Some of Wichita's best food is cooked at church

This weekend's St. George's Lebanese dinner is among several popular food festivals

10/05/2011 3:28 PM

10/06/2011 11:18 AM

Some of the best food in Wichita is served not in restaurants but in gymnasiums and multi-purpose rooms.

It’s cooked not by professional chefs but by church ladies (and gentlemen), and it’s available only a few delicious times a year.

Food fundraisers put on by local churches and centered around kibbe, oysters and chicken and noodles are among the most popular dining events in Wichita each year. One of the most successful is happening this weekend — the 78th annual Lebanese dinner put on by St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral at 7515 E. 13th St.

The dinner, an amazingly high-volume, carefully choreographed event, will feed more than 5,500 people and raise an estimated $90,000 for the church and other local charities.

“It’s a well-oiled machine,” said Adriene Rathbun, the co-chairwoman for the dinner. The team of cooks, which at any point involves at least 50 church members, has been working since mid-August to prepare the dinner, at which visitors feast on cabbage rolls, kibbe, pita bread and backlawa (the Lebanese version of the Greek baklava).

The kibbe was cooked first, then the cabbage crew spent days coring, boiling, stuffing and rolling.

This week, cooks have been busy all day, every day rendering butter, stewing meat, and sauteing rice in butter.

The dinner, which has featured mostly the same food since its invention, grows more popular every year.

It’s so popular that, through the years, the church has been able to purchase industrial gas ranges, free-standing freezers and convection ovens to handle the workload.

It’s so popular that a long line of cars often jams 13th Street, streaming into the church parking lot for the dinner’s drive-though service, famous for its efficiency and fleet-footed volunteers. (About two-thirds of attendees use the drive-though. The rest eat in the church’s dining room, and some take tours of the Cathedral afterward.)

“The food doesn’t change from year to year,” said Rathbun, who has volunteered to work at the dinner since she was a child. “It’s consistent, and it’s always good.” Visit Denise Neil’s blog — Dining with Denise — at blogs.kansas.com/dining for more restaurant news and insights.

If you go
ST. GEORGE’S 78TH ANNUAL LEBANESE DINNER & FOOD SALE
What: A Lebanese food festival that offers pre-determined meals plus a country kitchen selling trays of Lebanese favorites and baked goods to-go.
Where: St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, 7515 E. 13th St.
When: 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday
How much: Meal tickets are available on-site and are $16 for adults, $8 for children.
Also: Ticket holders can dine-in or get meals to-go in the St. George parking lot. Cathedral tours also are available.
For more information, visit www.stgeorgecathedral.net or call 316-636-4676.

Now you know

OTHER POPULAR CHURCH DINNERS


St. Paul United Methodist Church’s chicken and noodle dinner: This 65-year tradition takes place at the church at 1356 N. Broadway each year in January and draws about 2,500 people. Next year’s should be Jan. 22. For more information, call 316-267-3263.

St. James Episcopal Church oyster dinner: The annual event always happens the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday at the church, 3750 E. Douglas. In 2012, it’ll be Feb. 21. Church members fly in more than 500 pounds of fresh oysters from the gulf and serve them along with beer and wine. The event is a fundraiser for Episcopal Social Services. Tickets are $40 and go on sale in January. To see pictures from this year’s dinner, visit www.stjameswichita.org/oyster_dinner.html.

St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church Mediterranean Festival: St. Mary’s at 344 S. Martinson puts on its own annual Mediterranean feast, where it sells dishes such as hummus, grape leaves and kibbe. The 2012 dinner is scheduled for May 5-6. For more information, call the church at 316-264-1576.

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