Sometimes, a meal is so good, it stays on a diner’s mind for a whole year.
Members of the Wichita Eagle Dining Panel have a way with words when it comes to food, so we asked them to think back and choose the most memorable meal they ate in Wichita this year.
Here’s what they had to say.
Brad Seehawer’s pick: Meddy’s
Beef shawarma wrap
As itinerant of an eater as I am, I don’t often return to a restaurant unless it’s for reviewing purposes. This changed with the opening of Meddy’s, 7906 E. Harry, as I have eaten their beef shawarma wrap every month since they’ve opened. The cornerstone of the restaurant is a spit stacked with slices of meat, roasting and marinating in spices and their collective juices for hours until met with an electric knife and a skilled hand. The tender pieces of meat are good on their own but ascend to another level when wrapped in a fresh pita alongside parsley, tomato and tart sumac onions and met with the business end of a sandwich press. It is a resplendent package that pays respect to Wichita’s Lebanese heritage while improving it with modern techniques. Dip it in their homemade garlic or tahini sauces and eat it with a side of lemony hummus and umami-rich stewed tomatoes and eggplant.
Jocelyn Clonts’ pick: The Flying Stove
The rotating menu from the Flying Stove (check Facebook/Twitter/Instagram for daily location) makes it difficult to pick a single favorite dish. However, one stood out from the others. The Bucatini Carbonara from the local food truck’s October/November menu was not only the best dish they’ve served this year but the best dish from any restaurant or food truck I’ve had in 2014. The dish was a sizable portion of bucatini pasta topped with perfectly charred Brussels sprouts, pancetta, shredded Parmesan cheese, black pepper and crunchy bits of bread crumbs. Because it was a limited offering, I’ll spend the next year making unsuccessful attempts to re-create the pasta in my kitchen and hoping for its reappearance on a future menu.
Dana Fleming-Mastio’s pick: Siena Tuscan Steakhouse
Golden scallops with vermouth butter, crispy basil and butternut risotto
If you are still savoring a meal six months after you’ve eaten it, that definitely qualifies as memorable. The scallop dinner I had in June at the Sienna Tuscan Steakhouse in the Ambassador Hotel, 104 S. Broadway, was not only delicious but beautifully presented as well. And when was the last time you remembered the salad that preceded a great meal? The golden beet salad with goat cheese, pickled onions and a sherry vinaigrette was light and refreshing, the perfect segue to what was to come.
Aptly named, the scallops were sauteed to a beautiful golden color, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, with a rich yet somehow light vermouth butter sauce that didn’t overpower them. What executive chef Ben George does so well is complement his entrees with sides that are seasonal, inventive and oh, so good. I can still taste the creamy, sweet butternut squash risotto that was cooked to perfection. And I didn’t hesitate to ask for more of the quick-fried crispy basil that practically floated off the plate and melted in my mouth. From the golden beets to the golden scallops, this was definitely my golden meal in 2014.
Philip Warren’s pick: Marrakech Cafe
Lamb tangine and bastilla pastry
This year, Wichita added a Moroccan restaurant to its diverse portfolio of cuisines. Marrakech Cafe at 6257 E. 21st St. North specializes in dishes from the owner’s homeland as well as other more familiar Mediterranean fare. My top meal of the year came from here and consisted of the lamb tangine and a bastilla pastry.
The bone-in lamb shank is served in a piping hot dish called a tangine. Its lid is removed at your table, allowing the steam and aroma to waft over you. The tender and flavorful lamb is served with dried fruits and slivered almonds that help to create a delightful pan sauce with a hint of sweetness.
When a dish is referred to as “a plate from heaven” on the menu, it’s hard to pass up, thus I experienced the glory of the bastilla. The warm phyllo pastry was filled with onions, eggs, shredded chicken and spices. On top of the pie was a light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. The sweet and savory mixture of egg, chicken, sugar and cinnamon was addictive.
Samuel Connelly’s pick: Pig In Pig Out
Ribs, pulled pork, hot links and more
I am not a fan of barbecue. So it came as a shock that the meal that has stayed with me all year came from Pig In Pig Out BBQ at 1003 E. 13th St. North. I was hanging out with documentary filmmaker Mark Covino, who was in town for the Tallgrass Film Festival with his film “A Band Called Death.” Mark isn’t from the Midwest, but he looked at me and said, “I want Pig In Pig Out. It’s the best barbecue anywhere.” I thought, “Wow, huge props to Wichita.”
We arrived a few minutes later and were very warmly greeted by owner Derek Cochran. Mark knew what he wanted, and I honestly wasn’t sure, so I said, “Just surprise me.” I had no idea how surprised I would end up being. Ribs, pulled pork, hot links, macaroni and cheese, green beans and the barbecue sauce – oh, my! Hot and tangy, mild with a sweet and sour kick, sweet but savory; an insanely, brilliantly balanced flavor-shotgun-blast to the taste buds. Amazing. It changed my perception of barbecue forever and definitely was my No. 1 meal of the year.
Chad Molen’s pick: Fork & Fennel
Coq au vin
The best eating experiences for me tend to come from a combination of the food and the atmosphere. Either I am transported to another place and time or am able to revisit a fond memory. My best meal this year happened at Fork & Fennel, 3425 E. Douglas, on a lunch date with my wife. Fork & Fennel reminds me of a small European country bistro, warm and inviting, offering hearty and unique cuisine. I chose the coq au vin, “rooster in wine.” This was just the dish to perk up my bored taste buds.
The Kansas-raised chicken, surrounded by wild mushrooms, pearl onions and pork belly braised in red wine sauce, was beautifully presented on fresh noodles in a large, steaming bowl. A big steak knife was provided but was not needed. The meat fell off the bone, and each spoonful gave a moist, spicy burst of flavor. The only thing missing was a pint of ale and we could easily be enjoying a meal with Bilbo Baggins.
Jorge De Hoyos’ pick: Auntie Mae’s Cafe
Chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and cornbread
I must have driven past Auntie Mae’s Cafe at the Westlink Shopping Center, 9129 W. Central, 100 times since it opened over two years ago, never giving it a second look. Then some friends decided to treat us there for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. What grabbed my attention immediately was the chicken-fried steak priced at “market value,” a term normally reserved for lobster and prime rib at more extravagant places. How could I resist?
The entree showed up just 10 minutes later in a portion size big enough for two, with a crunchy coating on the outside and a moist center. The accompanying soft, homemade mashed potatoes with peels covered with peppered country gravy and the corner piece of crumbly, sweet cornbread and honey made for a perfect combination. Needless to say, I had to take some home, but it didn’t last beyond that evening. No worries: The market value was $13 a plate that date. The atmosphere that locally-owned Auntie Mae’s presents – with good, friendly service and an adjoining gift shop a la Cracker Barrel – helped make this the best meal I had this year.
Ashley Watkins’ pick: The Monarch
Loaded sweet potato tots
Duck bacon. These two words sold me on the loaded sweet potato tots at The Monarch, 579 W. Douglas, and helped make them my best meal of 2014. The tots are covered in melted cheddar cheese and sprinkled with green onions and diced duck bacon. The appetizer, which I ordered as a meal, showcases a wonderful blend of salty, smoky and slightly sweet flavors. The tots come with a side of ranch, which complements the taste of the dish. Next time you’re at The Monarch, I highly recommend ordering this dish and satisfying that craving for duck bacon you never knew you had.
Johnna Kolar’s pick: Yolo Grill
The Heater with a half-order of pickle fries
When Yolo Grill at 803 N. West St. reopened with a new owner on Dec. 1, I couldn’t wait to return for the best burger in town: the Heater. This 1/3-pound burger is made from fresh ground beef seasoned with cayenne pepper and topped with sauteed jalapeno peppers. The fresh-cut regular and Cajun fries are delicious, as are the homemade onion rings, but on my first visit after Yolo Grill reopened, I couldn’t resist the incredible pickle fries. These lightly battered pickle spears served with ranch dressing are bite-after-bite delicious. I am always amazed at how the batter clings to the pickle until the very last bite. For those who prefer less spice, there are several burger, chicken, fish and hotdog items to choose from. Since you only live once (YOLO), I guarantee your first visit to Yolo Grill will not be your last.