Denise Neil

May 29, 2014

From the wacky to old faves, it’s time to feast on Riverfest food

Fried peanut butter and jelly. Grilled lemonade. Fried cookie dough. Chicken and waffles.

Fried peanut butter and jelly. Grilled lemonade. Fried cookie dough. Chicken and waffles.

It must be May in Wichita.

The Wichita Riverfest opens on Friday, and, as always, among the top attractions will be the food courts, which will include the usual array of deep-fried, impaled-on-a-stick delicacies.

The main food court will again be on Century II Drive, “where God intended it,” said Ann Keefer, the festival’s vice president for programming. But the festival will have two other satellite food courts: a fairly large one at the WaterWalk that will serve attendees of Cox Kids Corner and WaterWalk concerts and a smaller one that will open only in the evenings and on weekends at the new Ackerman’s Backyard area in A. Price Woodard Park.

“We’ve got some new vendors this year that we’re trying out for the first time, and hopefully, they’re going to bring some new flavors – literally,” Keefer said.

Among the new vendors is Rita’s Italian Ice, the frozen-treat shop that opened in March at 2929 N. Rock Road. Rita’s will be set up at the WaterWalk food court serving Italian ice, custard and more. The festival also recruited a new Greek food vendor, FR Greek Cuisine, which will serve gyros, chicken, pork and Greek salad.

The new Ackerman’s Backyard will feature new vendor Cibola Catering, run by the same people who once had the restaurant of the same name in Bradley Fair. It will offer pulled pork, pulled brisket, hot link and smoked turkey sandwiches. And Kona Ice, the mobile vendor of shaved ice treats, is another new addition and will be at Ackerman’s Backyard as well.

NuWay will be back again. The local restaurant pulled out of the festival in 2009 after having participated for more than 12 years and returned in 2013. It will be back again at this year’s festival, serving crumbly-meat-is-good sandwiches, root beer floats and garlic salad.

The festival also will feature foods the crowds have demanded in the past – Pronto Pups, chicken on a stick, turkey legs, funnel cakes, roasted corn.

Following is a guide to eating at this year’s festival:

The three food courts: Crews started setting up the main food court on Century II Drive last weekend. It will open at 11 a.m. on Friday and be open daily throughout the festival, featuring vendors such as Mario’s Cuisine, Tad’s Bodacious Burritos, The Original Corn Roast, Chan’s Concessions, NuWay, Pizza Hut and more. Hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and June 6, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The WaterWalk Food Court will be in two different spots. One will be right by the Cox Kids’ Corner near Main and Waterman, and the other will be a short walk away in the southwest corner of the big WaterWalk parking lot. The vendors will offer lots of kid-friendly food, including pizza, Sno-cones and funnel cakes, as well as all the wild new additions: grilled lemonade, fried cookie dough and chicken and waffles. Its hours will be the same as the main food court’s.

Ackerman’s Backyard, set up where the kid’s activities used to be in A. Price Woodard Park, hopes to attract an adult crowd (though kids are allowed) and will have three food vendors, including Cibola Catering. Its vendors will be open from 4 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

Other eating events: Fit ‘n’ Fun, a new area set up on the Hyatt lawn focused on health and fitness, will offer free samples of healthy foods several days of the festival. So far, the festival has signed up Natural Grocers, Get Real Wichita and the YMCA.

Two other favorite food events also will return. The Cajun Food Fest, a fundraiser for Goodwill Industries, will be 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday on Century II’s Kennedy Plaza. For $7, button wearers can get a plate of Cajun goodness that includes red beans and rice and more. And the popular Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social, which offers attendees obscenely huge servings of free vanilla ice cream and toppings, will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the intersection of Douglas and Water.

Eating contests: In addition to the annual funnel cake-eating contest, scheduled for 6 p.m. June 7 on the food court stage, the festival this year is adding a chicken wing-eating contest. It will be from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the main food court.

Tickets: Attendees will need to buy tickets to get food. They’re for sale at ticket booths near the food courts and cost $1 apiece. Adult beverages, which will be set up at several locations around the festival, can be purchased with tickets or cash.

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