Call it an old adage, a truism, a sage piece of wisdom handed down from generation to generation: “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
Apparently, this doesn’t apply to Rural Missouri readers.
Last year, after witnessing a precipitous decline in participation in the annual “Best of Rural Missouri” competition, we hinted that 2009 might be the end. While we’ve always enjoyed organizing the contest, we understood that preferences change. No hard feelings, life goes on.
But even the hint of doing away with the contest apparently awakened a sleeping giant. Soon after last year’s April issue reached mailboxes, we were buried under a barrage of e-mails, phone calls and letters. You implored us to continue the contest. So, we did. And you responded.
The number of ballots cast for the 2010 Best of Rural Missouri contest essentially doubled from the year before! We did offer online voting for the first time, and it was well received.
While we maintained the regional theme, we did offer a new “Wild Card” category this year. We asked you to use this category to tell us about a place that everyone should know about but that doesn’t fit another category. We received hundreds of different entries in this category including “Best Butcher,” “Best Missouri Oddity,” even “Best Place for an Oil Change.” No surprise, though, the best of the best came out on top.
We do need to congratulate Neal Kinsey of Charleston, Letha Moore of Bolivar, Orren Snavely of Lake St. Louis, Martha Pope of Marceline and James LaFerney of Fulton. These five Rural Missouri readers’ entries were randomly drawn as winners of a Best of Missouri gift basket.
“You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” That may be true sometimes, but this year you proved you know what you’ve got in the Best of Rural Missouri contest. It won’t be going anywhere any time soon. We promise. Enjoy this year’s results!
Since we went to the regional format three years ago, only the Northwest region seems to be in dispute. Otherwise, all winners remain unchanged. This category truly represents “dining worth the drive.”
Best Restaurant - Northwest Missouri: Emmet's Kitchen & Tap, Fayette. Photo by Heather Berry
Central: Charley’s Buffet; 23785 Highway B, Lincoln; 660-668-3806
Typically, “all-you-can-eat” and “made-from-scratch” don’t go together, but that’s exactly what you get at Charley and Evonne Peaster’s buffet in rural Benton County, along with more than 60 homemade desserts on a 30-foot dessert bar. Open Friday and Saturday nights only.
Northeast: The Pear Tree; 222 N. Macon St., Bevier; 660-773-6666; www.thepeartreerestaurant.com
For nearly 25 years, patrons have raved about The Pear Tree’s onion rings, prime rib and lobster tails. Now, you can purchase the House Vinaigrette and Madam French salad dressings, too, available at local retailers.
Northwest: Emmet’s Kitchen & Tap; 111 N. Main St., Fayette; 660-248-3363; www.emmetskitchen.com
Named for owner Rob Schluckebier’s grandfather, Emmet’s offers a
great array of cajun and creole dishes. But if you don’t like it hot, there are
lots of other options. Rob uses “The Spice” (his own concoction) in all his recipes.
Southeast: Sybill’s Saint James; 1100 N. Jefferson, St. James; 573-265-4224
Since 2007, Sybill’s has offered elegant fine dining that you’d usually expect to find in a big city restaurant. Luckily, the prices aren’t big city. Taking that special someone out for a special meal? This is the place to go.
Southwest: Lambert’s Café; 1800 W. State Highway J, Ozark; 417-581-7655; www.throwedrolls.com
A catcher’s mit is optional at the “Home of Throwed Rolls,” but definitely bring your appetite. Known for large portions of comfort food, you have no one to blame but yourself if you go away hungry.
Nothing is more Midwest than a good ol’ fashioned fish fry, and catfish is the fish of choice. These five winners would have no trouble fitting in at any backyard gathering.
Best Catfish - Central Missouri: Dowd's Catfish & BBQ, Lebanon. Photo by Jason Jenkins
Central: Dowd’s Catfish & BBQ; 1760 W. Elm St., Lebanon; 417-532-1777; www.dowdscatfishandbbq.com
Located off Interstate 44 along historic Route 66, Dowd’s is a landmark for southern fried catfish — crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside. When new owners took over in 2007, they knew there was no reason to mess with a good thing.
Northeast: Hatfield & McCoy’s; 7337 Mexico Road, St. Peters; 636-397-6334
If you love catfish, Hatfield & McCoy’s has the plate for you. The nine-piece “Belly Buster” special will have you growing gills.
Northwest: Jumpin’ Catfish; 834 SW Blue Pkwy, Lee’s Summit; 816-554-3474; www.jumpincatfish.com
With three locations in the Kansas City area, Jumpin’ Catfish offers farm-raised, all-you-can-eat fried catfish every night. Lemon-pepper or cajun grilled catfish also are local favorites.
Southeast: Catfish Kettle; 775 Weber Road, Farmington; 573-756-7305;
For almost 24 years, the folks at Catfish Kettle have been doing their fried catfish just one way with the same type of special breading, and the people just can’t get enough. The Kettle also has great homemade sides like hushpuppies and coleslaw.
Southwest: The Blue Inn; 117 West 4th St., Appleton City; 660-476-2690
Technically, The Blue Inn is in the central region, but our readers called it southwest. We will, too. Here, you can get all-you-can-eat catfish coated with a homemade breading. Eat lunch for $7.49 or dinner for $8.99, which also includes boiled shrimp.
Apparently, the final word in Missouri barbecue has not been spoken. After crowning back-to-back winners in each region the past two years, we have a new player in this category. A word to the others: Keep an eye out; the competition is heating up.
Central: Chuck Wagon BBQ; 13683 Highway 7 West, Warsaw; 660-438-2503
The Chuck Wagon deserves its popularity. Everything we tried was outstanding. The ribs were tender and delicious. Open Thursday through Sunday in the summer; Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the winter.
Northeast: Piggy’s BarBQ; 327 S. Main St., O’Fallon; 636-272-7444; www.piggysbarbq.com
Co-owner Gary Hellyer is from Kansas City, so you know what style of barbecue to expect. The rub they created is the secret to their success. Check out Piggy’s Web site for an online coupon.
Northwest: Wabash BBQ; 646 S. Kansas City Ave., Excelsior Springs; 816-630-7700; www.wabashbbq.com
Whether you’re eating at the original location in the historic Wabash Train Depot or the second restaurant in Chillicothe (also in an old depot), you’ll find great barbecue. Babyback and spare ribs are always popular, but for a real treat, order the Fireman’s favorite, which is a half-pound of burnt ends, of course.
Southeast: Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q; 913 E. Washington St., Cuba; 573-885-6791
When Rural Missouri Managing Editor Jason Jenkins is out on assignment anywhere near Cuba, you can bet you’ll find him at Missouri Hick for lunch. While some may debate him, he says the pulled pork sandwich is the best around. The restaurant expanded its dining room this past year, so others must agree.
Southwest: The Rusty Jug; 1209 S. High St., El Dorado Springs; 417-876-4669; www.rustyjug.com
At The Rusty Jug, you’ll find something you’re not likely to find anywhere else: deep-fried smoked ribs. Once these babyback ribs are smoked, they’re dipped in buttermilk, rolled in flour and fried. Give them a try; they’re delicious, as is the homemade root beer.
Whether thin crust or thick crust, piled high with toppings or just plain cheese, there’s a pie for every palate. These winners prove that great pizza is available all across Missouri.
Best Pizza - Northeast Missouri: Ugo's Pizzaland, Bevier. Photo by Jim McCarty
Central: Shakespeare’s Pizza; 225 S. 9th St., Columbia; 573-449-2454; www.shakespeares.com
New Rural Missouri Field Editor Kyle Spradley, a recent Mizzou grad, still has sauce from his last slice of Shakepeare’s on his collar. Not really, but this place is THE spot for a pie in Columbia. Kyle recommends a classic pepperoni on the whole wheat crust.
Northeast: Ugo’s Pizzaland; 200 N. Macon St., Bevier; 660-773-5334; www.ugospizzaland.com
For anyone who thinks the only place to eat in Bevier is The Pear Tree, think again. Ugo’s serves both handtossed and thin crust, St. Louis-style pizza with a homemade sauce, three kinds of cheese and fresh ingredients, including homegrown garden veggies. For hearty appetites, try Ugo’s Extreme Supreme, a monster pie with double everything. Closed Sundays.
Northwest: The Dish; 846 S. Highway 291, Liberty; 816-781-3474; www.dishpizza.com
While hand-tossed and thin crust pizzas are available, The Dish is famous for its deep-dish stuffed pies. The owner is a Chicago transplant, where this style of pizza is king. Try the specially seasoned meats, garden-fresh vegetables and three cheeses nestled between two layers of golden crust.
Southeast: Alex’s Pizza Palace, 122 W. 8th St., Rolla; 573-364-2669; www.alexspizza.com
Alex’s has been a fixture in downtown Rolla for more than 45 years. Recipes for the pizza dough, sauce and other items have remained unchanged. For those who went to college in Rolla, it’s a place to bring children and grandchildren and reminisce.
Southwest: Hill Top Pizza; 91 S. Main St., Fair Grove; 417-759-7794
When they say you can get it your way, they really mean it at Hill Top. People rave about the bacon cheeseburger pizza, along with something called the “MO.” This mammoth pie tops the scales at nearly 4.5 pounds and includes whatever toppings you’d like. So, if you like a pizza that includes everything but the kitchen sink, you can find it on the hill.
In search of a caffeine fix? From double-shot espressos to your average cup of Joe, Missouri baristas are brewing up a blend of java and atmosphere.
Best Coffee Shop - Southwest Missouri: The Mudhouse, Springfield. Photo by Jason Jenkins
Central: Lakota Coffee; 24 S. 9th St., Columbia; 573-874-2852; www.lakotacoffee.com
Lakota is Sioux for “friendly people,” and that’s just what you’ll find at this shop just north of the Mizzou campus. Opened in 1992, Lakota is the epitome of a “micro-roastery,” creating blends for local businesses.
Northeast: Cappuccino’s Coffee Cafe; 840 Bryan Rd., O’Fallon; 636-980-2326; www.cappuccinoscoffee.com
Along with an expansive beverage menu offering Zoka’s Coffee from Seattle, this trendy cafe also offers a complete menu and free Wi-Fi.
Northwest: Ray’s Diner; 231 E. Broadway, Excelsior Springs; 816-637-3432
You have two coffee choices at Ray’s: regular and decaf. Open since 1932, this good ol’ fashioned, ‘50s-style diner is the place to be for breakfast and lunch in Excelsior Springs. While you may not be able to order a latté, you’ll instead find the kind of atmosphere that keeps people coming back.
Southeast: Common Grounds; 300B S. Main St., Salem; 573-453-2173
Tucked in behind the local grocery store, this shop opened almost three years ago to provide a gathering place for local community groups. Today, hours have expanded, as has a bistro menu with an international flair.
Southwest: The Mudhouse; 323 South Ave., Springfield; 417-832-1720; www.mudhousecoffee.com
This downtown coffee shop is a favorite with locals and college students alike. Mudhouse roasts its own coffees, offering nearly two dozen different varities. Come in for a bottomless cup or for a more hands-on approach, order a French press of your favorite blend.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 88 — we love ice cream. Just thinking about all the choices at these shops is certain to give you an ice cream headache, so enjoy them slowly.
Best Ice Cream Shop - Southwest Missouri: Ava Drug, Ava. Photo by Jason Jenkins
Central: Central Dairy; 610 Madison St., Jefferson City; 573-635-6148; www.centraldairy.biz
Central Dairy has been a Jeff City institution since the 1930s, and the old-fashioned ice cream parlor is a regular stop for folks visiting the capital city. Be prepared for heaping scoops of ice cream made on the premises.
Northeast: 4th Street Fountain; 401 Broadway St., Elsberry; 573-898-9793; www.4thstreetfountain.com
Wes and Marcia Fakes restored this 1930s-era soda fountain in 2004, and the jerks (soda, that is) know how to make all the old-time favorites. They serve a classic drink called an egg cream, which oddly enough contains neither eggs nor cream.
Northwest: Dari-B Drive-In; 901 Isley Blvd., Excelsior Springs; 816-637-0454
March 1 is a big day in Excelsior Springs as that’s when the Dari-B opens up for the season after four months. Owner Tom Carroll’s first job was as a soda jerk in his family’s store, and he’s operated the Dari-B for the past 28 years. When you go, try the Dari-B Sangria, a refreshing drink that Tom devised.
Southeast: Sara’s Ice Cream; 124 Merchant St., Ste. Genevieve; 573-883-5890
Closed during the winter, Sara’s is a must-stop when the days grow longer and warmer. Although you can get an old-fashioned ice cream soda, locals know that the hand-dipped Drumstick-style ice cream cone can’t be beat.
Southwest: Ava Drug; 124 W. Washington Ave.; 417-683-4127; www.avadrug.com
Take a step back in time at Ava Drug, where owner David Norman restored the soda fountain that his father and grandfather operated inside the pharmacy in the 1950s. The look isn’t the only thing that remains from the past. Today, you can still get a scoop of ice cream for just 5 cents.
There’s no need to wait for a rainy day to experience these museums.
Best Museum - Southeast Missouri: Bootheel Youth Museum, Malden. Photo courtesy of Bootheel Youth Museum
Central: Missouri State Museum; 201 W. Capitol Ave., Jefferson City; 573-751-2345; www.mostateparks.com
Located on the first floor of the State Capitol, this museum contains two formal galleries. Whether you take a free guided tour or simply walk around, 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.
Northeast: St. Louis Art Museum; One Fine Arts Dr.; St. Louis; 314-721-0072; www.slam.org
The St. Louis Art Museum houses one of the most comprehensive collections in the nation, with examples from a wide range of cultures and time periods. A collection of photography by Lee Friedlander, one of the most prolific and influential photographers of the second half of the 20th century, is currently on display.
Northwest: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City; 816-751-1278; www.nelson-atkins.org
Nelson-Atkins is regarded as one of the finest general art museums in the country, with more than 34,000 works in its collection. In May, a new Egyptian gallery opens containing the complete funerary assemblage from the tomb of Meretites, a 2,300-year-old noblewoman.
Southeast: Bootheel Youth Museum; 700A N. Douglas, Malden; 573-276-3600; www.bootheelyouthmuseum.org
Housed inside what was once a factory, this museum isn’t really a museum at all. Instead, it’s a place designed to bring out the best in kids of all ages by letting them play to learn. Exhibits are designed to build self-confidence and let kids discover the artist, scientist or musician inside themselves.
Southwest: Ralph Foster Museum, College of the Ozarks; Point Lookout; 417-334-6411; 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” TV show alongside collections of antique cameo jewelry and mementos from Kewpie doll artist Rose O’Neill. It also houses one of the Midwest’s finest firearms collections.
Fall may be the traditional season for scenic drives, but these stretches of blacktop are prime for a trip in the family roadster any time of year.
Central: Highway 94 to Hermann
The Missouri River bluffs provide the backdrop along this route. Be sure to stretch your legs on the Katy Trail.
Northeast: Highway 79 to Hannibal
This drive contains a portion of the Great River Road and is a great choice for a daytrip of eagle-watching along the Mississippi River in the winter.
Northwest: Highway 59 to St. Joseph
While not directly adjacent to the river, this route takes you to within a few miles of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge and Big Lake State Park, another 2010 “Best of” winner.
Southeast: Alley Spring
This is our pick if you have time for only one trip to view spectacular fall color. We recommend following Highway 19 from Salem to Eminence, then take Highway 106 to the spring.
Southwest: Highway 160 to Branson
Follow this southernmost of east-west corridors through some of the state’s classic Ozark surroundings.
Missouri isn’t just a state of natural beauty. Here are a few towns voted pretty as a postcard.
Best Beautiful Town - Southeast Missouri: Ste. Genevieve. Photo courtesy of Missouri Division of Tourism
Central: Arrow Rock; 660-837-3231; www.arrowrock.org
The entire village of Arrow Rock has been designated a National Historic Landmark. When you go, be sure to visit the Lyceum Theatre, Missouri’s oldest professional regional theatre.
Northeast: Hermann; 800-932-8687; www.visithermann.com
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.
Northwest: Maryville; 660-582-8643; www.maryvillechamber.com
The home of Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville boasts 10 public parks. Mozingo Lake just outside of town provides thousands of acres and numerous opportunities for family play.
Southeast: Ste. Genevieve; 573-883-3686; www.stegenchamber.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 square, picture-perfect Victorian houses on tree-lined streets and historic old buildings — many built with stone from the local quarries.
More people are reconnecting with where their food comes from, and these businesses are offering a glimpse that’s both fun and educational.
Best Agritourism Destination - Central Missouri: Shryocks Corn Maze, Columbia. Photo courtesy of CallawayFarms.com
Central: Shryocks Corn Maze; 2927 County Road 253, Columbia; 573-592-0191; www.callawayfarms.com
In 2002, the Shryock family bought its first GPS unit for use with the tractors and combines on the farm. It didn’t take long to realize the technology could also be used to cut out intricate corn mazes. Now, the farm with its distinctive red barn just off Interstate 70 is a favorite place for hayrides and campfires. Mike Shryock says they’re taking ideas for the 2010 corn maze, so submit your design!
Northeast: Heartland Dairy; 14014 255th St. La Belle; 1-877-484-2269; www.visit-heartland.com
In addition to the dairy, this intentional community also offers a lodge and steakhouse as well as Ford automobile museum.
Northwest: Shatto Dairy; 9406 N. Hwy 33, Osborn; 816-930-3862; www.shattomilk.com
In 2003, this family-operated dairy decided to begin bottling and selling its own milk in glass bottles. It’s proved successful. Today, visit the Shatto Milk Company Country Store and sample many of the products. Then, walk up the sidewalk to the barn and pet the baby calves, or just stay in the store and view the bottling plant through one of two large viewing windows.
Southeast: Beggs Family Farm; 2319 State Hwy U, Sikeston; 573-471-3879; www.beggsfamilyfarm.com
Offering both school field trips and seasonal festivals, Beggs Family Farm provides an opportunity to observe a real working farm. The Fall Harvest Festival is a popular event for the entire family. Negotiate a corn maze, take a wagon ride, interact with the farm animals, watch the pig races and pick your own pumpkin right from the patch.
Southwest: Baker Creek Seeds; 2278 Baker Creek Rd., Mansfield; 417-924-8917; www.rareseeds.com
Gardening has surged in popularity, and heirloom varieties are the darling of the movement. At Baker Creek Seeds, you can shop 1,400 different varieties of heirlooms. In early May, check out the Spring Planting Festival.
We thought state-run facilities might dominate this category, but it was nearly a clean sweep. If we still selected an “Editor’s Choice,” Eagle Falls Ranch Zipline Adventures outside Eminence would have been our pick.
Best Outdoor Adventure - Northeast Missouri: Mark Twain State Park. Photo by Jason Jenkins
Central: Ha Ha Tonka State Park; 1491 State Road D; Camdenton, 573-346-2986; www.mostateparks.com/hahatonka.htm With its sinkholes, caves, natural bridge and soaring bluffs, this geological wonderland is the ideal place for the adventurous.
Northeast: Mark Twain State Park; 20057 State Park Office Rd., Stoutsville; 573-565-3440; www.mostateparks.com/twainpark.htm Camping, boating and fishing are favorite pastimes at Missouri’s third-oldest state park. With its limestone bluffs, the terrain here is reminiscent of southern parts of the state.
Northwest: Powell Gardens; 1609 N.W. U.S. Hwy 50, Kingsville; 816-697-2600; www.powellgardens.org
Trails allow visitors to commune with nature, and more than 6,000 varieties of plants are on display throughout the gardens.
Southeast: Twin Pines Conservation Education Center; Rt 1 Box 1998, Winona; 573-325-1381; mdc.mo.gov/areas/areas/twinpines
Because of its location, Twin Pines places special emphasis on the history of the Ozarks’ timber industry, offering opportunities for hiking, birdwatching and nature photography.
Southwest: Roaring River State Park; 12716 Farm Road 2239, Cassville; 417-847-2539; www.mostateparks.com/roaringriver.htm
Known for its premier trout fishing, Roaring River lets you feed and watch the fish in the spring pool or take a tour of the trout hatchery.
We weren’t sure what to expect from this first-time category, but we think you’ll enjoy visiting these winners.
Wild Card - Northwest Missouri: Big Lake State Park, Craig. Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Division of State Parks
Central: Touch of Glass Workshop and Fudgery, 318 W. Main St., Warsaw; 660-438-2381; www.glassandfudge.com
This downtown shop offers a wonderful treat for all your senses. See beautiful custom-made stained glass artwork and taste a sample of smooth, creamy fudge right from the kitchen.
Northeast: Cuivre River State Park, 678 Hwy 147, Troy; 636-528-7247; www.mostateparks.com/cuivre.htm
This park is truly a nature lover’s paradise offering camping, fishing, picnicking, swimming, backpacking and equestrian trails.
Northwest: Big Lake State Park, 204 Lake Shore Dr., Craig; 660-442-3770; www.mostateparks.com/biglake.htm
One of the first public recreation areas in northwest Missouri, this 400-acre park is located on the state’s largest oxbow lake.
Southeast: Alley Spring Mill, Eminence; 573-226-3945; nps.gov/ozar
The old red mill built in 1894 still stands beside the spring of the same name. Open daily during the summer.
Southwest: Rainbow Trout & Game Ranch; Rockbridge; 417-679-3619; www.rockbridgemo.com
For more than 50 years, guests have flocked here to relax from their busy routines and fish for spectacular rainbow trout.