It’s been five
years since we first surveyed our readers about their favorite restaurants,
destinations and activities. Little did we know this contest would
be as popular as it has become. We have seen the results reported in
other media, we’ve spied
our certificates hanging in businesses across the state and
noted with pride when recipients tout the honor in their own
winery: Stone Hill Winery
Another thing we
never expected was the consistency of the results. Year after year,
the same establishments have topped their respective categories with
At times, we’ve wondered if some of the winners were encouraging
their customers to mail in contest forms. We’ve even joked among
ourselves about restaurants using our entry form as placemats or offering
free dessert with a completed entry. But all kidding aside, we’ve
always believed our results reflected nothing more than loyal patrons
expressing their true preferences.
the beauty of this contest. It is not our opinion that matters. The
based on advertising or PR campaigns. The winners of this contest receive
recognition because you, the reader, care enough to send in an entry
form in support of restaurants, attractions and destinations you enjoy.
lucky contest participant, Crystal Hornibrook of Kimberling City,
won our drawing for a made-in-Missouri gift basket valued at $500.
But all the other readers who completed our survey share in the satisfaction
of knowing they helped crown “The Best of Rural Missouri” for
this, our contest’s
With our utmost appreciation
for your participation, here are your selections:
Dining worth the drive
First: Lambert’s Café, Sikeston, (573) 471-4261, and
Ozark, (417) 581-7655.
Second: The Pear Tree, Bevier, (660) 773-6666.
Third: Charley’s Buffet, Cole Camp, (660) 668-3806
Apparently, our readers
know what they like to eat. Lambert’s Café,
the “Home of the Throwed Roll,” has taken first place five
years running. Beside its projectile baked goods, Lambert’s earns
kudos for heaping portions of tasty down-home cooking.
worth the drive: Lambert's Café
The Pear Tree
in Bevier also owns its second-place berth in this category. The steaks
and fried lobster are legendary and the onion rings and salad dressing
can’t be beat.
is only open on Friday and Saturday and just for supper. They’re
known for their fried chicken but roast beef, ham and other entrees
fill the buffet, too. The breads are homemade and the dessert bar is
packed with as many as 50 items.
Editor’s choice: If the drive
is part of the experience, the River’s
Edge in Morrison is hard to top, especially if you come from Hermann,
about 15 miles to the east. The ferry ride across the Gasconade River
is memorable but so are the ribs, Cajun-style shrimp and flowerpot
bread served at this laid-back eatery. (573) 294-7207.
First: Johnny’s Smoke Stak, Rolla, (573) 364-4838
Second: Hickory Log, Dexter, (573) 624-4950
Third: Chuck Wagon, Warsaw, (660) 438-2503
deserves the customer loyalty award. We figure the buffet is what keeps
Johnny’s patrons so satisfied. When faced with such
a smorgasbord there’s no reason to go away hungry.
The Hickory Log
is a Missouri institution, known nationwide for its dry-rub ribs. The
restaurant sells about 3,000 pounds of ribs each week at its Dexter
location, but it also ships meat to loyal customers around the nation.
The Coffee Pot, Licking
The Chuck Wagon’s
motto is “the best I’ve ever had,” a
phrase repeated so often by diners the slogan stuck. Open only Thursday
through Sunday during tourist season, and less in the winter. Editor’s
choice: It always surprises us that Kansas City’s legendary
smokehouses don’t fare better in our contest. We suppose that
just means our readers tend to avoid the big cities. In that spirit
we’ll recommend a place close enough for the Rural Missouri
staff to make a lunchtime run. Lutz’s BBQ serves ribs and sandwiches
from a small trailer alongside the Lowe’s home center in Jefferson
City. What Lutz’s lacks in ambiance, it makes up for with delicious
smoked meats and the best fresh fried potato chips you’ve ever
tasted. (573) 353-4990.
First: The Coffee Pot, Licking, (573) 674-2579
Second: Du Kum Inn, Sullivan, (573) 468-6114
Third: Mel’s Country Café, Jefferson City, (573) 893-9115
This is a new category
and one that saw a lot of different nominations, with no clear front
runner. Apparently, people don’t venture
far from home for breakfast.
All our winners are
down-home gathering spots where you can learn the latest news around
town served with biscuits and gravy or a plate of eggs.
The Coffee Pot
in Licking earns high marks for its made-from-scratch dishes. Sullivan’s
Du Kum Inn is best known for its fried chicken and bread pudding,
but we hear breakfast is pretty good, too. Mel’s Country Café in
Jefferson City serves breakfast all day.
A Slice of Pie, Rolla
Editor’s choice: Kay's
Restaurant in Osage Beach serves all-you-can-eat but instead of dipping
into trays of food on a steam table, patrons order another round of food
from the menu. (573) 348-2217.
First: A Slice of Pie, Rolla, (573) 364-6203
Second: The Blue Owl, Kimmswick, (636) 464-3128
Third: Central Dairy, Jefferson City, (573) 635-6148
This year we combined
two previous categories — Best Pie and Best Old-Fashioned
Ice Cream — into a single dessert category. Our readers seem
to prefer pie to ice cream. Given the choice, we like ice cream on
A Slice of Pie has
won our Best Pie category three years running. What-ever the filling,
if you can put it between two layers of crust this place probably offers
it. We have one bit of advice for those visiting The Blue Owl in Kimmswick:
Eat dessert first. The heaping meringues and overstuffed pies are not
to be missed. Finally, if you like ice cream there are few better places
to enjoy a cone or cup than Central Dairy’s old-fashioned
counter in Jefferson City.
Editor’s choice: Sedalia’s
Ivy Cottage Tea Room is relatively new but already has established
a reputation for scrumptious desserts. (660) 826-6600.
First: Le Maire’s Cajun Catfish, Sedalia, (660) 827-3563
Second: Dowd’s Catfish House, Lebanon, (417) 532-1777
Third: Catfish Corner, Columbia, (573) 474-5017
always been a favorite of the Rural Missouri staff. We try to stop
there when we’re in town for the state fair. Our second and
third place winners likewise offer fried catfish with all the fixin’s.
It’s simple food but, oh, so good.
Editor’s choice: Another
great catch for catfish is Acleda’s
Korner Kitchen in Raymondville. Expect down-home cooking served fresh
and hot with old-fashioned sides. (417) 457-6352.
First: Dixon’s Chili Parlor, Independence, (816) 861-7308
Second: Casper’s, Springfield, (417) 866-9750
Third: P.J.’s Café, Licking, (573) 674-9090
Our first place winner,
Dixon’s, has served its signature dry-style
chili to Kansas City area residents since 1919. Casper’s serves
an overflowing bowl of hearty chili with onions and cheese piled high.
Chili is not actually on the menu at P.J.’s but is usually served
as a weekend special, often with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, Columbia
choice: We received a surprising number of faxes for Uncle Rooster’s
in Seymour. We checked it out while in the area and found a roadside
eatery featuring Chicago-style hot dogs. Rooster’s chili was a
highlight to the meal. (417) 935-4120.
First: Stroud’s, Kansas City (two locations), (816) 454-9600,
Second: Cookin’ from Scratch, Newburg, (573) 762-3111
Third: Westphalia Inn, Westphalia, (573) 455-9991
first place winner, is a Kansas City institution known across the nation
for its pan-fried chicken and heaping bowls of sides. Cookin' from
Scratch in Newburg took second in our contest last year as well. The
chicken and fixin’s at Westphalia Inn are served family-style.
Editor’s choice: The Claysville Store, located along the Katy
Trail, between Hartsburg and Jefferson City, has a reputation for some
of the best fried chicken around. It is possible to drive there, but
for the full experience, arrive by bike. (573) 636-8443.
First: Stone Hill Winery, (three locations), 1-800-909-9463
Second: St. James Winery, St. James, (573) 265-6953
Third: Les Bourgeois, Rocheport, (573) 698-3401
The winners in this
category are no surprise, considering they are among the state’s
biggest producers, and their products are found in grocery stores across
Stone Hill, our first
place winner deserves much of the credit for revitalizing the state’s wine industry in the 1960s and continues
to school the rest of the state’s producers on how a winery should
operate. Runner-up St. James is actually Missouri’s top wine
producer. Its facilities along Interstate 44 lack some of the charm
of Stone Hill’s Hermann location,
but the company offers quality wines for every taste, as well as several
non-alcoholic products. Third-place Les Bourgeois offers a fabulous view
from a bluff overlooking the Missouri River.
Editor’s choice: Mount
Pleasant Winery in Augusta earns recognition for its own role in the rebirth
of Missouri’s wine industry and for a wide
selection of wines. Their Missouri River Valley scenery isn’t bad either.
First: Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, Columbia, (573) 499-0400
Second: Springfield Brewing Company, Springfield, (417) 832-8277
Third: Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, (816) 474-7095
A new category
this year, Best Microbrewery recognizes the popularity of small-scale brewers.
Flat Branch Pub in Columbia sets the standard for a Missouri microbrew house,
offering dozens of ales, beers and ciders brewed on site, plus interesting
lunch and dinner meals.
Product: Burger's Smokehouse, California
The brewing equipment
is prominently displayed at Springfield Brewing Company, a microbrewery
launched by the Paul Mueller Company, a Missouri-based supplier of
stainless steel tanks and equipment to the brewing and winemaking industry.
Not surprisingly, the Springfield Brewing Company is one of the most
technologically advanced brewpubs in the world.
With their products
on grocers’ shelves throughout the state we’re
not sure that Boulevard Brewing Company still qualifies as a microbrewery.
It’s pretty good beer, though, and the readers have spoken.
choice: Hermann Brewing Company is the only brewery in a town best known
for wine. Besides producing a variety of small batch beers, brew master
Joe Hoefle also offers Beer School 101, a workshop for would-be home-brewers.
First: Burger’s Smokehouse, California,
Second: A Taste of the Kingdom, Kingdom City, (573) 592-7373
Third: Memory Lane Dairy, Fordland, (417) 767-2697
the nation’s largest selection of hickory-smoked
meats, which it sells through a mail order catalog and Web site. A visitor’s
center features impressive dioramas depicting the four seasons.
of the Kingdom (as in Kingdom of Callaway) offers a delicious variety
of jellies and sauces, all with a bit of kick from cayenne, jalapeno
or habanero peppers. It’s good stuff!
Memory Lane Dairy sells farm fresh milk in glass bottles. You can’t
get much more refreshing or wholesome than that!
We may be stretching the term AgriMissouri, but we can’t
help but appreciate the long-term success of East Wind Nut Butters.
The worker cooperative, operated by members of Tecumseh’s East
Wind commune, does a booming business selling all-natural peanut butter,
cashew butter, almond butter and other products on the Internet at
to stay: Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale
State Park/Historic Site
First: Ha Ha
Tonka State Park, Camdenton, (573) 346-2986
Second: Meramec State
Park, Sullivan, (573) 468-6072
Third: Bennett Springs
State Park, Lebanon, (417) 532-4338
There’s a lot
more to Ha Ha Tonka State Park than castle ruins. The 3,600-acre park
south of Lake of the Ozarks also offers towering bluffs, a natural
bridge, caves and 15 miles of trails through a diverse landscape of
woods and savanna. A lot of visitors come to Meramec State Park to
float the river, but other activities include camping, fishing, nature
trails and guided tours of Fisher Cave. A state trout hatchery and
100 million gallons of spring-fed water each day make Bennett Spring
State Park a Mecca for Missouri trout anglers.
Since our readers concentrated on state parks, we’ll
suggest a state historic site. Few such sites offer as much to see as our
Capitol complex here in Jefferson City. The Capitol building
itself overwhelms visitors with its beauty and there’s so much
to see inside. From January through May you can watch the legislature
in action. Otherwise, visit the museums and take the free tour so you
can see the Thomas Hart Benton mural. The nearby Jefferson Landing
site and the State
Supreme Court Building are worth a visit as well.
First: Old Tyme Apple Festival, Versailles, (573) 378-4401
Second: Oktoberfest, Hermann,
Third: Festival of
the Little Hills, St. Charles, (636) 940-0095
log-sawing, face painting and bubble-gum blowing contests are just
a few of the activities at past Old Tyme Apple Festivals in Versailles.
This year’s event, scheduled for Oct. 7, will include
a car cruise, fiddler’s contest and parade.
used to get out of hand, with revelers enjoying the town’s wine a
bit too much. These days, the festival, held the first four weekends in
October, is more appropriately focused on celebrating the region’s
beautiful town: Hermann
History comes alive,
Aug. 18-20, as St. Charles celebrates its role in early American settlement
Editor’s choice: Marceline’s annual Toonfest
recalls Walt Disney’s
formative years in northwest Missouri. Besides the usual small town fair
food and entertainment, Toonfest, scheduled for Sept. 15-16, includes
presentations by prominent cartoonists and Walt Disney-related activities.
Rocks State Park, Pilot Knob, (573) 546-3454
Second: St. Louis Gateway Arch, St. Louis, 1-877-982-1410
Third: Exotic Animal Paradise, Strafford, (417) 859-2016
We’re not sure
the readers really understood what we were looking for with this new
category. When we asked for “oddities and curiosities along
the way,” we had in mind the kinds of unexpected places that you
happen across and just have to stop. Instead, the readers chose some
fairly major attractions.
Elephant Rocks State
Park is one of Missouri’s
neatest destinations and the Department of Natural Resources should
be commended for making these granite pachyderms enjoyable for all.
An easy walking trail is accessible by the disabled and even features
Braille markings for the blind.
The Gateway Arch
is certainly an attraction and it is along a road. What more can we
say? If you’ve never
been to the top, shame on you!
Exotic Animal Paradise
is a drive-through park where the animals occasionally come right to
your window to greet you.
place to take the kids: Branson
Editor’s choice: We were thinking of
slices of Americana, such as “The
World’s Largest Pecan” in Brunswick or Max, “The
Largest Goose,” in Sumner. But as notable as these are, we
nominate the Jim The Wonder Dog Memorial Garden in Marshall. The
local garden club has done an outstanding job creating a lovely
setting to honor Missouri’s
most amazing pup. A series of placards around the garden recall
the fascinating tale of this incredible hound.
Most Beautiful Town
Third: St. Charles
Prudence tells us
to take the coward’s approach and not comment
too much on this category. Her-mann offers the charm of old Germany
and beautiful vineyards in the hills above town. Carthage has a beautiful
courthouse square and lovely parks. St. Charles boasts a historic
downtown full of restored early 19th-century buildings.
choice: We know better than to go there. No matter where you live
there’s few places more beautiful than home.
Place To Stay
First: Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, (417) 335-2777
Second: Tan-Tar-A Resort, Osage Beach, 1-800-826-8272
Third: School House Bed & Breakfast, Rocheport, (573) 698-2022
Seems like our readers
like to stay at upscale places. Big Cedar Lodge is all you’d
expect from Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris — first
class in every way, a lovely setting and rustic but opulent accommodations.
Hero Site — Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, Independence
One of the best-known
resorts in the state, Tan-Tar-A has it all, from golf to parasailing.
There’s even an indoor water park for the
The perennial winner
in our former “Best Bed and Breakfast” category,
The School House B&B is just the place for couples who don’t
need boat docks and tennis courts for entertainment.
If you want to get away from it all, head to Wildwood
Springs Lodge in
Steelville. The evening meals are outstanding and the lodge itself is
charming. The rooms lack TVs and telephones and cell phones don’t
work here. The lodge’s summer and fall concert series features
popular 1970s folk rock entertainers performing in an intimate setting.
Heroes — sites
of famous Missourians
First: Harry S. Truman
Library & Museum, Independence, 1-800-833-1225
Second: Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, (573) 221-9010
Third: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Home, Mansfield, (417) 924-7125
about a tumultous time in U.S. history and get a real sense for the
man when you visit the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Now is the
perfect time to go as the 50-foot-long White House in Miniature is
on display through July 9.
your fill of Mark Twain with a trip to Hannibal, where period homes
commemorate the author Samuel Clemens’ boyhood and recreate the
sights familiar to fictional character Tom Sawyer.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
wrote all of her “Little House” books right
here in Mansfield.
Editor’s choice: Visit the Gen.
John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site in Laclede and immerse yourself in the
life of a fascinating Missourian. (660) 963-2525.
Place to Take the Kids
First: Branson, 1-800-296-0463
Second: St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, 1-800-966-8877
Third: Worlds of Fun, Kansas City, (816) 454-4545
seem fair that the entire town of Branson takes on individual attractions
around the state. But, there is no place in Missouri that offers as
much fun and entertainment for families as Branson. It’s not
just about music shows any more.
Show — The American Royal, Kansas City
The St. Louis Zoo
is a world-class attraction. The River's Edge, an “immersion
exhibit” of animals in recreated natural environments, makes
it more so. World’s of Fun offers some of the best roller coasters
in the state.
Editor’s choice: In our view, none of the man-made
water parks can compare to nature’s version, Johnson’s
Shut-Ins State Park. It will be interesting to see how the park faired
following the collapse of Taum Sauk Dam. (573) 546-2450.
Rodeo/ Horse Show
First: American Royal, Kansas City, 1-800-821-5857
Second: Missouri State Fair, Sedalia, 1-800-422-3247
Third: Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel
Rodeo, Sikeston, 1-800-455-2855
and into November, the American Royal is home to everything equine.
There are livestock shows, rodeos and show horse competitions. The
judging and competitions at the Missouri State Fair, Aug. 10-20, are
the highlight of the year for many horse enthusiasts. The Sikeston
Bootheel Rodeo, Aug. 9-12, is a major Pro Rodeo event and features
big name musical entertainment each night.
Editor’s choice: The
Huntsville Horse Show, June 30 to July 1, is one of the oldest outdoor
horse shows in the nation. (573) 696-3601.
First: Cross Country
Trail Ride, Eminence, (573) 226-3492
Trail State Park, 1-800-334-6946
Third (tie): Bear Creek Trail Ride, Walnut Shade, (417) 337-7708
Third (tie): Glade Top Trail, Rolla, (573) 364-4621
The Eminence trail
rides were our readers’ runaway favorites.
We would attend a Cross Country Trail Ride event just for the food,
but horse enthusiasts go to enjoy the beauty of the Mark Twain National
Forest and to take part in these colossal equestrian gatherings.
Horses are only allowed
on the western portion of the Katy Trail, between Calhoun and the state
fairgrounds in Sedalia. Riders must appreciate the access, as it’s
a perennial favorite in our contest.
Attraction: Elephant Rocks State Park
We have a tie for
third place. Bear Creek is a private horse ranch near Branson. Glade
Top Trail passes through a rugged portion of the Mark Twain Forest
Editor’s choice: Most trail rides are aimed at experienced
riders. Those who need a little instruction might head to Lake
of the Ozarks State Park, where the park stables offers guided rides for beginners
and experienced riders alike. (573) 348-6670.
First: Lyceum Theatre, Arrow Rock, (660) 837-3311
Second: Fox Theatre, St. Louis, (314) 534-1678
Third: The Shepherd
of the Hills, 1-800-653-6288
Lyceum is a genuine summer stock venue with professional actors working
alongside local talent.
The Fox rightly deserves
its “fabulous” moniker.
You could go just to admire the architecture but while you’re
there you might as well take in the shows.
The stage adaptation
of Harold Bell Wright’s novel has been running
at the Shepherd of the Hills Theater since 1959, but audiences
never tire of it.
Editor’s choice: We tip our hat to the City
of Maples Repertory Theatre in Macon, which first brought professional
theater to this north Missouri town in 2004. This year’s line-up
includes four shows from June through July. (660) 385-2924.