Photos by Kevin Kinder
More than once, I’ve heard Bikes, Blues & BBQ, the annual motorcycle rally currently rumbling around Fayetteville, called by different versions of its name. If the rally was more accurately named, the thought goes, it would be called something like Choppers, Classic Rock Cover Bands & County Fair Carnival Food. That doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, for one, and I wasn’t sure that was an accurate assessment.
I don’t have a motorcycle to ride, so I can’t explore that element. I don’t have any control over the band booking, but I don’t miss many opportunities to see local bands play music, meaning I endorse that element. But I do live in downtown Fayetteville, and I do eat. So I decided to explore the food options at Bikes, Blues & BBQ in more depth after several years of casual indulgence on corn dogs every rally. The corn dog eating opportunities (and the rally) continue through the early morning hours of Sunday, by the way.
My idea was pretty simple – explore the food options on the first night of Bikes, Blues & BBQ and report back with what I found. Luckily, I was able to go with a group of friends whose culinary tastes I trust. That allowed me to spread out and diversify the sampling efforts.
Here’s what you need to know about the food offerings at Bikes, Blues & BBQ: The rally’s footprint includes much of the Dickson Street area, but the food offerings are confined to the area near Dickson Street and West Avenue. Look for food in the main parking lot on the southwest corner of that intersection and across the street in what normally serves as the Chipotle parking lot.
You can eat your food with a soundtrack of live music in the main beer garden, but you’ll need to purchase your food before walking through the main gates. I didn’t see any food for sale inside the beer garden, but you can certainly get plenty of beer. Your best bet on that front, from what I found, is the $5 16-fl. oz. cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon from the centermost beer stand. That gives you a little more bang for your buck than the standard $5 12-fl. oz. domestic can, available in versions of Miller, Coors and Budweiser. For craft-beer-only folks, I didn’t find a higher-end option. I also didn’t see any local options, and it surprises me a bit that a larger-volume local brewery with canning capabilities (like Core, maybe?) isn’t available.
The bulk of Bikes, Blues & BBQ’s food element comes courtesy of white pull-behind trailers (not food trucks, exactly) with brightly colored awnings. It’s hard to tell them apart. When my friends came back with their food, and I asked where their item was purchased from, I was mostly met with “that one over there.” One of the most recognizable vendors, located in the same place year after year just outside the main stage exit, is a stand called Greek to Me, which indeed serves Greek food. The stand did not have mahi mahi, as advertised on its canopy, and I didn’t see the promised baby octopus dish, either. But there was Greek food, and if you pass by when there’s no line, the stand operator will hand you a sample slice of the shaved meat used to fill the gyros. That sold me. My gyro ($10) was a fine example of the type, although I wished the taziki sauce tasted a little less like yogurt and a little more like cucumbers and the pita was a little warmer at the start. Aside from the pair of food trucks offering fried alligator on a stick – which sadly none of my friends purchased – the Greek food was the most exotic offering of the evening. I guess I’ll have to go to Texas to satiate my need for deep-fried Jell-O.
Other foods brought to the table included a standard array of concession fare. I heard good things about the turkey leg from one stand – “You know, from the one around the corner,” said my friend unhelpfully between bites. There were at least four places to get a turkey leg (about $7 each).
The star of the show, in our collective opinion, were the funnel cakes. Depending on which of the concession stands they came from, the prices ranged from $5 for a plain one with powdered sugar to $8 for a Reese’s Peanut Butter variety with miniature chocolate chips and a peanut drizzle. It could have used more peanut drizzle – what couldn’t, really? – but it might have been my favorite food of the night. A friend’s apple-smothered funnel cake looked amazing, and considering the speed at which he consumed it, he must have agreed.
There was a bit of barbecue to be had, too. A stand promising award-winning barbecue – again, names are hard – shelled out a platter of ribs and sides that received high praise from my girlfriend. The barbecue sauce was on the sweet side in a good way, she said, and the portions were ample. There’s also the chance to get some barbecue on Friday night from the People’s Choice Barbecue Competition, an official BB&BBQ event at the Washington County Fair Grounds. For $10 (or $8 in advance from the Fayetteville Visitor’s Bureau) you can purchase a ticket for the event, during which the barbecue chefs competing in the next day’s Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned cookoff dole out samples. It’s yet to come, so I haven’t gone this year, obviously. But I’ve been to several previous People’s Choice tastings. The lines can be long, but they don’t stop moving, so it worked for me in the past.
Arsaga’s Depot / Kevin Kinder
It would be a lot to ask of an event with “BBQ” in its title to have much in the way of foods for specialty diets. A vegan friend went to Chipotle but also snacked on French fries from the vendors. Another specific-diet option would be to visit, like she did, one of the many Fayetteville businesses that surround the rally. By my glance last night, Dickson Street-area restaurants such as Qdoba, Flying Burrito, Jimmy John’s, Grub’s, Rolando’s and Hammontree’s had available seating during peak dinner hours. I’m not sure how much the rally affected that, because I’m not sure what the baseline for open seating on Wednesday nights around Dickson Street is. I’m also not sure what to make of the Bikes, Blues & BBQ crowd for 2016. With BB&BBQ attendance numbers being so hard to determine, it’s tough to compare from year to year. I would have sworn it was lighter than usual, but a veteran beer vendor I spoke with said he had a steady stream of customers all day and overall “a good Wednesday.”
But I didn’t see much of a crowd anywhere except for on the street itself and at the shiny new JJ’s Grill, which was packed. Other Dickson Street area merchants, like Arsaga’s Depot, don’t even try. They’ll be closed for the duration of the rally. Others still, like craft beer hangout Puritan Brew Co., are catering specifically to the BB&BBQ crowd. I’ve never seen Bud Light on their menu, but it was offered in bulk there last night.
If you are looking for culinary variety, rally central at BB&BBQ isn’t your place. If you are looking for fair food, it is. I think I’m headed back for a corn dog tonight.