River Festival

Everyone knows Riverfest is really about the eats and drinks

Grayson Pryce won last year’s funnel cake-eating contest at the Wichita Riverfest. Who will win this year?
Grayson Pryce won last year’s funnel cake-eating contest at the Wichita Riverfest. Who will win this year? File photo

Sure, the fireworks and the pops concert and the parade are perfectly pleasant.

But let’s not pretend we don’t all go to to the Wichita Riverfest for the same two reasons: the food and drink.

This year’s festival will, as always, offer diners their once-a-year chance to fill up on funnel cakes, Pronto Pups and fried pickles.

But it’ll also be even more friendly to fans of adult beverages. Additions to the layout include a local craft beer tent set up right in the main food court plus specialty cocktails near the main concert stage.

The local chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food is joining the festival lineup this year with a pair of tastings that include VIP concert seating. And the number of stomach-stressing eating contests this year has increased from two to three.

Here’s all you need to know to eat and drink appropriately at this year’s festival.

Food

Most of the festival fare will be spread out between the two main festival staging areas: the main food court on Century II Drive and the south food court by the RedGuard Stage, which is in the parking lot east of the Wichita Boathouse.

This year’s vendor lineup at the Century II food court will be exactly the same as last year’s, said Ann Keefer, who organizes food vendors for the festival. So if you go for the roasted corn, the turkey legs, the bodacious burritos, the fried pickles, the chicken on a stick or the gyros, you’ll once again find what you crave.

Several potentially welcome additions are planned for the Century II food court: In the past, patrons had to bring cash to ticket booths, then use tickets to buy food. This year, one ticket booth set up in the middle of the Century II food court area will accept debit and credit cards, Keefer said. Also, the main food court will have a tent serving local craft beers set up right alongside the food vendors on the main drag so people can get both food and beer without visiting two separate areas. Also, a portion of the main food court area will be covered with a giant tent where at least 100 diners can grab some shade in the heat of the midday sun.

A few changes also are planned for the south food court, including one that’s logistical. Instead of separating the vendors, they’ll all be arranged in one long line, Keefer said, so diners can more easily assess their options.

White Castle, which last year set up a mobile unit in the south food court, also is returning and will be serving classic sliders and sliders with cheese. And local food truck Uno Mas, which serves gourmet tacos, will be set up in the south food court every day of the festival.

Drinks

Adult beverages get more popular at the festival every year, and this year, festivalgoers will have more libation choices than ever.

One of the additions that excites Joe Schlimm, owner of The Bar’s Open who is the head of the festival’s alcohol concessions, is a new craft beer tent that will be right alongside the food vendors in the Century II food court. It’ll feature beers produced by brewers in and around Wichita, including Wichita Brewing Company, Walnut River, River City, Third Place, Hopping Gnome, Aero Plains and Central Standard. Aero Plains even crafted a special beer to celebrate The Bar’s Open’s 25th anniversary, called TBO 25, and it will be served at various spots.

Even more craft beer will be available from a vendor on Kennedy Plaza that will serve popular offerings like Tallgrass Brewing’s Key Lime Pie and New Belgium’s Tartastic and Fat Tire.

Another new addition is a specialty drink trailer that will be set up near concert crowds on Douglas. It’ll serve cocktails with names like River Madness, Sundown Schooner, Prairie Punch and ICT-Rita.

Visitors also will find a wine tent featuring Barefoot Wine that will offer wine and wine spritzers, and Budweiser will again bring its “pop-up lounge,” complete with big-screen TVs, that it will set up near the main food court. Mobile vendors also will roam the crowds with drink carts throughout the festival.

“People are talking about these craft beers,” Schlimm said. “They’re all the rage. And I hear that some of them on those lists are flying off the shelves, like Key Lime Pie. People don’t expect to find that at the Riverfest, and then it’s a big surprise.”

And a quick head’s-up: Patrons will not be allowed to bring reusable water bottles into the festival. The only outside liquids allowed will be water still sealed from when they were purchased, baby food, baby bottles and medication.

‘Madness, Music and Libations’

The local American Institute of Wine and Food chapter wanted to get involved with the festival and came up with a new two-events-in-one idea that will showcase wine and spirits. The first event is called Spirited Spirits and is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Wichita Boathouse. It will feature a tasting of bourbon, gin, vodka, spiced rum, tequila and more paired with hors d’oeuvres. Attendees then will also get VIP concert seating for the Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy show that follows at the RedGuard Stage.

The second event is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 8 on Century II’s Exhibition Hall balcony. It will feature a tasting of “old world” and “new world” wines paired with hors d’oeuvres. Attendees will get VIP seating for the Mavis Staples and J.D. McPherson show that follows the tasting.

Tickets to the two-day event are $85 and must be reserved in advance with a credit card by calling the institute at 316-682-5502.

Special eating events

The Cajun Food Fest, a fundraiser for Goodwill Industries, will be 5 to 8:30 p.m. on June 8 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 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the intersection of Douglas and Water. The Admirals Pancake Feed is $8 a person and happens from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday near the RedGuard stage area.

Eating contests

The ninth annual race to ingest as many funnel cakes as possible in 10 minutes will happen at 3 p.m. on June 10 on the food court stage. And a chicken wing-eating contest happens at 7 p.m. Sunday on the food court stage. A local radio station began offering listeners a chance to sign up on-air for the funnel cake contest starting May 31. Any remaining open spots will be filled on-site starting at 2:30 p.m. Participants in the chicken wing contest can sign up on site.

And new this year is 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 pre-determined challengers will be competing to win $1,000 for their charity of choice.

A live tour of festival food

Members of The Wichita Eagle staff will be sampling a lineup of festival fare live from the food court via Facebook Live at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. To watch, go to The Eagle’s Facebook page at 11 a.m.

Watch highlights from the nine-day community festival in downtown Wichita, including the opening and closing fireworks show. (videos and still photographs by Eagle staff)

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

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