2007 Rural Missouri Reader's Choice Award
campaigning is over, the ballots have all been cast, the counting
done and the results are in! It’s time again for
the annual Best of Rural Missouri Readers’ Choice Awards.
This is the sixth year we have hosted the contest in these pages,
and our readers continue to impress us with their knowledge of
Missouri culture and loyalty to hometown favorites.
Best seafood: Le Maire's Cajun Catfish, Sedalia
there are some obvious winners who by now can almost paper
a wall with our winner’s certificates. However, in
an attempt to mix things up we changed a few categories and
were rewarded with some surprises and new places to check out.
kind of expect to see tourist destinations like Branson,
Hermann and Ste. Genevieve among the winners. But who would
have guessed tiny Elsberry would field two winners this year?
Or that restaurants in out-of-the-way places like Warsaw, Marshall
and Collins would have such a following?
part of the allure of daytripping in rural Missouri — you
never know what delights await you off the beaten path. And that’s
the reason for this contest anyway, to celebrate the uniqueness of the
Show-Me State while at the same time introducing these alternatives to
the national chains to our readers.
We hope you’ll put this issue
in your glove compartment as you vacation in Missouri this summer. Enjoy!
Dining worth the drive
Lamberts, Sikeston & Ozark,
(573) 471-4261 or (417) 581-7655
2nd: The Pear Tree, Bevier, (660) 773-6666
3rd: Charley’s Buffet, Lincoln, (660) 668-3806
here, our three winners have been the same three since 2004.
In fact, Lambert’s and The Pear Tree have been
first and second since the contest began, with Lambert’s
Ozark location just a few votes ahead of the original in Sikeston.
Reader’s love Lambert’s for the “pass alongs,” tasty
treats like “throwed rolls” and the generous portions.
You can’t say you’ve dined in Missouri until you
head north to Bevier for a meal at the The Pear Tree restaurant.
The owner will greet you, seat you and ask if you want the onion
rings (you do). More readers have called us for directions to
Charley’s than any other contest winner.
Best ribs: The Chuckwagon, Warsaw
choice: Even if you don’t like German food
you will like Der Essen Platz in Cole Camp for its nachspeisen
(desserts). (660) 668-2333.
Wagon, Warsaw, (660) 438-2503
2nd: Buckinghams Smokehouse BBQ, Columbia & Springfield,
(573) 449-7782 or (417) 886-9979
3rd: Hickory Log, Dexter, (573) 624-4950
our staff decided to specialize in the barbeque category. We
picked ribs because brisket isn’t always consistent,
not everyone does a pork steak and we just plain like ribs. As
a result, last year’s third place winner, Chuck Wagon,
took the well-deserved honors. With two locations and the friendliest
wait staff, Buckinghams was a close second. An obvious winner
was Dexter’s Hickory Log, which measures its rib output
in tons these days.
Editor’s choice: The most popular item
on the menu at Lonnie Ray’s
Café and BBQ in Harrisburg is ribs. Their meat is seasoned with homemade
spice rubs with additional flavor coming from the hickory pit. (573) 874-0020.
Cajun Catfish, Sedalia, (660) 827-3563
2nd: Gary’s (formerly Dowd’s) Catfish & BBQ,
Lebanon, (417) 532-1777
3rd: Hemingway’s Restaurant, Springfield, (417) 891-5100
isn’t exactly known for its seafood, we
figured readers would know what we were talking about. They did,
and Sedalia’s Le Maire’s came out on top. For 22
years Frenchie’s been frying up these spicy filets. You
know our second place winner as Dowd’s, but the name has
been changed to Gary’s and the place has greatly expanded
to seat an additional 65. For those who don’t understand “seafood” is
Missouri for catfish, Hemingway’s located at Bass Pro Shops
Springfield superstore was the logical choice. But will they
cook you that big bass in the tank?
Editor’s choice: Unless
you’ve been to Hawaii, you’ve never
had seafood like they make at Bear’s Aloha Grill, inconveniently located
in New Hampton and offering dishes you probably can’t pronounce. Bear
pulls out all the stops to make your trip worthwhile and unforgettable, and
the coffee is first-class. (660) 439-3013
A Slice of Pie, Rolla, (573) 364-6203
2nd: The Blue Owl, Kimmswick, (636) 464-3128
3rd: Smith’s Short Shop, Collins, (417) 275-4575
a time when dessert was just something you ate after you cleaned
your plate. Now restaurants that specialize in this category
have regulars who come just for the treats. Many a traveler
has left Interstate 44 or Highway 63 to pick up a pie at the
aptly named A Slice of Pie. Their offerings are varied and
always monumental. Last year we joked that The Blue Owl would
win if the category was just dessert instead of pie. Perhaps
their beautifully crafted desserts were too pretty to eat.
Smith’s is a new
one this year, best known for its wonderful homemade cobblers
and pies that come in peach, cherry, blackberry, strawberry/rhubarb,
sour cream/raisin and many more.
Tooth's Revenge: The Candy Factory, Columbia
Editor’s choice: Past winner
Cooky’s in Golden City
was just one vote away from the winners. They are known for
their fabulous pies. (417) 537-4741.
The Candy Factory, Columbia, (573) 443-8222
2nd: Richardson’s Candy House, Springfield & Joplin,
(417) 883-3900 or (417) 623-7171
3rd: Fourth Street Fountain, Elsberry, (573) 898-9793
A new category
for 2007, this one had our readers telling us about all kinds
of things the dentist would steer you away from. Our first-place
winner is a family-owned business that’s
been around for more than 20 years. They make all their chocolates
upstairs. Second-place Richardson’s was featured in our
February issue. It’s a popular spot for lovers looking
for Valentine’s Day gifts. Taking a different tack for
third place, our readers selected the old-fashioned soda fountain
in Elsberry. The Fourth Street Fountain uses the original soda
fountain from its days as a drug store.
A more popular tourist destination than the Capitol is Jefferson
City’s Central Dairy. You can choose from dozens of flavors,
and a one-scoop cone will have at least three scoops. (573) 635-6148.
Chili Parlor, Independence, (816) 861-7308
2nd: Casper’s, Springfield, (417) 866-9750
3rd: Joan’s Drive In, Marshall, (660) 886-7771
a good bowl of chili, even when the weather turns nice. Missouri
has a number of restaurants that have built their reputation
on this savory dish. Top of the heap is Dixon’s,
which has been serving steaming bowls of its signature dry-style
chili since 1919. Casper’s is a bit of a dive located in
a vintage quonset hut downtown, thus the perfect spot for chili.
Newcomer Joan’s Drive In uses a secret recipe but the owner
does share part of the secret to her outstanding chili: “I
put my love in it.” Plus fresh meat, she adds.
choice: Fred & Red’s in Joplin is known for their
chili and tamales. Try the spaghetti red and add a little mustard. Get there
early. This place hasn’t changed much since 1923 and it only seats
22 customers. (417) 781-5341
coffee shop: Lakota Coffee, Columbia
Best coffee shop
Coffee Company, Columbia, 1-800-452-5682
2nd: Mud House, Springfield, (417) 832-1720
3rd: Cosmic Cofee, Warsaw, (660) 438-6171
rejoice! This category is back due to popular demand. (The
editor demanded it.) No college town would be complete without
a coffee house to hang out in, and Columbia’s Lakota
Coffee Co. fits that role to a trendy T. Visitors can do their
homework while Web browsing through their wireless connection.
Second place Mud House comes with some “perks,” including
a well-stocked bookcase, artwork and lunch. Shannon Noand, owner
of our third-place winner, discovered gourmet coffee and opened
her business in the Boonslick Library. For a quick pick up try
her Super Sonica with 30 percent more caffeine.
choice: Small drive-through coffee spots are popping up around
the state, catering to coffee lovers who can’t bear the thought of filling
their travel mugs at a convenience store. The best of these is Macon’s
Javasmith located south of town. (660) 385-1060
James Winery, St. James (573) 265-7912
2nd: Stone Hill Winery, Branson, Hermann and New Florence 1-800-909-9463
3rd: Les Bourgeois, Rocheport, (573) 698-2133
come of age in Missouri, which is home to more than 60 wineries.
Our three winners are among Missouri’s largest.
For 35 years, the Hofherr family has been making award-winning
wines in St. James. Today they produce 150,000 cases of wine
annually from grapes grown nearby. Stone Hill Winery, with three
locations, has roots that go back to 1847 and helped lead the
rebirth of Missouri’s wine industry. Les Bourgeios is as
famous for its views of the Missouri River as it is for its fine
winery: St. James Winery, St. James
Editor’s choice: Cooper’s Oak, Missouri’s
newest winery, uses its connections with California wineries
to produce varieties not normally found in Missouri. It’s
located in Higbee next to the A&K Cooperage,
producers of wine barrels made from Missouri oak. Its Vidal Blanc is available
now and Merlot, Cabernet, Michelle’s Sweet Red and Norton will be ready
soon. (660) 456-7507
Flat Branch Pub & Brewing,
Columbia, (573) 499-0400
2nd: Springfield Brewing Company, Springfield, (417) 832-8277
3rd: Trailhead Brewing Company, St. Charles, (636) 946-2739
is home to the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch.
But that’s not what we were looking for in this category.
Instead, we sought the small craft breweries that may have begun
in someone’s basement. With its college location, Flat
Branch couldn’t miss though the crowd is more professor
than student. The Oil Change Stout (this was once a Studebaker
dealership) is popular with the hard-core beer lovers. Springfield’s
brew pub was established to research brewing equipment made by
its owners. Their Mueller Unfiltered Wheat is the best seller.
Trailhead brewery has enough selection to offer a beer or ale
that will compliment the many dishes at this full-service restaurant.
choice: We featured Little Yeoman Brewery in 1999. The brewery
has changed hands since then with new owner Chad Frederick
moving it to Cabool. He makes five beers, and they are all
good. (417) 926-9185.
Best AgriMissouri product
Smokehouse, California, (573) 796-3134
2nd: Hammons Black Walnuts, Stockton, (417) 276-5187
3rd: Memory Lane Dairy, Fordland, (417) 767-2697
is proud to support the Missouri brand. Businesses like first-place
winner Burger’s are putting the state
on the map with a mail order following that sends Missouri meats
around the world. Likewise, Hammons is the world’s largest
supplier of eastern black walnuts. While not world-class yet,
Memory Lane is also gaining a large following by bringing back
milk — including plain, chocolate and strawberry — in
AgriMissouri product: Burger's Smokehouse, California
choice: Picking just one AgriMissouri product as the best
proved impossible. So we instead direct you to the newly
opened Missouri Valley Mercantile located east of Jefferson
City on the Osage River. This store features enough made-in-Missouri
products to fill our gift basket with a nice selection of
jerkies, barbeque sauces and summer sausage. (573) 395-3311.
Best state park/historic site
Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton, (573) 364-2968
2nd: Elephant Rocks State Park, Graniteville, 1-800-334-6946
3rd: Bennett Springs State Park, Lebanon, (417) 532-4338
state parks and historic sites are the crown jewels of the
state’s public areas. They are so diverse
there is something for everyone. First place winner Ha Ha Tonka
is a case in point. You can come for a look at the impressive
castle ruins, or return later for the wonderful hiking trails
and nature areas. Elephant Rocks State Park’s second place
finish shows Missourians love the St. Francis Mountain region,
even with Johnson’s Shut-ins out of commission. Bennett
Springs is the most popular of the state’s four trout parks
and a fine place to begin a Niangua River float trip when you’re
finished fishing for trout.
Editor’s Choice: Kirksville’s
Thousand Hills State Park offers Indian petroglyphs, a lake
for boating and fishing, plus 17 miles of hiking and biking
trails in a setting that is more Ozark than north Missouri.
Best fall festival
2nd: Heritage Days, Warsaw, 1-800-927-7294
3rd: Old Tyme Apple Festival, Versailles, (573) 378-4401
no better way to get to know a town or region than to attend
one of the many festivals around the state. Perhaps the best
reflection of a town’s heritage is the Oktoberfest
held in Hermann. Attend this event and you will be eating sauerkraut
with the most German of Missourians. Warsaw’s link with
its past comes alive in October with a huge variety of craftspeople.
This year’s event is Oct. 20-21. The Old Tyme Apple Festival
in Versailles offers a fiddling contest, car cruise, sock hop,
apple pie contest and more. As many as 35,000 people have attended.
Best offbeat attraction/museum: Laura Ingalls Wilder Home
& Museum, Mansfield
choice: In a state known for its mules, a festival that celebrates
mules has to be the most Missouri of all. We recommend the Clark County Mule
Festival set for Sept. 14-16 in Kahoka. No telling what you will see at this
year’s event. But you are guaranteed to laugh at the antics of the
mules and their riders. (660) 866-2330 or (660) 727-3295.
Best offbeat attraction/museum
Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum, Mansfield, 1-877-924-7126
2nd: Titanic – The World’s Largest Museum, Branson,
3rd (tie): Wonders of Wildlife Museum, Springfield,
3rd (tie): Cranes Museum & Shop, Williamsburg, (573) 254-3356
When we added
this category we fully expected to receive votes for giant
lumberjacks, the Hair Museum and the World’s
Largest Goose. We did get those votes but our winners are more
attractions than offbeat. Mansfield’s claim to fame is
its beloved writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose Little House books
are among the most widely read children’s stories. Branson’s
latest attraction has made a “Titanic” impression
on our readers, showing interest in the ill-fated ship hasn’t
waned so many years after its sinking. A tie for third place
featured two very different places to see. Bass Pro Shops’ fabulous
outdoor museum is icing on the cake to an already amazing store.
Crane’s is the place to shop for your outdoor work wear
with names like Carhartt, Wolverine, Filson and LaCrosse. The
addition of a museum (we thought the store was a museum) offers
visitors a taste of life from a time when stores like this were
Editor’s choice: Anyone wanting to celebrate the
high price of gas will be intrigued by King City’s claim
to the world’s largest gas pump,
which towers two stories above the city park.
Most beautiful town
2nd: Carthage, (417) 359-8181
3rd: Ste. Genevieve, (573) 883-3686
pick just one Missouri town for the title of most beautiful
must have been difficult for our readers — 160
different towns drew votes. The center of Missouri’s wine
industry, Hermann once again came out on top, proving its location,
chosen for its resemblance to the Rhine River Valley, was a wise
one. Carthage boasts one of Missouri’s most beautiful town
squares and courthouses. It’s also a well-known spot on
Route 66. Missouri’s oldest town keeps Missouri’s
French connection alive.
Editor’s choice: You will love
the antebellum charm of Lexington’s
historic homes. Don’t miss the courthouse with its cannon ball reminder
of the Civil War. (660) 259-3082.
Best vacation spot: Branson
Best vacation spot
2nd: Lake Ozark, 1-800-451-4117
3rd: Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, 1-800-225-6343
grown from a sleepy little Ozark town to a world-class travel
destination, with attractions for visitors of all ages. With
its new Landing added to the mix, tourists will once again
find a reason to return. All this attention to Branson hasn’t
hurt business at Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks
though. From golfing to boating to honeymooning, it remains a
popular destination. So strong is the Branson pull that attractions
like Big Cedar Lodge are becoming destinations themselves. This
is one of the most charming places to stay, with plenty to do
on site or easy access to Branson proper.
We’ve recently rediscovered extreme
southwest Missouri, including Cassville, Neosho, Noel and Pineville.
This area offers a lot to do and see, with nice float streams
and thousands of acres of public land.
Royal, Kansas City, (816) 274-1900
2nd: Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo, 1-800-455-2855
3rd: Fall Show and Celebration, Ava, (417) 683-2468
millions to Missouri’s economy, and riders
are getting more sophisticated in their choice of steeds and
equipment. The state’s many rodeos and horse shows reflect
this trend and offer equestrians a chance to mingle. The granddaddy
of them all is the famous American Royal, one of the few big
city winners in this contest. It started in 1899 when Kansas
City was a cowtown. The Sikeston version of a rodeo gives up
nothing to the KC event, offering its own distinctive version
of downhome fun, complete with musical performances each evening.
Ava is home to the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Association, and
its annual show has been crowning the World Grand Champion since
Editor’s choice: Hillsboro has been hosting a horse
show for 61 years. Last year’s event offered 44 different
classes ranging from western pleasure mules to barrel racing.
Best antique shop: St. Mary Antique Mall, St. Mary
Best equestrian trail
Country Trail Ride, Eminence, (573) 226-3492
2nd: Mark Twain National Forest, (573) 364-4621
3rd: Cuivre River State Park, Troy, (636) 528-7247
horse lovers aren’t attending horse shows
they are riding their horses and mules on the many trails. These
days, it’s not unusual for riders to spend $50,000 on a
trailer that serves as home away from home to the rider and horse.
The Cross Country Trail Ride has changed Eminence from a float
town to a float and ride town, with tack shops and BBQ restaurants
catering to the horse crowd. For a set-your-own pace ride, the
other two winners are great places to go. Many parts of the Ozark
Trail are open to horses.
choice: St. Louis County caters to riders with its stables
and trails located at Greensfelder Park near Eureka. Campsites
include facilities for horses. (314) 615-4386.
Best hike or bike trail
Trail State Park, 1-800-334-6946
2nd: Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton, (573) 364-2968
3rd: Springfield Conservation Nature Center, (417) 888-4237
is blessed with a multitude of hiking and biking trails. These
can range from easy paved greenways to the 350-mile-long, rugged
Ozark Trail. A former railroad, the Katy Trail survived controversy
to become one of the nation’s leading rails-to-trails
projects. Hikers and bikers can do short sections or attempt
the entire 225 miles. Many businesses have sprung up along the
trail. Ha Ha Tonka visitors who only stop at the castle ruins
miss the 15 miles of natural history on this park’s trails.
The Missouri Department of Conservation encourages visitors to
its Springfield Nature Center to smell the woods after a rain
or surprise a white-tailed deer on one of the center’s
choice: Whether you are on a bike or on foot, the 14-mile
loop around Council Bluff Lake near Potosi is a real sample
of the Ozarks. This Forest Service Trail features great views
of the lake and a swimming area to cool off at the end. (573)
Best golf course: St. James Golf Club, St. James
Best county fair
Ozark Empire Fair, Springfield, (417) 833-2660
2nd: Boone County Fair, Columbia, (573) 474-9435
3rd: Webster County Fair, (417) 859-3925
Like the city in which it is held, Springfield’s Ozark
Empire Fair retains a county fair feel while still offering a
huge variety of attractions and food such as alligator on a stick.
The fair’s organizers keep its primary mission focused
on agriculture. The Boone County Fair remains one of Missouri’s
largest, with a good mix of music, livestock, tractors and rides.
Webster County holds its fair July 18-21 in Marshfield.
choice: No other fair offers as many big-name performers as
the Montgomery County Fair. Join them for five days of fun
July 17-21. (573) 564-3526
Best antique shop
Mary Antique Mall, St. Mary, (573) 543-2800
2nd: Heartland Antique Mall, Lebanon, (417) 832-9350
3rd: Ice Chalet, Columbia, (573) 442-6893
was once home to many shoe factories. When many of these plants
closed, they became antique malls like the one in St. Mary,
a small town just south of Ste. Genevieve. This monster mall
boasts more than 600 vendors and is open seven days a week.
Heartland Antique Mall in Lebanon is a frequent stop for tour
buses and just one of many attractions in Lebanon. Columbia’s
Ice Chalet has 28,000 square feet and brags “no crafts.”
choice: Besides having a great name, the Junk-Shun Barn at
Willow Springs offers a great selection of vintage items
inside its barn-like interior. (417) 469-3339.
Best golf course
St. St. James Golf Club, (573) 265-8688
2nd: Eagle Knoll, Hartsburg, 1-800-909-0564
3rd: Sun Valley Golf Course, Elsberry, (573) 898-2613
won’t replace hunting and fishing as the favorite
leisure activities of our readers, it is catching on. Readers
tended to favor home-town courses like St. James’ municipal
links and the Sun Valley course in Elsberry over the better known
clubs at Lake of the Ozarks and Branson.
Second place winner Eagle Knoll, however, earned accolades
from Golf Digest which called it one of the nation’s
Best cave: Meramec Caverns, Stanton
choice: Top of the Rock, just a short drive (in a car, not
a tee shot) from Big Cedar Lodge, offers the best views in
Missouri while keeping most of the natural features in place.
Under renovation, it should reopen in time for the summer
1st Meramec Caverns, Stanton, (573) 468-6072
2nd Fantastic Caverns, Springfield, (417) 833-2010
3rd Onondaga Cave, Leasburg, (573) 245-6576
chose three of the most impressive show caves in a state known
for its caves. Lester Dill practically invented the term show
cave when he opened our first-place winner in 1935. Fantastic
Caverns, where visitors ride in Jeep-drawn trams, has given
back much to the community through its many educational programs.
Onondoga Cave (a state park) is equally as spectacular as its
cousin Meramec Caverns but with a more natural feel.
choice: Highway workers accidentally discovered Springfield’s
Riverbluff Cave, giving scientists an underground ice age time capsule to explore.
The cave’s field house is open to the public and features displays
ranging from mammoths to millipeds. (417) 883-0594.