New members join the Wichita Eagle Dining Panel

01/03/2014 12:00 AM

01/02/2014 5:26 PM

Our first Wichita Eagle Dining Panel, assembled in May of 2012, served us well.

The panel, a group of local foodies who love restaurants as much as I do, wrote dozens of reviews of restaurants around town, from classics such as Old Mill Tasty Shop and Harry’s to ethnic favorites such as Little Saigon and Usuluteco Restaurant.

Several of those panelists will remain on board, but to start 2013, we’re adding some new members.

Earlier this fall, I asked readers interested in joining the panel to submit sample reviews. I received dozens and dozens of them, but 13 writers stood out. I invited them to join the new panel, and they gathered for an initiation session just before Christmas at Caffe Moderne in Old Town Square.

These new panelists, like the original ones, will provide regular mini-reviews of restaurants in Wichita. I try to review restaurants that have opened in the past six months, so panelists will make it a practice to visit Wichita classics, little-known holes in the wall or places I never made it to.

Our goal is to publish a panelist review once a week or so, either in the Go section, in Sunday’s Arts & Leisure section or on my Dining with Denise blog at

The first review will run next week in the Go! section.

For now, meet the new panelists:

Nancy Bell Ringer

Occupation: Cookbook author, owner of the Dish Diva Cookies

Food background: Bell Ringer is author of “The Dish Diva Cookbook” and owner of a bakery, based in her home. She says, “I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to socialize, and I know most everyone in Wichita.”

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Bella Luna, My Tho, Little Saigon, Thai Tradition, Stooges

Jocelyn Clonts

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, hair stylist

Food background: Clonts comes from a family of cooks, and she loves to bond with friends and family over good food.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Usuluteco Restaurant, Public at the Brickyard, Thai Tradition

Samuel Connelly

Occupation: Freelance writer

Food background: Connelly is the former general manager of Mead’s Corner and has worked with Twitter and the Travel Channel. He’s a coffee expert and writer, and he has blogs called “A Shot of Literary Caffeine” and “Tasting the Planet.”

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Little Saigon, Playa Azul, Wasabi, Jose Pepper’s

Jorge De Hoyos

Occupation: Product management/college teacher

Food background: De Hoyos travels frequently for business and is able to try restaurants across the country. He loves the “movie and dinner” routine, he said. He likes to go to the gym before he eats out to head off potential food guilt.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Granite City, Chester’s Chophouse, Larry Bud’s

Jim Kelly

Occupation: Lawyer

Food background: Before recently moving to Wichita, Kelly spent 10 years living – and dining – in food meccas New York City and London. But he says he’s found plenty to love about the Wichita dining scene as well. “I’ve had a few meals that have changed my life, so I decided that life is too short to eat bad food,” he said.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Pho Hien, Tacos Raymundo, Thai Lao Cafe, Doo Dah Diner, Taste & See, Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, Big B’s Beef, Luciano’s, Tanya’s Soup Kitchen

Johnna Kolar

Occupation: Substitute teacher

Food background: Kolar worked in the hospitality industry after college and was exposed to many different types of food. Her favorite pastime is eating out with friends and family and trying new places.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Yolo Grill, Ziggy’s, Piccadilly, Hu Hot and the Donut Whole

Anne Lewis

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

Food background: Lewis, a Newton native, loves restaurants in her hometown and in Wichita. Her favorite foods are all-American comfort foods.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Ty’s Diner, Public at the Brickyard, Jeanne’s Cafe, Cake Face food truck, Ziggy’s Pizza, Cortez

Mike Levand

Occupation: Sales/marketing

Food background: Levand lived in Los Angeles and Chicago for 20 years and says he was “forced to develop a palate beyond steak and potatoes.”

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Felipe’s, Yolo Grill, YaYa’s EuroBistro, Cinnamon’s Deli, Olive Garden

Dana Fleming-Mastio

Occupation: Television host/voice-over artist

Food background: Fleming-Mastio is an avid cook who believes that the best cooks have experienced a wide range of spices, textures, aromas and flavors. She never eats at the same restaurant twice in a row. Her favorite cuisine is Mexican.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Felipe’s, the Anchor, Firebirds, My Tho, Lakeside Club, Bella Luna, Larry Bud’s, Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, Metro Grill, Flying Stove

Chad Molen

Occupation: Director of operations at Viega LLC

Food background: Molen, a married father of two children ages 9 and 10, loves finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants no one knows about and introducing people to them for the first time.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Bella Luna Cafe, Thai House, Wichita Brewing Co. and Pizzeria, the Flying Stove, Ciao

Brad Seehawer

Occupation: Federal service

Food background: Seehawer doesn’t love steak but he does love dining out. His favorite types of food are Mediterranean, New American cuisine and burgers. He’s a prolific Yelp contributor.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, Wichita Brewing Co., Paleteria La Reyna

Ashley Watkins

Occupation: English and journalism teacher

Food background: Watkins worked as a server at Piccadilly West from 2002 to 2004 and was exposed to many new kinds of food, which sparked her interest in Wichita restaurants.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: YaYa’s EuroBistro, Kanai, Sit at Thai Bistro, Los Cocos, Bella Luna Cafe, Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, Bomber Burger, Nancy’s A-Maize-N Sandwiches

Vanessa Whiteside

Occupation: Teacher

Food background: Whiteside’s mother loved trying new restaurants, particularly ethnic restaurants. Growing up, Whiteside accompanied her mom on these dining adventures.

Favorite Wichita restaurants: Bella Vita Bistro, Little Saigon, Bella Luna Cafe, Taco Lopez, Pig In Pig Out

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