Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita Riverfest 2015: Riverfest food options lack NuWay but add craft beer

Chan’s Concessions will be set up in two different Riverfest food courts this year.
Chan’s Concessions will be set up in two different Riverfest food courts this year. File photo

People who go to the Wichita Riverfest for the food will find things largely unchanged from last year.

And that’s by design, organizers say.

The food, a feast of Pronto Pups, roasted corn, turkey legs and funnel cakes, is one of the festival’s main attractions, said Ann Keefer, the festival’s vice president for programming. And people like to be able to know where to find what.

So this year, food vendors will be set up in their usual spots The main food court will again be on Century II Drive, “where God intended it,” Keefer said. And two other satellite food courts also will return: a fairly large one at the WaterWalk that will serve attendees of Cox Kids Corner and WaterWalk concerts and a smaller one that will open only in the evenings and on weekends at the new Ackerman’s Backyard area in A. Price Woodard Park.

The lineup of vendors is mostly unchanged, too, with a few exceptions. Local favorite NuWay, which pulled out of the festival in 2009 but returned in 2013, has decided not to return again.

Another main difference this year: The festival is capitalizing on the craft beer craze by offering pours of several more upscale brews from a new “tap truck” that will be set up near the main concert stage on Kennedy Plaza.

Here’s a rundown of the festival’s food news.

Main food court, Century II Drive: This year, the main food court is being sponsored by Sparkling Ice, those sweet but sugar-free, colorful flavored drinks that come in the tall, plastic bottles. Every food vendor will be selling various flavors of Sparkling Ice for $2 a bottle.

“We’ve got all the old favorites that are always here,” Keefer said. “We’ve got the corn roast and Tad’s Bodacious Burritos, Mario’s amazing Greek food and, of course, Pronto Pups.”

There’s one new vendor in the main food court: Big G’s out of Ohio, serving dishes including bourbon chicken, Cajun sausage and a burger nicknamed the “Bacon Bomber.” The returning vendors include Chan’s Concessions, Hoopingarner’s Funnel Cake, Hoopingarner’s Philly Steak, Made 2 Grill, Tad’s Chicken on a Stick, Pizza Hut, Texas Red’s Catering and the World’s Best Lemonade, which serves lemonade squeezed from grilled lemons.

South food court, east of the Wichita Boathouse: The secondary concert stage, this year called the RedGuard Stage, is moving from the Hyatt lawn to the parking lot where the secondary food court has been, so it likely will be even more utilized. This year, it will include Bribiesca’s Funnel Cakes, Mr. Pizza, Silvey Concessions, Sweet Shoppe, Kona Ice and a satellite location of main food court vendor Chan’s Concessions, one of the festival’s chicken-on-a-stick purveyors.

The south food court will be open from 2 to 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.

Ackerman’s Backyard, A. Price Woodard Park: This area, intended as a getaway for grownups, will also have its own food vendor. From 4 to 10 p.m. on weeknights and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends, Noble House Hawaiian Plate Lunch, a Topeka-based food truck that serves dishes including chicken katsu, teriyaki chicken, pork and cabbage and ahi tuna poke, will be set up there.

Adult beverages: Beer lovers will have choices beyond Bud Light at this year’s festival. They’ll also find a craft beer “tap truck,” which will be tucked in under the awning of Century II adjacent to Kennedy Plaza, where all of the big concert crowds will be. The bar, run by The Bar’s Open, will have multiple taps serving craft beers including Odell’s IPA and 90 Shilling, Goose Island’s Goose 312, New Belgium’s Fat Tire, Slow Ride and Skinny Dip, Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada’s Nooner.

The traditional beer garden, which is set up north of the main food court near Douglas, also will be enhanced this year. Budweiser is bringing a “pop-up lounge,” complete with big-screen TVs. That area will serve Bud products. Two other bars – one just north of Kennedy Plaza and one on the north side of Douglas set up on the days that Douglas is closed – will serve beer and wine. The Riverfest’s happy hour will be 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday in Ackerman’s Backyard, when that bar will offer beer, craft beer, wine and mixed drinks and some drink specials.

Treats on Douglas: Two other food vendors will serve treats daily on Douglas. One is Rita’s Italian Ice, the frozen treat shop with two locations in Wichita, which will sell its ice daily from a booth in front of the Garvey Center. The other is the Johnsonville Big Taste Grill, which churns out 2,000 brats an hour. Last year, it was near the WaterWalk area. This year, it’s being relocated to Douglas, where it will sell its brats Friday through Sunday.

Other eating events: Two other favorite food events also will return. The Cajun Food Fest, a fundraiser for Goodwill Industries, will be 5 to 8:30 p.m. on June 4 on Century II’s Kennedy Plaza. For $8, button wearers can get a plate of Cajun goodness that includes red beans and rice and more. Add bread pudding for $3, or $10 for both. And the popular Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social, which offers attendees free vanilla ice cream and toppings, will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the intersection of Douglas and Water. Organizers are adding a celebrity ice cream-eating contest this year, Keefer said.

Funnel cake-eating contest: The seventh annual race to ingest funnel cakes will happen at 3 p.m. on June 6 on the food court stage.