Dining With Denise Neil

Eagle dining panelists pick their best meals of 2015

Ashley Watkins says that after eating Dempsey’s egg burger, she can’t imagine why anyone would eat a burger without an egg on top.
Ashley Watkins says that after eating Dempsey’s egg burger, she can’t imagine why anyone would eat a burger without an egg on top. Courtesy photo

Philip Warren’s pick: Grilled trout and roasted bone marrow at Fork & Fennel, 3425 E. Douglas

On a warm summer night, I enjoyed a unique and perfectly executed meal at one of my favorite restaurants, Fork & Fennel. This trendy little College Hill eatery features a frequently changing French bistro-inspired menu with many of the ingredients sourced locally.

My meal started with a refreshing Cuba Libre that featured top shelf rum and house-made cola. For an appetizer, we ordered a roasted marrow bone, which was split down the middle so the rich gelatinous marrow goodness could be easily scooped out onto a grilled baguette. For my main course, I ordered grilled trout with roasted red potatoes and green beans. The trout was flawlessly grilled with a light, smoky flavor and finished with a straightforward pan sauce. The potatoes were roasted to a lovely golden brown, providing a delightful crunchy exterior. A light seasoning of salt and pepper allowed the inherent flavors of both the potatoes and green beans to come through.

Brad Seehawer’s pick: Eight-course tasting menu at Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, 104 S. Broadway

Since opening three years ago, Siena Tuscan Steakhouse has been my favorite restaurant in Wichita, partly because it doesn’t feel like you’re in Wichita at all: Walking into the dim open dining room overlooking the sleepy downtown area, you don’t feel out of place wearing your dressy clothes or paying for $30 entrees. Although I was worried at the prospect of Siena going on its third chef in as many years, Jeremy Wade has honed Siena’s concept, keeping the same level of quality for which the restaurant is known but emphasizing Italian cuisine.

The eight-course tasting menu, still one of the only tasting menus in town, is an excellent showcase for this, beginning with some experimental and eyebrow-raising dishes (Grilled octopus over potato salad? Mussels with ham and leeks?) before moving toward more traditional dishes (butternut squash soup, filet with whipped potatoes). The meal was a showcase for Wade’s ability to command a kitchen with technical accuracy and vision. No longer was the tasting menu an overstuffed sampling of the regular menu – it told a story. And that octopus/potato salad dish? It was great. The smoky cephalopod was tender, meaty and provided a contrast to the starchy familiarity of the potato salad on which it sat. It was playful, and it was one of the few times I’ve seen octopus on a menu in this city. More important, it was the beginning of a meal and a rejuvenated Siena that continues to improve despite already being in a class of its own.

Dana Fleming-Mastio’s pick: Filet at Greystone Steak & Seafood, 9719 E. 21st St. North

We are fortunate to have many fine restaurants in Wichita, and another gem was added in August: Greystone Steak & Seafood on 21st Street just east of Webb Road. It’s the latest fine-dining establishment to grace our palates and is where I enjoyed my favorite meal of 2015.

The wet-aged, corn-fed beef filet was seared to absolute perfection and served exactly as requested – medium rare. Its natural flavor was not ruined with a confounding blend of spices and rubs but rather was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, allowing the natural beef flavor to shine. It was served with a salt-crusted Idaho baked potato, slightly crisp on the outside, flaky and moist on the inside, and loaded, of course. The main course was preceded by the best version of applewood-smoked trout dip I’ve ever had. Made with sour cream, cream cheese, herbs and spices, it’s served with toasted baguette points. It sounds heavy but was actually a light and refreshing precursor of great things to come. We also enjoyed the crunchy and bright chophouse salad made of iceberg lettuce, finely diced red onions, hearts of palm, cucumbers, tomatoes and homemade croutons topped with blue cheese crumbles and a mild but flavorful blue cheese dressing. The croutons were so amazing, I kept stealing them off of my husband’s plate. The cozy and gorgeous stacked limestone decor and supremely professional staff are the perfect complement to the delectable food served here. My highest recommendation for your next fine-dining experience in 2016.

Johnna Kolar’s pick: Classic Ziggy pizza with Italian tossed salad at Ziggy’s Pizza, 3700 E. Douglas

Wichita is known for its pizza, but until you have tried homemade pizza from Ziggy’s, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. My favorite meal of 2015 has to be the lunch special at Ziggy’s. Served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, it lets diners choose from seven pizzas and three salads. The Classic Ziggy is my favorite, with pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, onion, fresh mushrooms, black olives, cheese and marinara. The Italian tossed salad, made with fresh romaine lettuce, banana peppers, black olives, pepperoni, diced tomato, onion, feta and homemade Italian dressing, is one of the tastiest salads in town.

Ashley Watkins’ pick: Egg burger at Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 3700 E. Douglas

When you find a burger place that can execute your burger at the perfect medium temperature with a perfectly runny over-easy egg on top, you know you’ve found a winner. And I found a winner this year in Dempsey’s Burger Pub in Clifton Square. This juicy egg burger comes with thick-cut bacon on top, is served on a soft brioche bun and has me fully convinced that any burger without an egg on it is just not complete. A side of fries completes this meal, and Dempsey’s has that covered. During the several times I ate the egg burger this year, I tried it with regular fries, truffle fries, sweet potato fries and duck fat fries. My favorite are the truffle fries, tossed in truffle oil, grated Parmesan cheese and parsley. I always order mine with a side of made-from-scratch roasted garlic aioli.

Jocelyn Clonts’ pick: Chicken and noodles at Garden of Eatin’

It’s hard to beat my grandma’s home-cooked chicken and noodles, but this year, the Garden of Eatin’ food truck (check Facebook for daily location) has been serving a fresh and hearty version of the winter classic. The food truck (and soon-to-be-restaurant when the owners take over the Cow & Sow Deli spot at 612 E. Douglas in March) is dishing out ladles of chicken and noodles with a big helping of carrots, onions, celery, chicken, fresh herbs and plump flour noodles. Served on the side, the savory cream cheese mashed potatoes complement the meal, and a side of rich-and-buttery corn completes the carbalicious trifecta. The dish is a perfect solution to my comfort food cravings, and it’s an added bonus when the truck serves outside my favorite local brewery, Central Standard Brewing.

Chad Molen’s pick: Rotisserie chicken at Redrock Canyon Grill, 1844 N. Rock Road

Redrock Canyon Grill,1844 N. Rock Road, is often overlooked in the broad array of fine dining in Wichita, but for me, the location of my favorite meal of 2015 is always a winner. For starters, I had their famous “little” house salad. The only thing little about it is how little room you have left for the main meal. Their homemade dressing atop fresh lettuce, walnuts and blue cheese is to die for. For my main dish, there really isn’t any other option: I have to go with the rotisserie chicken. The chicken is slow-cooked in a rotisserie oven right in the dining area so you can see all the flavorful goodness coming together. Complement this with light-and-fluffy red-skinned mashed potatoes and sweet melt-in-your-mouth carrot coins, and you have an explosion of flavor that stays with you long after you leave. The food is not the only thing going for Redrock. The atmosphere, reminiscent of a Colorado ski lodge, and the stellar knowledgeable wait staff help make the experience memorable.

Denise Neil’s pick: Korean short ribs at Hungry Heart, 222 S. Commerce

Meat candy. That’s what I call the Korean short ribs that made my taste buds – and nearly my brain – explode when I had them at The Hungry Heart, a (too) off-the-beaten-path brewery hidden in the shadow of Intrust Bank Arena. I reviewed the restaurant in November and had several outstanding dishes, many of them made with meats cooked on the aromatic smoker stationed in front of the restaurant. But the Korean short ribs, served with a side of sticky rice and spicy cucumbers, were by far the best. The tiny bites of on-the-bone beef had been doused with a sweet marinade before they were grilled, and the result was a big serving of chewy, sweet meat with a nice soy sauce tang and crunchy, charred edges. They made me full and happy.