For six years, we asked our readers to name the best the state had to offer. We tallied your opinions and declared the winners in our annual “Best of Rural Missouri” competition. You informed your fellow Missourians where to find the best ribs, hamburgers and pies. You determined the best romantic getaways, the most beautiful town and the best AgriMissouri product, among other categories.
But there was one thing that bothered us about the Best of Rural Missouri. Often, worthy contenders got lost among the best-known restaurants, attractions and destinations, simply because they were located in remote parts of the state and few people knew about them.
Over the years, we have tried to compensate by naming an “Editor’s Choice.” This year we decided to do something different. Why not structure the contest so people could vote for the best in their own region? After all, most Missourians aren’t going to travel clear across the state for a slice of pie. But they’d sure like to know who serves the best in their own area.
We asked for you to pick a region and tell us your favorite places and events close to home. You responded with an array of good eats and interesting locales that we might not have known about otherwise.
You did such a good job, we’ve decided to take a step back. There are no Editor’s Choices this time. This is your contest. So here they are, your selections of the Best of Rural Missouri, by region:
Best Barbecue — Southest Missouri: Missouri Hicks, Cuba. Jim McCarty photo
Central: Chuck Wagon BBQ,
13685 Highway 7 West, Warsaw; 660-438-2503
The Chuck Wagon deserves its popularity. Everything we tried was outstanding. The ribs were tender and delicious. The burnt ends were out of this world!
Northeast: Piggy’s BarBQ
327 S. Main St., O’Fallon
Piggy’s does barbecue the way it’s meant to be — cooked slowly, at low temperature. Meals are served in brown paper sacks, the tradition of Kansas City’s finest smokehouses. Cops in uniform eat for half price.
Northwest: Wabash BBQ
646 S. Kansas City Ave., Excelsior Springs; 816-630-7700;
A railroad theme, a blues garden and a full menu of smoked meats combine to make the Wabash BBQ a required stop when visiting Excelsior Springs. Wabash has recently opened a restaurant in Chillicothe, as well.
Southeast: Missouri Hicks Barbecue; 913 E. Washington St., Cuba; 573-885-6791
One of a handful of places where we’ve said, “best barbecue I’ve ever had.” Missouri Hicks knows how to do it right. The brisket renewed our faith that somebody out there knows how to cook beef without producing shoe leather. “Leave your teeth at home,” the owner tells customers.
Southwest: Richards Hawgwild BBQ
22 East Olive St., Aurora; 417-678- 4294; www.richardshawgwildbbq.com
A Memphis theme permeates the place, from smoked meats to sweet tea and Elvis memorabilia on the walls. Freshly made bread and excellent side dishes (try the beans). For a surprising treat, order the barbecue nachos.
Best Restaurant — Central Missouri: Charley’s Buffet, Lincoln. Jason Jenkins photo
Central: Charley’s Buffet; 23785 Highway B, Lincoln; 660-668-3806
Diners can’t get enough of the buffet with all the homemade sides and fixin’s. The real draw, though, is
dessert. Charley’s is open only Friday and Saturday evenings.
Northeast: The Pear Tree; 222 N. Macon St., Bevier; 660-773-6666;
Known statewide for its delicious steaks, batter-dipped lobster tail, enormous onion rings and homemade salad dressing, The Pear Tree attracts diners from far and wide.
Northwest: Toot-Toot Lounge; 2905 Miller St., Bethany; 660-425-6662
If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that Rural Missouri’s readers love a buffet. Patrons line up outside the Toot-Toot Lounge for the Friday and Saturday night smorgasbord.
Southeast: Lambert’s Cafe; 2305 E. Malone, Sikeston; 573-471-4261;
Immortalized as the “Home of Throwed Rolls,” regulars know Lambert’s as the home of good, old-fashioned cooking and heaping portions. Whether you order fried chicken, liver and onions, ham and beans, chicken-fried steak or butterfly pork chops, you’ll think you’re at Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. If you can’t make it to Sikeston, Lambert’s has a location in Ozark.
Southwest: Smith’s Short Stop; Bolivar, Collins & Clinton; 417-275-4575
Smith’s is a family-style diner with locations in Bolivar, Collins and Clinton. Down-home favorites include country-fried steak and fried chicken, but Smith’s is best known for breaded pork tenderloins that dwarf the bun. Their main location is technically in central Missouri, but our readers called it southwest. We will, too.
Best Hamburger — Northwest Missouri: Joan's Drive-In, Marshall. Jason Jenkins photo
Central: Booches Billiard Hall; 110 S. 9th St., Columbia; 573-874-9519
It’s hard to explain the allure of Booches and its hamburgers. It’s just a plain, simple burger served on a square of waxed paper, but they’re really good. Order more than you think you’ll eat (two is a minimum), because they’re small.
Northeast: The Santa Fe Restaurant;
101 North Main St., Ethel; 660-486-3334
The Santa Fe is only open Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday noon. Three different entrées are offered each night and the portions are heaping. One of the choices might be a hamburger. Occasionally, the cooks offer a hamburger the size of a dinner plate with the promise that the meal is free to those who clean their plates. We also hear rumors of a gigantic root beer float.
Northwest: Joan’s Drive-In; 164 Court St., Marshall; 660-886-7771
If you want a fresh burger, hot off the grill, go to Joan’s Drive-in. But you better come early and be prepared to wait your turn. The 12-seat diner is open only for breakfast and lunch. Owner Connie Allison buys freshly ground beef every day at the local grocer and prepares a variety of burgers.
Southeast: Kirby’s Sandwich Shop;
109 N. Kingshighway St., Sikeston; 573-471-1318
Jim Kirby started selling 5-cent hamburgers in downtown Sikeston in 1907. A century later, southeast Missourians still crowd into the little diner for a burger (now $1.95).
Southwest: Danna’s BBQ & Burger Shop; Highway 13, Branson West;
Danna’s is better known for barbecue, but this restaurant with garage doors for walls also serves a cheeseburger so juicy that the juice drips off your elbows as you eat it. If you can’t decide between burgers and barbecue, try the Danna Burger, a 6-ounce patty piled high with pulled pork and barbecue sauce.
Best Dessert — Southwest Missouri: Cooky's Cafe, Golden City. Heather Berry photo
Central: Central Dairy; 610 Madison St., Jefferson City; 573-635-6148; www.centraldairy.biz
This old-fashioned ice cream parlor offers heaping scoops at time-warp prices. If you can only justify one banana split every year or so, this is the place.
Northeast: The Blue Owl Restaurant & Bakery; 6116 2nd St., Kimmswick; 636-464-3128; www.theblueowl.com
This charming restaurant offers soups, sandwiches and salads, but it’s the gourmet desserts that really complete the Blue Owl experience. Owner Mary Hostetter creates a delightful array of cakes, pies, cheesecakes and pastries, each available to take home or for enjoyment at The Blue Owl.
Northwest: Pioneer Cafe; 658 North Miami Ave., Marshall; 660-886-8226
Owner Carol Adams bakes her homemade desserts every day. She’s known for her cream pies. The selection varies but coconut cream is always available. Cobblers — apple, cherry, peach or blackberry — are served with or without ice cream.
Southeast: A Slice of Pie; 601 Kingshighway St., Rolla; 573-364-6203
Whether you need a whole pie or just a single slice, this little shop probably has just what you desire. On any given day, there will be a couple dozen varieties of pie to choose from, and they’ll make you something special with a little notice.
Southwest: Cooky’s Cafe; 529 Main St., Golden City; 417-537-4741
Cooky’s sells two types of pie: with ice cream and without, the owners say. In truth, this diner bakes 36 types of pie, with as many as 20 available every day. Pies sold by the slice or whole, with advance notice.
Central: Olde Tyme Apple Festival;
Oct. 4, 2008; Versailles; 573-378-4401; www.versailleschamber.org
This fall festival has grown to become one of the largest and most popular in the state. The 400 booths of artists, craftsmen and activities are just the beginning. There’s also a car show, parade, musical entertainment, a fiddler’s contest, a sock hop and all manner of apple-themed events.
Northeast: Festival of the Little Hills; Aug. 15-17, 2008; St. Charles; 636-940-0095; www.festivalofthelittlehills.com
This festival celebrates the era of Lewis and Clark with three days of food, entertainment and arts and crafts. This year, the festival is adding an “Antique Row,” and is inviting dealers to display their treasures.
Northwest: Jesse James Festival; Sept. 12-21, 2008; Kearney; 816-628-4229; www.jessejamesfestival.com
Kearney is the birthplace, boyhood home and (locals insist) final resting place of outlaw Jesse James. Today the town celebrates the James era, if not the man himself, with a festival and enough diversions to make any outlaw put down his guns for a weekend.
Southeast: Jour de Fete; Aug. 9-10, 2008; Ste. Genevieve; 573-883-3686;
The Jour de Fete celebrates Ste. Genevieve’s Colonial past with artisans, craftsmen and re-enactors. Several of the town’s 18th-century French Colonial buildings are open for tours, some offering free admission during the festival.
Southwest: Apple Butter Making Days; Oct. 10-12, 2008; Mount Vernon; 417-466-7654; www.mtvernonchamber.com
True to its name, the star of this fall festival is apple butter, cooked in huge copper kettles on the courthouse lawn. Food vendors, games and contests add to the fun.
Best Antiquing — Northeast Missouri: Perry. Bob McEowen photo
Central: Warsaw; 1-800-927-7294; www.warsawmo.org
With at least a dozen shops from which to choose, visitors to Truman Lake can while away a lot of rainy days browsing for treasures. Like most vacation and recreation areas, Warsaw’s offerings run the gamut from booth-style malls, with absentee vendors selling “collectables,” to true antique shops offering vintage furniture, jewelry and glassware.
Northeast: Perry; 573-565-1021; www.perrymissouri.com
Just minutes from Mark Twain Lake, Perry’s antique shopping district is concentrated around one four-way stop at the center of town, but there’s a lot to see in just a couple of blocks. The best shops feature genuine antiques, from blue willow china to vintage clothing and Civil War-era artifacts.
Northwest: Jamesport; 660-684-6146;
Located in the heart of Missouri’s largest Amish community, the antique shops in and around Jamesport can’t help but have a different feel. Besides the antique and crafts shops downtown, be sure to visit the small shops at the farms and homes of local residents.
Southeast: St. Mary Antique Mall; 777 7th St., St. Mary; 573-543-2800
A veritable archetype of the booth style of antique emporiums, the St. Mary mall houses more than 600 dealers in a converted shoe factory. Bring your walking shoes because this place is big.
Southwest: Ozark; 417-581- 6139; www.ozarkchamber.com
The convenient location between Springfield and Branson attracts a lot of vendors, but the parade of customers means that the best items are snapped up quickly. New items arrive all the time, though, and Ozark’s dealers do a good job of stocking their stores with interesting and unusual items.
Best Museum — Southwest Missouri: Ralph Foster Museum, Point Lookout. Heather Berry photo
Central: Missouri State Capitol Museum, Jefferson City; 573-751-2854;
The whole Capitol is a museum, but the first floor contains two formal galleries. Whether you take a free guided tour or simply walk around the Capitol (all floors are open to the public) you’ll be amazed by the beautiful architecture and the artwork that decorates the building. The nearby Jefferson Landing State Historic Site also offers more exhibits of Missouri history.
Northeast: St. Louis Art Museum;
1 Fine Arts Drive (Forest Park), St. Louis; 314-721-0072; www.stlouis.art.museum
Our readers surprised us by demonstrating an appreciation for fine art. The St. Louis Art Museum, in the heart of Forest Park, houses one of the most comprehensive collections in the nation, with examples from a wide range of cultures and time periods.
Northwest: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; 4525 Oak St.; Kansas City; 816-751-1278; www.nelson-atkins.org
Missourians on the west side of the state are no less discriminating. The Nelson-Atkins museum is regarded as one of America’s finest general art museums, with more than 34,000 works in its collection. Recently, the museum received the Hallmark Photographic Collection, one of the world’s largest private photography collections.
Southeast: Stars & Stripes Museum; 17377 Stars and Stripes Way; Bloomfield; 573-568-2055; www.starsandstripesmuseumlibrary.org
This facility celebrates the history of Stars & Stripes, a newspaper treasured by generations of American soldiers. The newspaper began in 1861 when Union soldiers published the first issue in an abandoned newspaper office in Bloomfield. The paper eventually became a lifeline to GIs serving in every conflict since World War I.
Southwest: Ralph Foster Museum; College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout; 417-334-6411 ext. 3407; www.rfostermuseum.com
Touted as the “Smithsonian of the Ozarks,” this museum on the campus of the College of the Ozarks exhibits the jalopy truck from “The Beverly Hillbillies” television program alongside collections of antique cameo jewelry and mementos from Kewpie doll artist Rose O’Neill. The museum also houses one of the finest firearms collections in the Midwest.
Best State Park/Historic Site
Central: Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton; 573-346-2986; www.mostateparks.com/hahatonka.htm
This 3,700-acre park near the southern edge of the Lake of the Ozarks is known for its castle ruins, but there’s a lot more for visitors to enjoy. Ha Ha Tonka is a wonderland of geological features, with caves, sinkholes, a large natural bridge, the state’s 12th largest spring and textbook examples of Missouri glades. Rangers lead cave tours during winter.
Northeast: Cuivre River State Park, Troy; 636-528-7247; www.mostateparks.com/cuivre.htm
With a landscape more like an Ozarks park than what you’d typically find in northeast Missouri, Cuivre River State Park offers 6,300 acres of recreational opportunities. Horses are welcome and the park features an equestrian campground.
Northwest: Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and Historic Site, Lawson; 816-580-3387; www.mostateparks.com/wwmill/index.html
Watkins Woolen Mill is a 19th-century mill with all its original machinery still intact. The 1,500-acre park offers camping, fishing, swimming and trails for biking, hiking and equestrian use.
Southeast: Maramec Spring Park, St. James; 573-265-7387; www.maramecspringpark.com/maramec/index.html
The only privately owned destination in the category, Maramec Spring Park preserves the history of the 19th-century Maramec Iron Works. The spring is the fifth largest in Missouri and feeds a trout hatchery, operated by the Department of Conservation.
Southwest: Roaring River State Park, Cassville; 417-847-2539; www.mostateparks.com/roaringriver.htm
One of the state’s trout parks, Roaring River is a popular destination for anglers. There’s more to the park than fishing, though. Ten miles of trails provide access to more than 4,000 acres of rugged Ozark terrain.
Most Beautiful Town
Most Beautiful Town — Northeast Missouri: Hermann. Photo courtesy of Stone Hill Winery
Central: Cole Camp; 660-668-2295; www.colecampmissouri.com
With a pretty downtown, tidy neighborhoods, quaint shops and restaurants that offer a taste of Cole Camp’s German heritage, this Benton County community is sure to please.
Northeast: Hermann; 1-800-932-8687; www.hermannmo.info
Hermann was settled by immigrants determined to create a new city that would be “German in every particular.” More than 150 years later, much of the town still looks like it was transplanted from the Rhine River Valley. Even if you don’t drink wine, enjoy the history at the wineries.
Northwest: Weston; 1-888-875-2883; www.westonmo.com
“The Queen of the Platte Purchase,” Weston was once the second largest port on the Missouri River and home to the only tobacco market west of the Mississippi. Today it is home to historic buildings, lovely homes and a vibrant economy, which caters to outside visitors.
Southeast: Ste. Genevieve; 573-883- 3686; www.saintegenevieve.org
Ste. Genevieve was the first European settlement in Missouri, established in the 1740s. The flavor of its French-Canadian founders is still strong in the town’s narrow streets, fenced yards and historic homes.
Southwest: Carthage; 417-359-8181; www.visit-carthage.com
Carthage has a stunningly beautiful courthouse, a bustling courthouse square, picture-perfect Victorian houses on tree-lined streets and historic old buildings — many built with stone from the local quarries.
Best Golf Course
Central: Eagle Knoll, Hartsburg; 1-800-909-0564; www.eagleknoll.com
A beautiful course with tight lies and fast greens, Eagle Knoll will challenge even scratch players. You might want to pack extra balls.
Northeast: Innsbrook Resort,
A par-70 resort course on rolling, wooded hills, Innsbrook has been recognized by Audubon International for environmental stewardship. This course is far enough away from the city that tee times are generally available.
Northwest: Mozingo Lake Golf Course, Maryville; 1-888- 562-3864; www.mozingolf.com
Mozingo Lake is a role model for what a municipal course should be. Slick greens, wide fairways with hardly an out-of-bounds marker in sight. The clubhouse includes a converted grain elevator.
Southeast: Bent Creek, Jackson; 573-243-6060; www.bentcreek.net
The creek comes into play on seven holes on this beautiful course, which winds along the gently rolling hills of southeast Missouri. Challenging, but fair.
Southwest: Branson Creek, Branson; 417-339-4653; www.bransoncreekgolf.com
Regarded by many as the best course in Missouri and one of the must-play golf experiences in the Midwest. A premier course with greens fees to match.
Best Day Trip
Best Day Trip — Northwest Missouri: Jamesport. Jarrett Medlin photo
Central: Lake of Ozarks; 1-800-451-4117; www.funlake.com
Whether you like boating, fishing, golf, shopping or family attractions, there’s a lot to do and see at the Lake of the Ozarks.
573-221-1101 or 573-221-2477;
There’s more to Hannibal than Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, though those immortal characters still entertain visitors at a number of attractions around town. Hannibal is also home to an impressive group of artists and crafts studios, interesting shops and restaurants.
Northwest: Jamesport; 660-684-6146;
Jamesport is home to one of the largest Amish communities in Missouri. Although the residents live simple lives separate from modern conveniences, the town welcomes visitors. Guided tours are available for those who would like a more complete experience.
Southeast: Elephant Rocks State Park, Graniteville; 573-546-3454; www.mostateparks.com/elephantrock.htm
Elephant Rocks State Park is an enjoyable destination for anyone — so much so that the park features Braille markings along its trail. See the red granite pachyderms and marvel at the power of time, wind and weather.
Southwest: Branson; 1-800-296-0463; www.branson.com
There’s so much to do in Missouri’s No. 1 destination that a single day isn’t enough. If you’re one of the handful of people who hasn’t been to Branson in recent years, you won’t believe how it’s grown and changed.
Best Hidden Treasure
Best Hidden Treasure — Southeast Missouri: Burfordville Covered Bridge, Burfordville. Bob McEowen photo
Central: Powell Gardens, Kingsville; 816-697-2600; www.powellgardens.org
More than 6,000 varieties of plants are on display throughout four major gardens and a glassed conservatory. Trails and walks allow visitors to commune with nature.
Northeast: Mark Twain Lake; 573-565-2228; www.visitmarktwainlake.org or www.mvs.usace.army.mil/MarkTwain
A 55,000-acre impoundment built and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mark Twain Lake is the site of Clarence Cannon Dam and a sportsman’s paradise in northeast Missouri.
Northwest: Jim The Wonder Dog Memorial Park; 105 N. Lafayette,
Marshall; 660-886-2260; www.jimthewonderdog.com
This amazing pup supposedly possessed magical powers to predict the future and carry out complex instructions spoken in foreign tongues. Visit the memorial garden, read Jim’s story and decide for yourself.
Southeast: Burfordville Covered Bridge, Burfordville; 573-243-4591; www.mostateparks.com/bollinger/burfordvillebridge.htm
Missouri’s oldest covered bridge is the star attraction at Bollinger Mill State Historic Site. Visitors can tour Bollinger Mill, which has been restored into a functioning water-powered gristmill.
Southwest: Riverbluff Cave, Springfield; 417-883-0594; www.riverbluffcave.com
This destination gives new meaning to the term “hidden treasure.” This Ice Age cave has been hidden for thousands of years. When we featured it in January 2008, less than 100 humans had seen it. Visitors are welcome at the cave’s field house.
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