Dining With Denise Neil

What to eat, where to drink at the 2018 Wichita RiverFest

See more than 40 years of Riverfest posters

Here is every single one of the posters designed for the Wichita River Festival - more than 40 years' worth.
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Here is every single one of the posters designed for the Wichita River Festival - more than 40 years' worth.

White Castle is out. But some of Wichita's best roasted chicken is in.

There will be deer burgers, hot dog samples and all the free water you can drink.

When the Wichita Riverfest returns on Friday, many people will have their sights set on the food courts. The fried and roasted fare, after all, is one of the event's biggest attractions.

Here's everything you need to know to dine and drink in festival style.

Main food court

The main food court on Century II Drive will be largely the same as last year's, meaning people can get the funnel cakes, bodacious burritos, fried pickles, roasted ears of corn and chicken-on-a-stick they've grown to expect.

A few of those vendors, though, are adding some interesting dishes. Big G's Burgers, for example, is serving deer burgers this year. They're $8 or $12 with fries.

The big tent, which debuted last year and shades 100 diners at a time from the summer sun, also will return.

The main food court is open from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 8-9.

RedGuard Stage food court

This secondary food court, which is set up south and east of the Hyatt, has become another dining destination. For the past two years, it's had a White Castle truck selling the famous sliders. Although that truck is not returning this year, local chicken roasters El Pollo Dorado will be selling their succulent specialty as well as wrapped hot links and tacos.

People also will be able to get burgers, shaved ice, funnel cakes, pizza, caramel apples and more.

The RedGuard food court is open from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 8-9.

Drinks

Those who were upset about last year's no outside water policy will be relieved to hear that the festival is installing two "Water Monsters," where people will be able to refill their empty water bottles. One will be on Douglas and one will be on Waterman. (But don't bring in a refillable water bottle full of water. It must be empty, and any water brought from outside must be sealed.)

Adult beverages will be plentiful as well. There will be nine bars set up in all of the high-activity areas, and most will be serving craft beers. People also will be able to find wine, margaritas and cocktails. The festival also has added a bar back to the Ackerman's Backyard area at A. Price Woodward Park. The beer garden outside of Century II also will be expanded and will offer plenty of space to hang out.

Other vendors

During opening weekend, Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs will be out and about passing out free samples of its hot dogs. And this year, local coffee truck Kookaburra Coffee will be at the festival serving its coffee and espresso drinks. It will be set up on Douglas near the Kennedy Plaza stage.

Special eating events

The Cajun Food Fest, a fundraiser for Goodwill Industries, will be 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, on Century II’s Kennedy Plaza. For $10, button wearers can get a plate of Cajun goodness that includes chicken etouffee, red beans and rice and homemade bread pudding. And the popular Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social, which offers attendees free vanilla ice cream and toppings, will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the intersection of Douglas and Water. The Admirals Pancake Feed is cheaper this year at $5 for adults, $3 for ages 12 and under and happens from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday near the RedGuard stage area.

Special sipping event

Local wine expert Guy Bower is hosting this wine-tasting event, called Stars of Summer. It's from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, 330 W. Douglas, and for $40 a ticket, attendees can sample Slow Press wines, Breckenridge spirits, cocktails, and heavy hors d'oeuvres. They'll also get VIP seating for the Festival of Broadway, which is the Kennedy Plaza entertainment scheduled for that night. Buy tickets by Sunday wichitariverfest.ticketfly.com/event/1699225 or by calling 316-267-2817.

Eating contests

The annual race to ingest as many funnel cakes as possible in 10 minutes will happen at 3 p.m. on June 9 on the food court stage. And a chicken wing-eating contest happens at 7 p.m. Sunday on the food court stage. It's open to the first 12 people who sign up.

There will also be an ice cream sandwich-eating contest, which happens in conjunction with the ice cream social at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Douglas and Water. The predetermined challengers will be competing to win $2,000 for their charity of choice.

New this year: Butler County's Hospitality & Culinary Arts students will participate in an event called "It's Not Faire" at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 9, on the main food court stage. The students, coached by local chefs, will re-imagine favorite festival foods to see who can do it best.

Also new: Carlos O' Kelly's will be sponsoring a salsa chop-off at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at the RedGuard Stage area. People will be competing to make the best salsa, and judges will decide which is best.

How to pay

Food is sold using food court tickets, available for purchase at ticket booths in the food courts. The bars will accept either tickets or cash.

Denise Neil and Oliver Morrison review a few of the items sold at the Wichita River Festival Food Court. (June 6, 2017)

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