Dining with Denise Neil

Wichita’s Chicken N Pickle will open restaurant, show off its unusual amenities next week

It’s a restaurant.

But it’s also a sports complex, a party venue, a recreation center, an outdoor concert spot and a place for games.

You can bring your dog. You can lounge outdoors. You can exercise or not. You can eat or not. You can sit wherever you want, stay as long as you want, and pretty much do whatever you want.

And you can revel in the fact that, for once, Wichita has something bigger and better than Kansas City does. Wichita’s new Chicken N Pickle, the second by Kansas City-based restaurateur Bill Crooks and his partners, will be larger and have far more perks than the original, which opened in north Kansas City in 2016. It’s also bigger and better than the third Chicken N Pickle planned for San Antonio later this year.

On Monday, Wichita can finally check out the fully-operational Chicken N Pickle, a business near 13th and Greenwich that’s been anticipated and buzzed about since its owners first announced in December 2017 that they were expanding into the Wichita market.

Its indoor pickle ball courts have been open for two months already, but Monday will mark a “soft-opening” period for the rest of the complex, which features a big restaurant, four bars, indoor and outdoor pickle ball courts, a game room, lot of spaces for private parties and meetings, a small concert venue, lots of outdoor dining space and more. (Starting next winter, it’ll have an ice rink for skating and curling.)

Though the big ribbon cutting and grand opening won’t happen until March 1, the owners say they’re ready to start accepting customers on Monday, though they urge patience. They want their large staff, which will top out at 200 people come summer, to get some practice, though everything likely won’t be operating exactly as it should right away.

“But we want to see guests,” said the Wichita restaurant’s general manager, Nichole Reeder. “The more guests we see, the better we’re going to do our jobs.”

Earlier this week, Crooks and his staff gave us a tour of the nearly-completed venue, which is so big and packed full of options, it’s a little overwhelming.

Families love it, he said, and the average customer stays for more than two hours.

“It’s very rare that you ever see a teen on their smart device,” he said. “We love that.”

The biggest part of the 80,000-square-foot complex is a giant indoor pickle ball arena, which has six indoor courts and lots of tables set up along the sidelines. This is where fans of the sport — described as a mash up of badminton and tennis — can play year round. The restaurant is currently accepting players for its Wichita pickle ball leagues. (When league sign up opened this year in Kansas City, mangers said, all spots were claimed in five minutes.)

To get to the 19,000 square-foot restaurant, pickle ball players must cross a large courtyard, which has four more outdoor pickle ball courts, several canopies that will provide shade for picnic tables, and a giant turf-covered green space that will have free-to-play lawn games like Jenga and Battleship. This turf area will be converted into an ice rink in the winter months starting next winter.

There’s also a big stage where the venue can host bands and mini-concerts, which it plans to do about four times a week.

The courtyard also has an area for corn hole play, several bocce ball courts and its own covered outdoor bar, serving local beers, fruity drinks and soft-serve ice cream. There’s even a dog run on the edge of the courtyard (dogs are welcome in all outside areas) and the dog run is fitted with a water source so the venue can put on dog wash events in the summer.

The two-story restaurant is big and open and offers a menu of rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, salads and “munchies.” There are bar food specialties like tater tots, wings and burgers, but the menu also offers more chef-driven dishes like beet salad, elote and quinoa power bowls.

The lower level of the restaurant features a huge bar and several meeting spaces that can be closed off with sliding glass doors for private events or left open for general seating. An enormous game room with its own bar will have Foosball, ping pong tables and non-electronic pop-a-shot games for families to use at no extra charge.

Upstairs is a “Boulevard Bar” which is stocked with all Boulevard beers on tap. It opens onto a big covered outdoor deck that offers views of the courtyard and the entire Plazzio development.

And for the record, Wichita’s Chicken N Pickle has 50 percent more space than Kansas City’s, two more pickle ball courts, and an additional bar. Kansas City also doesn’t have a game room or a live music stage, owners said, and San Antonio’s restaurant also will be smaller than Wichita’s.

The way Chicken N Pickle works will take people accustomed to a conventional setup a while to get used to. But once they do, they’ll love it, owners say.

There’s no wait list for seating. People are free to walk into the complex and sit wherever they want. If they want to order food, they do so at the counter and then servers will deliver the food to them anywhere in the complex, indoors or out. People who don’t want to eat can grab any open seat and order beer, watch the games or just hang out.

Customers also can open a tab when they arrive that will follow them all over the complex. They can get some food in the restaurant then wander outside and order a beer at the bocce ball courts without having to cash out or find a server to tell them they’re moving.

Crooks said the venue also will become a home base for all kinds of community events. He wants Chicken N Pickle to be flexible, so the venue is open to considering almost anything.

“What we do is so different,” he said. “We can do anything. It’s like a blank slate.”

Chicken N Pickle

Where: 1240 N. Greenwich, in the Plazzio development between Sumo and The Alley

Phone number: 316-535-7150

Website: https://chickennpickle.com/wichita

Hours: Starting on Monday, hours will be 8 am. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays; and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. The kitchen is open until one hour before closing.

Playing pickle ball at Chicken N Pickle

Courts: The complex has six indoor and four outdoor courts.

Reservations: People can make reservations for courts by visiting chickennpickle.com/wichita. There will also be a few “free play” courts where players can jump in when there’s an opening

Cost: Court rental is $20 an hour from 8 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and $40 after 5 p.m. and on weekends. The price is the same no matter how many players from the group will be using the court. Open play costs $5 per person. There’s also a $3 per person rental for a paddle and $3 for a ball. People 55 and over can play for $2 a person from 8 a.m. to 10 am. Mondays and Wednesdays.

Learn to play: The venue offers pickle ball clinics from 9 to 10 a.m. the first and third Saturday of the month. It costs $10 and lasts an hour. Private lessons from a “pickle ball pro” are also available for $50 an hour.

Leagues: The venue started taking reservations for league play earlier this week. Those in leagues are guaranteed six games over eight weeks. There are several types of leagues, from “social” to advanced players. To sign up, visit chickennpickle.com/wichita/leagues/.

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.