Dining With Denise Neil

Ten things you have to eat at this year’s Wichita Riverfest

Wichitans go to the Wichita Riverfest to hear live music, gaze at the river and take in some extreme people watching.

Who are we kidding? People go to the Wichita Riverfest to eat.

When the festival opens on Friday, it’ll have three different food courts — the main one at Century II, the secondary one at the RedGuard Stage area near the WaterWalk, and a nightly pop-up food court on Douglas near the main concert stage.

Though there aren’t any major changes to the vendor lineup — the main food court’s participants are the same as last year’s — there are quite a few new deep fried, calorie-filled and just plain weird additions to the menus that people won’t want to miss.

Here’s a guide to what you’ll want to order if you need a break from the same old roasted corn ritual you’ve always stuck to.

10. Bucket of fries: Why get an order of fries when you can get a bucket of fries? Bribiesca’s French Fries is a new vendor that will be set up at the WaterWalk food court and will be selling a 48-ounce buckets of fries (that’s three pounds of french-fried goodness.) A bucket is $10, and a refill, if you can handle it, is $6. You can also get chili cheese topping for an extra $3.

9. Gator on a stick: Big G’s Burgers, one of the vendors that sets up in the Century II food court, didn’t have its famous gator on a stick last year. But they’re bringing it back this year, said Ann Keefer, the festival’s vice president of program development. That same vendor will have another unique offering that he’s never had before: crawfish boils.

8. Grilled mac and cheese: Cappuccino Connection, the lemonade stand that’s been stranded near the festival volunteer headquarters in the past, is getting promoted to the main food court this year, and to celebrate, the owner is expanding the menu. One of the things being offered this year is grilled mac and cheese.

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The Wichita Riverfest will open on Friday with its usual menu of fried favorites. Jaime Green File photo

7. Fried green tomatoes: The Original Corn Roast’s buttery, roasted ears of corn are among the festival’s most desired and purchased treats. But people who visit that booth, which is in the main food court, without giving their fried green tomatoes a try are missing out, Keefer said.

6. Beer battered bratwurst on a stick: Don’t want a bun with your brat? If you have it battered, deep fried and impaled with a stick, you won’t need one. This new treat will be one of the specialties this year oat Made 2 Grill, the longtime Century II food court vendor famous for its jumbo pork tenderloin sandwiches.

5. Wild Bill’s Soda: This new-to-the-festival vendor, which will be at the RedGuard food court, sells fancy copper mugs that attendees can buy and have refilled throughout the festival with hand-crafted sodas in flavors like vanilla cream, orange, root beer and cherry.

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Buy a big soda vessel, drink all the old fashioned soda you want at this year’s Wichita Riverfest. Courtesy photo

4. Fried pies: Haven’t had a chance to try an Arbuckle Mounatin Fried Pie yet? Local franchisees wanted to serve their hand pies at last year’s festival but it didn’t work out. They’ll be there this year, though, selling just their sweet fruit and pecan pies from a booth on Douglas.

3. Manny’s Tacos Xclusivos: This Wichita taco truck will be set up at the WaterWalk food court this year selling tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas.

2. Turkey legs: If you have never gnawed on a giant turkey leg, caveman style, this year’s Wichita Riverfest is your chance to change that. You can find them not only at Texas Red’s at the main food court but also at the Hot Rod Grill at the RedGuard Stage food court.

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Red velvet funnel cakes are returning to the Wichita Riverfest this year. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

1. Red Velvet Funnel Cake: There’s funnel cake. Then there’s red velvet funnel cake. Hoopingarner’s Funnel Cakes in the Century II food court is bringing back one of its famous creations — a red-colored, chocolate-flavored, cream cheese frosting-topped delicacy that must be tasted to be believed. How to make the experience even better? Pop into the festival’s merchandise tent first and purchase a festival-designed T-shirt that reads: “All you need is love (and funnel cakes.)“ The shirts are red. (Coincidence?)

Food court hours

Century II Food Court: Open 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 7 and June 8; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

RedGuard Food Court: Opens at 5 p.m. Friday and Monday through Thursday; opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sunday and June 7

Douglas Avenue Food Court: Opens at 5 p.m. daily

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Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.
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