including Bumblebee Man's Taco Truck, which serves tacos of the Korean beef and carne asada variety. And Cletus' Chicken Shack, which serves Chicken Arms (aka buffalo or barbecue chicken wings) and Chicken Thumbs (fried chicken tenders).
To sum it up, Springfield is a place to momentarily toss your cares aside and act a bit silly. Sure, it invites excess, and it's expensive (a Clogger Burger will set you back $12.99, and a Duff draft beer another $7.95), but what theme park isn't?
Like many other theme parks, Universal is reaping success by adding this new realm, which houses several food outlets and a merchandise venue.
"Theme parks, especially the majors, are expanding in greater proportion than ever before," says Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati. "In the past, they would add only one new ride or show."
On that note, Springfield is a no-brainer for a realm. West puts it best when he says, "Even if you lived on Pluto for the last 25 years, you know what the show is."
If you go ...
Price: $92 for a one-day, one-park ticket