Chompers rejoice: Freddy’s adds chewin’ ice

Very few things make me happier than the soft, crushable ice pellets that some convenience stores and restaurants serve in their drinks. I could crunch, crunch, crunch that stuff all day. (One close friend has threatened to un-close friend me over the noisy habit.)

In my circles, it’s known as “Sonic ice” because Sonic is the place that so famously serves it. But you can get something similar at Quik Trip and at several other restaurants around town. Sonic, as you may know, sells it by the bag.

Now, Freddy’s Frozen Custard owner Scott Redler tells me that his chain is spending big money to add chewing ice to its list of offerings. Customers prefer it, he said, and each Freddy’s will spend between $12,000 and $14,000 adding new ice machines that produce the stuff. The Wichita Freddy’s have already made the switch, and other stores across the chain will soon follow.

Studies have been done showing what texture of ice makes customers most happy, Redler said, and even though it sounds strange, he’s a student of those studies. “It’s one of those things where we had to justify the expense,” he said. “We know our guests want it.”

(In other Freddy’s news, Redler told me that within the next 60 days, his company will begin construction on a new free-standing Joplin store to replace the one destroyed in the May 22 tornado.)

By the way, I also love love love the ice served in the drinks at Taco Pronto at 8385 W. 21st St. N. It’s shaved ice, almost sno-cone-ish in texture, and although it melts quickly and makes your cola a bit too watery, it’s pure chomping heaven.

Who else in town offers great chewing ice? Tell me in the comments section below.

Friday is custard-in-your-mug day

The annual KMUW “Fill Your Mug” event returns Friday for a Final Friday event at Artworks At Piccadilly Square, 7724 E. Central.

From 6 o 8 p.m., those who bring their KMUW mugs to the event can have them filled full of custard by Freddy’s Frozen Custard. KMUW will have mugs available on-site, too.

The event also will feature music by Delores and the Pickin’-Fretter.

An emotional Freddy’s morning in Joplin

Scott Redler, holding the check, and Freddy Simon, far right, traveled to the destroyed Freddy's Frozen Custard in Joplin on Monday to donate money and meet with survivors.

Since I’m a personally acquainted with the Joplin tornado, I’ve been curious how the Freddy’s Frozen Custard, which was destroyed in the storm, was getting along.

Yesterday, I heard from Scott Redler, who lives in Wichita and owns Freddy’s stores across the country, including the one in Joplin.

On Monday, he and Freddy’s namesake, Freddy Simon, traveled to Joplin to deliver to the Red Cross a check for $17,059, money collected from Freddy’s customers over the past several weeks. While there, Scott and Freddy congratulated two managers, who are credited with saving the lives of about 20 customers who were in the store when the tornado hit it.

They also met with several of those survivors, who shared tales of what happened in Freddy’s the night of May 22 and poured praise on the managers who helped them stay safe.

Scott says that Freddy’s definitely will rebuild in Joplin. The land the store sits on is rented, which is slowing the process down, but he says Joplin can expect to have its Freddy’s back within a year, if not less.

I thought I’d share a few of the e-mails that survivors  sent to Freddy’s, Keep reading if you’re interested. They’re pretty powerful.

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Waiting for news on Joplin’s finest dining

Fred & Red was (is??) at 1719 S. Main in Joplin.

I’m back from a little weekend adventure in Joplin that I’d rather not relive ever, ever again.

And now that I am back and coming down from the ordeal, my mind keeps drifting to Joplin. My mom grew up there, and as a kid, I spent every Thanksgiving and much of my summer visiting all my grandparents and aunts and uncles there.

Even as a kid, restaurants were important to me. I lived in Dodge City, where the arrival of Applebee’s in the mid-1990s was beyond huge dining news. So I considered Joplin to be the ultimate fine dining destination. At my insistence, every single trip there included a visit to Red Lobster, where I’d eat cheesy biscuits until I couldn’t move. My grandpa — he died a few years ago — always paid the tab.

My parents also were big on Fred & Red Chili, a greasy spoon diner that, sort of like NuWay, had just a horseshoe shaped bar for seating. (Anthony Bourdain featured in in an episode of “No Reservations” earlier this year.)

Fred & Red specialized in chili, specifically chili poured over tamales and chili poured over spaghetti. The spaghetti concoction is called “spaghetti red” and my mom made it for dinner all the time when I was growing up. “Can’t remember a time they were not there,” my mom said in a text message last night. “Dad says 50 or 60 years.” Actually, Fred and Red opened in 1923 and moved to its Main Street location in 1943. Mom and dad hadn’t even been born.

I’ve scoured the internet today and am getting conflicting reports about whether Red Lobster or Fred & Red survived. I so hope they did.

I also got a kind note yesterday from Scott Redler, one of the founders of Freddy’s Frozen Custard. He knew my family was from Joplin, and we’d often talk about how much he liked it there. (He once had a Timberline in Joplin as well.) The Joplin Freddy’s was destroyed in the storm, though none of the employees or customers were hurt.

I’ll update this post when I get a firm answer on Red Lobster and Fred & Red.

*Update: I just got a response from a Joplin-ite on a Facebook forum, who says Red Lobster is standing. She saw it with her own eyes. Yay!

**Update No. 2: Helpful blog reader TJW pointed me to this picture, which clearly shows Fred & Red still standing. It’s to the right in the frame below. You can recogize the sign. Whew!

Fred & Red is visible on the right of this picture. It's still standing!

No such thing as too much Freddy’s

Randy Simon and Scott Redler were greeting customers today at the brand-new Freddy's/Panera combo at Maple and Ridge.

Over lunch, I went to make double, triple sure that Scott Redler really had opened the new Freddy’s Frozen Custard that he built dangerously close to my neighborhood.

Alas, he had, and I have a gut full of shoe-string fries to prove it. The latest store, which he owns along with partners Bill and Randy Simon, is the sixth in the Wichita area and the chain’s 49th.

The new Freddy’s is attached to a Panera, which is owned by Randy Simon. It will open on April 25.

Any time I speak to groups in town about restaurants and they ask me about my favorite burger, I always babble on and on about Freddy’s. Their steakburgers are sublime — grilled super flat until they’re crispy on the edges, fixed together by melted cheese and topped with thick pickles sliced longways. I prefer them to almost any burger I’ve ever had. (This won’t work for people who like their burgers thick, but to each her own, I say.)

Scott also persuaded forced me to sample his favorite Freddy’s concoction: Vanilla custard blended with liquid peanut butter (!!!!!!!!!), Reese’s Peices and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He’s as smart as he is successful.

And now, thanks to him, I owe the treadmill about five miles.

Death By Chocolate is Saturday

If there’s a good way to go, this is it.

Death by Chocolate, a sweet annual fundraiser for Exploration Place, is this Saturday at the venue, 300 N. McLean.

I’ve attended the past two years, and I can attest that this event offers the impossible:

Too. Much. Chocolate.

Last year's panel of chocolate judges included, from left, Brett Harris, Tracy Cassidy, Joe Stumpe, yours truly, Suzanne Perez Tobias and Kathy Deane.

Death by Chocolate features people all dressed up roaming the common areas of Exploration Place and sampling chocolate treats from some of Wichita’s best sweetmakers: Cocoa Dolce, Connie’s Cookies, Freddy’s Frozen Custard, the Airport Hilton, etc.

This is a place where you’ll find no-bakes next to cupcakes next to cookies covered in edible glitter. Last year, we sampled a creation we haven’t stopped thinking about since: Melted chocolate and bacon sandwiched between two pieces of French toast and topped with powdered sugar.

Though I was supposed to be a judge at the event again this year, a family obligation has taken me away, and I am pretty upset about it. Suzanne has promised to sneak a few chocolate morsels into a Ziploc baggie in her purse.

Tickets are $75 a person and include access to chocolate, non-chocolate appetizers, three open bars serving wine and beer, live music, a fashion show and a viewing of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. (As if anyone cares now! Hrmph!)

For tickets visit the Exploration Place website or call 316-660-0671.

Freddy’s/Panera update

Construction on the new Freddy’s Frozen Custard/Panera combo at the intersection of Maple and Ridge is a tad behind schedule.

But if the weather cooperates, the stores should be open within a month. The updated opening date is now early April. Freddy’s will open first, and a week later, Panera will follow.

The building will contain about 7,500 square feet, with Panera taking 4,250 and some patio space and Freddy’s using nearly 3,200 feet with a patio and a drive through window.

Cocktails & Cookies: What a sugar rush

My photography does not do this winning dessert from Hereford House justice. Also, please pardon my thumb.

I judged a fun event last night called Cocktails & Cookies, a fundraiser for The Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland that included a challenge for local chefs: Make the best possible dessert using Girl Scout Cookies as one (or more) of the ingredients.

Five restaurants entered the competition: Cocoa Dolce, Freddy’s Frozen Custard, Hereford House, Newport Grill and Cero’s.

My mission: To taste all the desserts and pick my favorite, then sit on a stage, trembling from sugar overload, and explain why I liked what I liked. What can I say? It’s a tough job…

The clear winner was Hereford House’s offering: A chocolate and brown butter banana cake with caramel sauce, brulee of bananas, and cinnamon ice cream. Chef Eric Hyre put four different cookies into the concoction, and it was amazing — especially the buttery brulee.

Here are a few other pictures from the evening:

Hereford House chef Eric Hyre shows off his creation.

Cocoa Dolce offered an amazing bite of sweet and salty chocolatey-ness called "The Kitchen Sink and the Baby, Too."

The Newport Grill team, including chef Aaron Whicomb (second from left), presented a lovely bite of lemon goodness that used the Lemonade Girl Scout Cookie.

A Freddy’s/Panera combo for the west side

freddysMy esteemed colleague Carrie Rengers reported months ago that a Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Panera store both would open at Ridge Road and University (that’s near the intersection of Maple and Ridge.) Today, I got an update on the project from the Simon family.

Construction workers started moving dirt today on what will become the first ever Freddy’s/Panera in a single building. The building will contain about 7,500 square feet, with Panera taking 4,250 and some patio space and Freddy’s using nearly 3,200 feet with a patio and a drive through window.

The building should be done by the end of the year, and both restaurants should open in early 2011.

Other Panera news: Local stores will start serving chili with baked cornbread croutons in the middle of this month, and in the next couple of weeks, Freddy’s will bring back its famous fall treat — the pumpkin pie concrete.

A photographic dispatch from Zoobilee

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Among the people I saw at Zoobilee on Saturday:Television host Sierra Scott, local wine expert Beth Bower, Intrust Bank Arena's Sarah Haertl and Mrs. Freddy's Frozen Custard, Betsy Redler.

Zoobilee was on Saturday night, and as I’ve previously stated, it’s one of the best foodie events of the year. It’s an annual fundraiser for the Sedgwick County Zoo, and it’s the only day of the year the zoo closes so that restaurant vendors and bans can scatter themselves throughout the grounds and prepare to feed and entertain the masses. There’s always more than enough food, more than enough drink and more than enough music, fun and people watching to go around.

The numbers are in, and this year, the event attracted nearly 5,000 people and raised $500,000 for the zoo. Here’s my photographic report from the event.

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The Donut Whole’s Angela Etter and Michael Carmody were there, sharing samples of their colorful confections.

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It was very difficult not to grab one of these babies every time I passed by.

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Chef Jeremy Wade, right, who’s everywhere with his new catering business, had not one, not two, but THREE spots at Zoobilee. Here he is with local foodie Bill Pearce, who’s a regular commenter on my blog and dining forum.

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One of Jeremy Wade’s booths offered this generous and delicious steak taco.

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Another of Chef Jeremy’s booths offered jambalaya, enjoyed here by my friend Jaime Green, Eagle photog and drummer in the local band The Mudbugs, which played the event.

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Here, local foodie and radio host Guy Bower poses with The Mudbugs. When he wasn’t cheesing, Guy was offering the crowd an education on pinot, cab, sauv blanc and more.

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Mike’s Wine Dive also was there, serving pork loin topped with a tropical salsa. When I passed by, general manager Brad Beyer was slice, slice, slicing away as the crowd mobbed his table.

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Mmmmm. Pork loin.