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Dining with Denise Neil has moved

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Second ChileHead competition will spotlight Hatch chiles

Jeremy Johnson roasts Hatch chili peppers at Johnson's Garden Center on Wednesday. Johnson's will host their annual "Chili Fest" this weekend. (Aug 21, 2013)Marty Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Garden Centers, has begun his annual August treks to to keep Wichita stocked with green chiles from Hatch, N.M.

And on Saturday, local chile fans can try some dishes made with the peppers and sample craft brews that pair well with them.

Johnson is putting on his 13th annual Chile Fest on Saturday and Sunday, during which customers at all three locations can stock up on Hatch green chiles and watch them being roasted. The three Johnson’s Garden Centers are at 2707 W. 13th St., 802 N. Ridge and 6225 E. Shadybrook

On Saturday, they also can participate in the Second Annual Iron ChileHeadcompetition at the West 13th Street store, which asks local food truck operators to prepare dishes using the chiles. A panel of judges, including me, will choose a winner. The food trucks participating are B.S. Sandwich Press, Let’M eat Brats, Hopperoni Express, Park-n-Pork and Chino’s Parilla. (Last year’s winner was Roni Attari, who at the time was operating the since-closed Hopping Pita food truck and prepared several delicious items, including green chile hummus.)

People who visit can buy dishes from the food trucks and get free samples of beers made by local brewers using green chiles. The participating breweries are Central Standard Brewing, Hank is Wiser Brewery, Hopping Gnome Brewing, River City Brewing, Walnut River Brewing and Wichita Brewing Co.

The Iron ChileHead competition is from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.

The Chile Fest is going on Saturday and Sunday at all three Johnson’s. Peppers are available at 20 to a plastic bag for $7.99 and are available either roasted or unroasted. They’re available in larger quantities as well and can be turned into dishes such as chile verde, chile rellenos, salsa verde and more.

Here’s a story I wrote last year about Johnson’s dedication to keeping Wichita in chiles through the fall.

This blog will be on vacation until Aug. 14

I am off to do some serious field research on pina coladas, margaritas, etc. See you in a week.

QT Kitchens will be everywhere by year’s end

This afternoon, I stopped by the QT Kitchens tasting event at the QuikTrip at 37th St. N. and Rock that is about to open.

The kitchens offer toasted sandwiches, flatbread sandwiches, personal pizzas, soft pretzels with dipping sauce, breakfast sandwiches, fancy coffee drinks, smoothies, milkshakes, soft serve cones and Twisters, the QT take on the Dairy Queen Blizzard.

qt ktichen

The QT Kitchens tasting event included a life-sized milkshake.

The kitchens are being put into every QuikTrip in the Wichita area, one-by-one. So far, 20 stores have them up and running. The rest will be ready by the end of the year.

The convenience store chain introduced the kitchens, said Wichita division manager Terry Williams, because it wanted to provide good food for its customers. The company also is looking to fill a financial gap left by declining gasoline and cigarette sales, he said.

Samples of the QT Kitchens toasted sandwich with bacon and cheddar.

Samples of the QT Kitchens toasted sandwich with bacon and cheddar.

“This is a win for our customers and a win for us,” he said.

One interesting note: Customers order their QT Kitchen items at a touch screen, which then spits out a receipt. They take the receipt to the regular cash register, pay, then go retrieve their food when it’s ready.

During the tasting event, I sampled the much-discussed bacon shake, which was interesting for sure. It mixes soft serve with tiny bits of bacon and has lots of maple flavor. I’m not a big maple fan, but I asked a few colleagues to sample it, and they loved it.

If a Strawberry Shake offers to pose for a picture with you, never say no.

If a Strawberry Shake offers to pose for a picture with you, never say no.

I also tasted a pretzel with cheese, a slice of pepperoni pizza, a toasted sandwich with bacon and cheese, and a chicken bacon Ranch flatbread with nice, fresh slices of tomato and lettuce.

None of this is food you’d eat if you were watching your calories. It’s all buttery or sweet or melty. But it does taste good, and I could see it being popular with the crowd that already devours QT’s cold sandwiches and tube-shaped foods on the rollers. And the prices are in-line with other fast food places. My flatbread, for example, was $3.99, though the lettuce and tomato cost 69 cents extra.

Want to see a copy of the full menu? Keep reading. You also can find a list of stores where the QT Kitchens are already operating. If you don’t see your neighborhood store on the list, it’s not far behind.

Read More »

I’m out…

mount_rushmore_national_memorial…until July 7.

Carry on until then, please.

A few restaurants going on summer vacation

Felipe's at 21st and Woodlawn is about to go on summer vacation.

Felipe’s at 21st and Woodlawn is about to go on summer vacation.

The Fourth of July is near, and a few restaurants and food-related businesses are planning vacations. I’m telling you now so you don’t show up hungry pre- or post-fireworks.

Among them:

Molino’s at 1064 N. Waco, one of Wichita’s best Mexican restaurants, is closing down for a week so owner Mario Quiroz can take his family on a trip. The restaurant will be closed starting July 7 and will reopen on July 13.

Tanya’s Soup Kitchen at 1725 E. Douglas will be closed on Friday, July 4, so the staff can “have fun and blow up things with friends and families.”

Felipe’s at 2241 N. Woodlawn will be closed July 1 through July 7 and will reopen with normal hours on July 8.

The Spice Merchant at 1308 E. Douglas will close on July 4 and July 5. It will re-open on July 7.

I’ll continue to update this list as I notice more closings. Let me know if you’re aware of one I don’t have.

T.O.P.S. Steaks and Hoagies will open next week


Bernard Knowles knows Philly cheesesteak sandwiches because he grew up in Philadelphia.

He also knows the restaurant business because his parents owned a barbecue place in Philly for years, and helped run it.

Now Knowles, who works in his regular life as a general contractor, is opening a business that will utilize all that knowledge.

T.O.P.S. Steaks and Hoagies at 2251 E. 21st St., near 21st and Grove, is set to open next week, probably on Wednesday, Knowles said. The title stands for “Taste of Philadelphia Style,” and the restaurant will specialize in Philly cheesesteak sandwiches made with meat shipped in from The Original Philly Cheesesteak Co. in Philadelphia. The restaurant also will serve chicken cheesesteak, several styles of hoagie sandwiches and breakfast items such steak and eggs, omelets, home fries and grits.

The restaurant’s initial hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. On Friday nights, the restaurant will serve dinner specials such as barbecue ribs with collard greens, Knowles said. He’s planning a grand opening event for June 21.

Reach the restaurant at 316-239-6403.

Angela’s at 21st and Amidon to reopen next week

More than year and a half ago, the Angela’s Cafe & Cantina at 2119 W. 21st St. closed, and the building has been vacant since then.

Next week, it’ll be like it never happened.

Roman Romero, the brother of the former owner of the restaurant, is reopening it early next week, possibly Monday or Tuesday, he said. His daughter, Adriana Romero, wanted to give the restaurant a go, so Roman agreed to help, he said.

It’ll be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and will offer the same menu of Tex-Mex favorites it did when it closed.

The other two Wichita Angela’s, at  901 E. Central and 300 S. Greenwich, are operated by members of the same family.

For more information, call 316-832-1840.

Downtown restaurant Pasta Piazza is closed

I thought — and hoped — that Pasta Piazza had finally broken the curse on the space at 217 E. Douglas that has seen a revolving door of restaurants since I moved here almost 17 years ago. But it wasn’t to be.

On Monday, owners announced on Facebook that they’re closing the restaurant and relocating to Dallas.


The restaurant, owned by Kas Zendeli and his daughter Lita Zendeli, opened in October of 2012 as Bravos, serving the Italian dishes Zendeli had made famous at his previous restaurant, Bravo’s Italiani in Valley Center. Last summer, the Zendelis changed the name of the restaurant to Pasta Piazza to avoid a lawsuit from Italian chain  Bravo Cucina Italiana.

The Zendelis battled the same problems many of their 217 E. Douglas predecessors had, including lack of parking and sparse downtown crowds after hours on weekends, but over the past couple of years, they’d earned a loyal following for their homemade Italian dishes and heavenly yeast garlic rolls.1002897_545698792132341_1451567616_n

Among the restaurants that have come and gone from the space in recent years: Holy land Mediterranean Grill, Onyx Bistro and DK Kitchen.

We’ll let you know if another restaurant takes over the space.

Wichita Restaurant Week will return in October

Wichita Restaurant Week, which Go Wichita, the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association and The Boys & Girls Club of South Central Kansas teamed up last year to put on for the first time, will happen again in 2014 — but it won’t be until fall.

Last year’s event happened in late June and raised $8,000 for the Boys & Girls Club, said James Williams, communications manager for Go Wichita.


Organizers decided it was worth another go but decided to move it to Oct. 10-19. Those dates are better, Williams said, because other big events are going on in Wichita during that time, including the Tallgrass Film Festival and the Prairie Fire Marathon. “We want to show visitors to Wichita a lot of exciting things that are going on all at once,” he said.

The group got 24 restaurants to participate last year, including Harvest Kitchen/Bar, Newport Grill  and Chester’s Chophouse. Each offered three levels of prix fixe (price fixed) meals that would give diners a glimpse into the kind of food they serve. That’ll be the setup this year, too, with each participating restaurant offering a $10, $20 and $40 options.

Many of last year’s restaurants reported having very strong weeks during the event, Williams said.

To be included, restaurants must pay $150 if they’re members of Go Wichita or the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association or $250 of they’re not. Restaurant owners and managers should call Go Wichita at 316-265-2800 to sign up.