Rural Missouri Magazine


The 2005 Reader's Choice Awards

Best Catfish:
Le Maire’s Cajun Catfish, Sedalia

Missouri is a great state known for its writers, sports teams, leaders, rolling hills and clear-flowing streams. Less known but equally worthy of the spotlight are the quirky eating establishments, roadside attractions and courageous entrepreneurs who believe, “if I build it, they will come.”

To celebrate this spirit, Rural Missouri launched its Best of Rural Missouri Reader’s Choice contest. Now in its fourth year, the contest keeps getting bigger. It’s taken us most of 2005 to count the ballots.

But now the readers have spoken, the ballots are tallied and the 2005 winners are presented here. Many of them are repeats from last year. In fact, we have some that have taken first place four years in a row, like Lambert’s, Johnny’s Smoke Stak and Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast.

This year we added some new categories, including Best Chili and Best Steak thanks to reader’s suggestions.

Congratulations to all the winners, and to Tammy Abbott of Walnut Grove, a member of Ozark Electric Cooperative, who was the winner of our “Made in Missouri” gift basket.

We hope you will take the time to visit our winners as you vacation in Missouri this summer. Keep this issue in your glove box. Please send us suggestions that will help make the contest better next year.

Best Trail Ride:
Cross Country Trail Ride, Eminence

Dining Worth the Drive:
1st – Lamberts, Sikeston and Ozark
2nd – The Pear Tree, Bevier
3rd – Charlie’s, Cole Camp
Lambert’s, home of Throwed Rolls, continues as our winner in this category but only two votes kept the elegant and out-of-the-way Pear Tree in second where it finished last year. We put Charlie’s on the map when it won third last year.
Editor’s choice: Catch your trout and have them cook it for you at the Bennett Spring dining lodge.

Best Barbecue:
1st – Johnny’s Smoke Stack, Rolla
2nd – Buckingham’s, Springfield
3rd – Hickory Log, Dexter
The only changes in this category are for second and third. Johnny’s has trounced the competition with its man-sized barbeque buffet. Bucking-ham’s, also in Columbia, has the best beans in the state (new category?). Ozark Border Electric members, newcomers to Rural Missouri, helped bring Hickory Log into the winners’ ranks. Many people say you’ll find the state’s best ribs here.
Editor’s choice: Good barbecue comes from college towns. We like Perry Foster’s in Warrensburg for their overwhelming portions, real wood fires and plastic wrap for the inevitable leftovers.

Best Hamburger:
1st – 63 Diner, Columbia
2nd – Booches, Columbia
3rd – Wheel-Inn, Sedalia
After a year or two of swapping places 63 Diner has settled into first over the legendary Booches, where the menu is beer and burgers. Sedalia’s Wheel-Inn features their trademark “Gooberburger,” a hamburger slathered with peanut butter. You can’t say you’ve done it all ’til you’ve had at least one.
Editor’s choice: If you can resist the tenderloin temptation, the Dinner Bell in Jefferson City offers a full pound of hamburger that’s bigger than the bun.

Best Pie:
1st – Slice of Pie, Rolla
2nd – Blue Owl, Kimmswick
3rd – Ozark Café, West Plains
No change for the pie winner, but we recommend you get the whole pie and not just a slice in Rolla. The Blue Owl will wow you with their huge selection of huge desserts. Not for the calorie conscious. The Ozark is one of those downtown legends every town used to have.
Editor’s choice: Cookie’s in Golden City is pie to die for.

Best Cave:
Meramec Caverns, Stanton

Best Catfish:
1st – Le Maire’s, Sedalia
2nd – Moreland’s, Vienna
3rd – Dowd’s Catfish House, Lebanon
Just two votes separated first from second as these two fish fryers trade places. Le Maire’s Cajun Catfish cooks a ton of fish every week and offers gator on the menu. Moreland’s features a bigger filet and music on Friday night. Rt. 66 cruisers love Dowd’s.
Editor’s choice: If Sedalia is off your beaten path try Cajun Catfish in St. Martin, once owned by Le Maire’s.

Best Chili:
1st – Casper’s, Springfield
2nd – Dixon’s Chili, Kansas City
3rd – Floosie’s Apple Barrel, Winona
In the first year for chili we found a real winner in Casper’s, a downtown Springfield establishment with limited seating and great chili. We can’t wait to test Dixon’s and Floosie’s.
Editor’s choice: Fred and Red’s in Joplin offers chili (and tamales) made from a spicy secret recipe.

Best Fried Chicken:
1st – Strouds, Kansas City
2nd – Cookin’ From Scratch, Newburg
3rd – Big Boys, Wright City
Stroud’s continues to impress us with the number of votes they got for first. Come early and be prepared to wait in line for this great chicken. We hear nothing but good comments about Cookin’ From Scratch. Big Boy’s isn’t the well-known chain but a 1920s family style restaurant that’s older than I-70.
Editor’s choice: Before they moved from Loose Creek to Lohman, Steve’s Family Style Restaurant was a winner. We think it still is.

Best Theater:
Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Arrow Rock

Best Steak:
1st – The Pear Tree, Bevier
2nd – G & D Steakhouse, Columbia
3rd – Gordoz, Rolla
There’s not much the Pear Tree doesn’t do well and steak is a specialty here. G&D’s $6 ribeye lets college kids get a decent meal. The Greek style Gordoz is first and foremost a steak place.
Editor’s choice: Great steak, reasonable price, small town, feed mill ambiance — Harry J’s in Moscow Mills gets our vote.

Best Winery:
1st – Stone Hill, Hermann
2nd – St. James Winery
3rd – Les Bourgeois, Rocheport
Stone Hill is Missouri’s most decorated winery for good reason. But St. James and Les Bourgeois are gaining ground, the latter due to its million-dollar view of the Missouri River.
Editor’s choice: Often overlooked in winery-rich Hermann, the Adam Puchta Winery is the state’s oldest family farm winery.

Best U-Pick Farms:
1st – Meyer Tree & Berry Farm, Dixon
2nd – Peter’s Orchard, Waverly
3rd – Pumpkin Patch, West Plains
A new category this year thanks to the popularity of agritourism. You can’t go wrong when you pick your own on the farm.

Best Chili:
Casper's, Springfield

Best State Park/Historic Site:
1st – Ha Ha Tonka, Camdenton
2nd – Meramec State Park, Sullivan
3rd – Bennett Spring, Lebanon
Always a favorite with our readers, we wonder if anyone has seen all the wonders at this huge park. Meramec in Sullivan offers floats and cave tours. Bennett is best known for its trout fishing.
Editor’s choice: Big Oak Tree State Park near East Prairie is an island of huge trees in a sea of agriculture.

Best Festival:
1st – Oktoberfest, Hermann
2nd – Jour de Fete, Ste. Genevieve
3rd – Silver Dollar City Fall Festival, Branson
Hermann’s featured month of wine, sausage and song moves into first ahead of Ste. Gen’s French festival. You can step back in time at Silver Dollar City’s featured attraction.
Editor’s choice: Houston, Mo., literally sends in the clowns for its Emmett Kelly Clown Festival in May.

Best Old Store:
1st – Dick’s 5 & 10, Branson
2nd – Crane’s, Williamsburg
3rd – Weaver’s, Versailles
Weaver’s in Amish Country joins perennial winner’s Dick’s and Crane’s in our stores-the-way-they-used-to-be category.
Editor’s choice: Captain Jac bought the Farmer’s Mercantile in High Hill and gained a community.

Best Town to Live in:
1st – Columbia
2nd – West Plains
3rd – Rolla
College memories kept Columbia as the top pick while West Plains entered the picture to move Rolla down to third. The south-central Missouri town has rebuilt its downtown and is staying in touch with its roots.
Editor’s choice: Those who followed Lewis & Clark last year discovered Washington, a great place to visit and stay.

Best Steak:
The Pear Tree, Bevier

Best Bed & Breakfast:
1st – School House, Rocheport
2nd – Painted Lady, St. James
3rd – Southern Hotel, Ste. Genevieve
Guests of the Schoolhouse get to relax after a hard ride on the Katy Trail. The Painted Lady needs to be seen at Christmas time to be really appreciated — ask for the cabin out back. The Southern in Ste. Gen is our favorite place to stay while in Missouri’s oldest city.
Editor’s choice: Where else can you sleep in a tree house on the North Fork River? River of Life Farm near Dora is one of a kind.

Best Main Street:
1st – St. Charles
2nd – Branson
3rd – (tie) Ste. Genevieve & Hannibal
Main Street in St. Charles has old-world charm and Missouri’s first Capitol. Too many people pass up old town Branson in favor of the glitter and lights; it’s good to see it get some recognition. Hannibal and Ste. Gen deserve recognition as historic villages.
Editor’s choice: America’s biggest and best main street is Route 66.

Best Getaway:
1st – Branson
2nd – Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale
3rd – Lake of the Ozarks
Two of Missouri’s biggest tourist destinations are Branson and the Lake of the Ozarks, and that seems to be where our readers seek refuge.
Editor’s choice: The Elms Resort and Spa in Excelsior Springs was built so Missourians could “take the waters.”

Best Bed & Breakfast:
Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast, Rocheport

Best Trail Ride:
1st – Cross Country Trail Ride, Eminence
2nd – Katy Trail
3rd – Lake of the Ozarks State Park
We were thinking horses when we dreamed up this category and first place goes to Missouri’s largest (3,000 riders) and oldest (celebrating its 50th year in 2005). But cyclists and hikers had their say too with second and third place. Lake of the Ozarks State Park has trails for hikers, bikers and riders.
Editor’s choice: The Berryman Trail between Potosi and Steelville is a wild ride for bikes and horses.

Best Camping:
1st – Bennett Spring State Park, Lebanon
2nd – Roaring River State Park, Cassville
3rd – Mark Twain State Park, Stoutsville
Two of Missouri’s premier trout parks were the reader’s choice for camping. But anglers love Mark Twain for its greatly improved fishing and facilities.
Editor’s choice: Rough it at a Missouri wilderness area like Hercules Glades near Ava.

Best Lake:
1st – Lake of the Ozarks
2nd – Table Rock
3rd – Truman
Last year Lake of the Ozarks didn’t make the cut, but this year the big lake with more shoreline than California took the top spot. Clear-water Table Rock and fishy Truman offer completely different experiences for the lake lover.
Editor’s choice: We like our lakes a little smaller, like the one at Crowder State Park in Trenton.

Best Town To Live In:

Best Theater:
1st – Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre
2nd – Fox Theatre, St. Louis
3rd – 19 Drive-In, Cuba
Our winners run the gamut from live theater in Arrow Rock to the convertible crowd in Cuba.
Editor’s choice: The Friends of the Farris in Richmond deserve kudos for its work to restore the fabulous Farris Theatre, host to silent films, regular movies, live theater and more.

Best Float Stream:
1st – Current River
2nd – Jacks Fork
3rd – Niangua
The ever-popular Current reigns supreme, while its tributary, the Jacks Fork, gains ground.
Editor’s choice: If you float and fish, try the Gasconade.

Best Outdoor Adventure:
1st – Katy Trail
2nd – Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton
3rd – Johnson’s Shut Ins
Once a railroad, the Katy is today the nation’s longest rails-to-trails project with 225 miles to bike and hike. Most people never get past the castle at Ha Ha Tonka. They miss the caves, springs and other geologic wonders of the park. But for relaxing adventure, the shut-ins can’t be beat.
Editor’s choice: Noodling, or hand fishing for catfish, is now legal on the Mississippi, Fabius and St. Francis rivers in Missouri. Sticking your hand into the mouth of a 100-pound cat and wrestling it into a boat sounds like adventure with a capital A.

Best Cave:
1st – Meramec Caverns, Stanton
2nd – Marvel Cave, Branson
3rd – Onondaga Cave, Leasburg
Our readers prefer the creature comforts of the commercial caves. Of the three, third place is the most natural.
Editor’s choice: Bridal Cave in Camdenton boasts the world record for underground weddings with 1,575 and contains more onyx formations per square foot than any other show cave.

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