Wichita’s dining year dished out some surprises

12/27/2011 5:00 AM

12/28/2011 12:01 PM

Wichita’s dining scene is rarely dull, but 2011 was a particularly juicy year.

Local restaurants provided foodies a year filled with exciting openings, surprising closings and happy birthdays.

Every few days, it seemed, another restaurant was changing chefs, changing locations or changing up its menu.

Now that another year is over and Wichita is STILL not getting a Cheesecake Factory, it’s a good time to look back at the delicious details that shaped 2011.

Exciting openings

The year was full of high-profile openings, not the least of which was the celebrated return of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen — a longtime restaurant favorite that had closed in 2004. Owner and chef Tanya Tandoc reopened the restaurant at 1725 E. Douglas in early April, and nearly nine months later, the lines for chicken curry and tomato dill are still long.

Other big openings in 2011 included the newly remodeled Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview’s fine-dining restaurant, A.V.I. Sea Bar & Chophouse, in November; an Old Town location of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in September; popular new “breastaurant” Twin Peaks, 8310 E. 21st. St., in May; and Bocconcini Italian Eatery, opened by Antoine Toubia heir Nathan Toubia at 4811 E. Central in July.

Surprising closings

Wichita also lost several restaurant favorites throughout the year. Kwan Court at 1443 N. Rock Road, a 21-year-old tradition in Wichita, closed its doors in August after the owner filed for bankruptcy. Local favorite Timberline closed its last Wichita location, at 2243 N. Tyler, in September. Onetime popular Old Town eatery Uptown Bistro closed in April. And Kansas State Fair goers were shocked to learn that the Dutch Mill Bakery in Yoder, purveyor of famous Kansas cinnamon rolls, closed during the fair’s run in September.

Citing sluggish sales, chains including Smashburger, Johnny Carino’s and Souper Salad also left town in 2011.

Undeniable trends

When something works in Wichita, imitators are not far behind. This year, that something was self-serve frozen yogurt. Orange Leaf opened its first store in late 2010 to great success, and 2011 saw a boom in similar shops. The Wichita area has nearly a dozen frozen yogurt purveyors, with names such as Peachwave, CherryBerry and Yogurt Xplosion.

Another trend: Italian food. After years of a near pasta drought, Wichita suddenly gained several new Italian restaurants this year, including Bocconcini Italian Eatery, Luca Italian Kitchen and Ciao Italian Kitchen .

Happy birthdays

Several favorite Wichita restaurants celebrated big birthdays in 2011. Larkspur at 904 E. Douglas started its 20th year of business in April and threw a party for itself. La Galette at 1017 W. Douglas turned 25 in May. And Chinese restaurant Magic Wok at 9504 W. Central celebrated 30 years in June.

Chef relocation program

Wichita’s circle of ever-shuffling chefs had a busy year in 2011. Chef Jeremy Wade left A.V.I. to work on the Lake Side Club with Wink Hartman. Adam Courtney left the Candle Club to take Wade’s space at A.V.I. And Douglas Pitts left Press, landing at The Anchor.

Odd, interesting and notable

Local sandwich hero Michael Gonzalez opened Metro Grill II in Andover in February, lost it temporarily during a divorce battle in March, then sold it to an employee in August. He’s now serving sandwiches under the name Metro Grill III in the new Encore Restaurant and Nightclub on East Kellogg. The original Metro Grill is still open at Towne East.

Zen Vegetarian Cuisine at 3101 N. Rock Road, one of only a few vegetarian restaurants in town, added meat back to the menu and changed its name to Oh Yeah! China Bistro in May.

People lined up 600 deep when White Castle celebrated its 90th birthday by setting up a temporary restaurant in the Dillons parking lot at Central and Rock in May.

Wichitans cheered when Chick-fil-A announced plans for free-standing restaurants on both the east and west sides of town. Both will open in 2012.

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