Rural Missouri Magazine

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 we’ve noted with pride when recipients tout the honor in their own marketing materials.

Best 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 uncanny regularity.
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.

And that’s the beauty of this contest. It is not our opinion that matters. The results aren’t 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.

One 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 fifth year.

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.

Dining 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.

Charley’s Buffet 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

Johnny’s certainly 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.

Breakfast: 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.

Dessert: 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 our pie.

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

LeMaire’s has 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.

Microbrewery: Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, Columbia

Editor’s 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.

Fried Chicken
First: Stroud’s, Kansas City (two locations), (816) 454-9600, (816) 333-2132
Second: Cookin’ from Scratch, Newburg, (573) 762-3111
Third: Westphalia Inn, Westphalia, (573) 455-9991

Stroud’s, our 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 Missouri.

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. 1-800-467-9463.

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.

AgriMissouri 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.

Editor’s 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. (573) 486-4677.

AgriMissouri Product
First: Burger’s Smokehouse, California,
Second: A Taste of the Kingdom, Kingdom City, (573) 592-7373
Third: Memory Lane Dairy, Fordland, (417) 767-2697

Burger’s boasts 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.

Taste 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!

Editor’s choice: 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

Place 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.

Editor’s choice: Since our readers concentrated on state parks, we’ll suggest a state historic site. Few such sites offer as much to see as our state 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. (573) 751-3475.

First: Old Tyme Apple Festival, Versailles, (573) 378-4401
Second: Oktoberfest, Hermann,
Third: Festival of the Little Hills, St. Charles, (636) 940-0095

Apple-peeling, nail-driving, 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.

Hermann’s Oktoberfest 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 German heritage.

Most beautiful town: Hermann

History comes alive, Aug. 18-20, as St. Charles celebrates its role in early American settlement and exploration.

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. (660) 376-9258.

Roadside Attraction
First: Elephant 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.

Best 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 World’s 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
First: Hermann
Second: Carthage
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.

Editor’s 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.

Hometown 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 kids.

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.

Editor’s choice: 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. (573) 775-2400.

Hometown 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

You’ll learn 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.

You’ll get 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

It doesn’t 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.

Rodeo/Horse 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

Throughout October 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.

Trail Ride
First: Cross Country Trail Ride, Eminence, (573) 226-3492
Second: Katy 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.

Roadside 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 near Ava.

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

Arrow Rock’s 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.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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