Contest reveals Rural Missouri readers’ favorites
Rural Missouri readers were ready to explore the Show-Me State this past year and weren’t shy about sharing their favorite places to eat, shop, visit and play. Our annual Best of Rural Missouri Readers’ Choice Contest garnered thousands of responses across the 16 categories.
This past year saw the full return for many of Missouri’s restaurants, festivals and destinations. If it’s been a few years since you’ve been able to visit some of the fantastic places highlighted in the following pages, here’s hoping you can reverse that trend this year.
This is the 19th edition of the contest which continues to be as popular as ever. It highlights what makes Missouri such a great place to live, work and explore. Some categories — such as Best Restaurant and Best Barbecue — have been contest staples while others like Best Outdoor Adventure and Donut are newer. Some categories had clear winners and others were neck and neck. There’s also a great mix of contest stalwarts and newcomers.
Votes came pouring in online and in the mail. Each category has a first place, second place and editors’ choice. All who completed a ballot online and entered every category were registered for a chance to win a $500 Visa gift card to use at whatever Missouri restaurant or destination they enjoy most. This year’s winner is Audra Linebaugh, a member of Macon Electric Cooperative.
In addition to highlighting the 2022 winners on the following pages, online and on social media, in August we will display these pages in the Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives Building during the Missouri State Fair. Be sure to stop by and see us. So, without further ado, here are your 2022 winners!
1st: Sybill’s, St. James; 573-265-4224, sybills.com
Those looking for an elegant dining experience don’t need to travel far off Interstate 44. Since 2006, Janet and Tom Scheffer and their daughter, Sybill Light, have served upscale dishes in a southern-style house. With a focus on fresh ingredients and hand-cut steaks, regulars know Sybill’s for its excellent, approachable menu. For a dinner that will be sure to have you coming back, order the Surf N Turf Pasta. Ravioli is stuffed with lobster, shrimp and scallops and is covered with a white wine cream sauce. The dish is topped with beef tenderloin tips, bacon, blue cheese and green onion.
2nd: Fulton Cafe, Fulton; 573-642-8444, fulton-cafe-llc.square.site
Fulton Cafe continues to be a favorite among Rural Missouri readers. The cafe serves up plenty of authentic Cuban options — a nod to owner Iris Atkison’s roots — along with American classics. The restaurant on Court Street is open for lunch daily and features items such as their Cubano sandwich or the Elena Ruz, featuring turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam pressed on Cuban bread. If you need a pick-me-up for your afternoon, don’t leave without a Cafe con Leche.
EC: Sweet Smoke BBQ, Jefferson City, Osage Beach; 573-761-0617, sweetsmokebbqmo.com
Since first arriving on the scene in mid-Missouri, Sweet Smoke BBQ has been drawing customers in by the droves. They’ve grown from a food truck to a single downtown restaurant to a trio of smoked meat destinations. Plenty of tasty offerings are available, but if a sandwich is what you’re after, go for the Notorious P.I.G. with pulled pork, smoked sausage, Alabama white sauce, mustard, onion and pickle. Also, don’t leave Sweet Smoke without trying the savory jalapeno cheddar grits.
1st: Hercules Southern BBQ, Piedmont; 573-223-3654, herculessouthernbbq.com
The BBQ tradition of Alfea Crenshaw’s stepfather, Hercules, is alive and strong in Piedmont. Alfea and his wife, April, have been feeding the folks in southeast Missouri since opening their barbecue destination in 2013. Alfea uses a trio of smokers — including Hercules’ smoker he drove up from Texas — to prepare all the smoked meats going out the door. A combination of oak and charcoal flavor make up Alfea’s signature pork steaks, a customer favorite. If you’re more than hungry, opt for the pulled pork nachos or ribs.
2nd: Missouri Hick, Cuba; 573-885-6791, missourihick.com
Travelers along Route 66 have made a point to stop at Missouri Hick for a unique, cherry wood-smoked meal. For a little bit of everything, order the sampler platter featuring your choice of two smoked meats — such as pulled pork and brisket — that is topped with St. Louis-style ribs. For a taste of something different, go with the Hick Bowl. The dish starts with mashed potatoes and is topped with smoked brisket, gravy, cheese, green onions and bacon bits.
EC: Duke’s BBQ Shack, Wentzville; 636-856-9227, dukesbbqshack.com
The crew at Duke’s BBQ takes their signature smoked creations to the next level. In addition to smoked meat platters, they create many elevated dishes. The first order of business at Duke’s is to order an appetizer of Burnt End Rangoons, fried wontons stuffed with a mixture of burnt ends and cream cheese. Their signature sandwiches are the Dirty Mustache and Dirty Bird and feature smoked brisket and chicken respectively, alongside sausage, beer cheese sauce and housemade fried onion straws.
1st: Booches, Columbia; 573-874-9519, booches1884.com
Booches is a mid-Missouri institution. The no-frills, cash-only burger joint opened its doors the same year Grover Cleveland was elected to be commander in chief and has been in its current location on Ninth Street for just under a century. The burgers are cooked at a grill just inside the entrance and come with American and Swiss cheeses, ketchup, mustard, pickle and onions. Save room for more than one though, the pool hall’s tasty burgers are smaller than normal, but bigger than sliders.
2nd: Mary Jane’s Burgers and Brew, Perryville; 573-547-6279, maryjaneburgers.com
Mary Jane’s has turned into a burger and craft beer destination thanks to owner and Perryville native Carissa Stark. With more than a dozen burger creations, you’re sure to leave in a food coma. Their original behemoth burger is the Johnboy with two beef patties, double pepper jack cheese, bacon, fried onions and chipotle aioli. For something different, opt for The Big Kahuna with a pork patty, pepper jack, pork belly, Korean barbecue sauce and pickled jalapenos on a Hawaiian bun.
EC: Black Sheep Burgers and Shakes, Springfield; 417-319-5905, blaaacksheep.com
Black Sheep has been a burger lovers’ stop since they first opened in 2015. The burger menu boasts several appealing options, including the Cowboy Carl, featuring a beef patty topped with smoked brisket, white cheddar, candied bacon, spicy fried onions, pickle and barbecue sauce. In the mood for bacon? Try the Don’t Go Bacon My Heart with bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, housemade pickle, onion and smoky garlic mayo.
1st: Brooklyn Pizza, Fulton; 573-642-1122, brooklynpizzamo.com
There’s no secret to what makes Brooklyn Pizza so popular; It’s their authentic New York-style pizza Brian Atkins brought from Brooklyn to Fulton. Along with managers Allie Cooke and Janet Lincoln, Brian serves up his popular pies including the White Spinach with white ricotta sauce, mozzarella and fresh spinach and Missouri Pie with ground pork and beef, green peppers, onions and garlic. For something different, try the Shrimp and Garlic Pizza, a nod to the dates Brian and his late wife, Karen, had back in New York.
2nd: Minglewood Brewery, Cape Girardeau; 573-803-0524, minglewoodbrewery.com
While some may come for the craft brews made on-site at Minglewood in downtown Cape Girardeau, many stick around for the delicious pizza. The Sausage Goat Cheese pizza is a crowd favorite. The pie starts with the housemade dough made with the brewery’s spent grain. The dough is topped with a red sauce, spinach, sausage, mushrooms, onions, five-cheese blend and goat cheese crumbles. For a more traditional pie, go for the classic Margherita.
EC: Primo’s, Canton; 573-288-1078, primoscanton.com
Primo’s has dished out top-notch food for nearly a quarter century. Their homemade pizza dough is the base for their specialty pies. For a little bit of everything, order The Mo-Mo with Canadian bacon, beef, pepperoni, bacon, sausage, black and green olives, onions, peppers and mushrooms between marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Primo’s creativity shines in its nontraditional pizzas with different sauce bases such as ranch or honey mustard dressing, Alfredo, salsa and Primo’s “World Famous Hot Sauce.”
1st: Koch’s General Store, Macon; 660-395-4321, kochsgeneralstore.com
Erin Koch opened her general store on the north side of Macon in 2017, but knew it was missing something. So this past year, she expanded her building and added a coffee shop that has taken off with locals. They get their beans from nearby Grand Marceline Cocoa & Coffee Co., where the beans are fire roasted in a Victorian-era roaster. Looking to cool off on a hot day? Order the Iced Caramel Kochiatto topped with sweet cream foam made in house by Coffee Manager Jordyn Harris.
2nd: Monroe Coffee Co., Fair Grove; 417-532-0256, monroecoffeeco.square.site
Whether you’re grabbing a freshly brewed cup of Joe for a quick pick-me-up on your way to work or you want to sit on a sofa and enjoy one of the seemingly endless flavor options for your latte, you won’t be disappointed at Monroe Coffee Co. The coffee shop opened last year in historic Fair Grove and in addition to coffee drinks, offers baked goods as well.
EC: Arcadia Valley Roasting Co., Ironton; arcadiavalleyroastingcompany.com
Whenever the team at Arcadia Valley Roasting Co. roasts its coffee, all of downtown Ironton knows. The aroma fills the town, enticing all those around with the beans sourced from a community of farmers in the Matagalpa and Jinotega regions of Nicaragua. So confident in the quality of that bean, Arcadia Valley roasts just a pair of coffees. The Morning Hope is their light roast with Valley Daybreak the dark.
1st: The Jiggy Pig, Raymore; 816-812-2342, thejiggypig.com
The Jiggy Pig is far from your typical barbecue truck. Owners Jaret and Jenna Jensen opened the food truck in 2017 and are known for their unique barbecue combinations coming out of their bright red trailer. The menu changes depending on what’s available, but you can’t go wrong with their signature sandwich, the Jiggy Pig. Smoked pulled pork and Pig Candy — thick-cut bacon cooked down with brown sugar and a house rub — are piled high on a pretzel bun. Check Facebook to see where The Jiggy Pig is parking.
2nd: Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co., Columbia; 573-999-9323, ozarkmountainbiscuits.com
A lot has changed since Bryan Maness first opened Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co., in 2013. Their business has expanded and now includes a brick-and-mortar location across the street from Logboat Brewing Co., in Columbia. One thing hasn’t changed, the delicious food that’s derived from Bryan’s family roots. There’s plenty of unique flavor combinations, but if you show up at the food truck with an appetite, go for The Boss Hog. An open-faced biscuit is topped with pulled pork, greens, sausage gravy, a fried egg, crispy onions and a housemade barbecue Arkan-sauce.
EC: Zydeco’s Cajun Kitchen Food Truck, Moberly; 660-693-3544, zydecos.co
If étouffée, fried shrimp and gumbo are your idea of a tasty meal, you need to hop online and find where Zydeco’s Cajun Kitchen Food Truck is parked today. Owners Randy and Lynn Perkins have been serving up authentic Cajun dishes since opening their food truck in 2018. For a burst of flavor, order the jambalaya with andouille sausage, smoked shredded chicken and plenty of Cajun spices.
1st: Hurts Donut Co., Springfield; 417-719-4119, wannahurts.com
Since first hitting Springfield November 2013, Hurts Donut Co., has become a donut mecca in the Ozarks and beyond. Their donuts are as delicious as they are colorful and creative. They offer more than 70 varieties of their donuts, so you’re sure to find something you’ll like. If you’ve got a little Sesame Street fan at home, you’ll be the hero when you come back with a Cookie Monster donut. It’s a chocolate donut drenched in bright, blue icing, with two eyes and Oreo crumbles.
2nd: Papa Jake’s Donut Shop, Sedalia; 663-826-3176
You’ll be the coworker of the day with a stop at Papa Jake’s on your way to the office. The Sedalia staple has satisfied their customers’ sweet tooth for more than five decades. Their baked and fried donuts are made inside the unassuming building at the corner of West 16th Street and South Park Avenue. Be sure to grab a custard-filled long john before they sell out.
EC: Hoeckele’s Bakery and Deli, Perryville; 573-547-4506, hoeckelebakery.com
The sweet smell will hit you as soon as you walk into the bakery. Hoeckele’s has been serving baked creations in Perryville for 85 years. They serve all the classics you’d expect at a donut shop such as glazed and sugar donuts, apple and cherry fritters, jelly-filled donuts and long johns. This is no small shop however, Hoeckele’s makes between 250 and 550 dozen donuts daily.
1st: Home Town Diner, Hermitage; 417-912-6704
Rich and Joy Porter opened their diner — which is low on frills and high on taste — just in time to shut down for the pandemic. The concessionaires-turned-restaurateurs made it through and are serving made-from-scratch breakfast classics. During the week, get a waffle plate using their secret recipe that leaves the waffle crisp on the outside but tender inside. If you’re looking for a breakfast with a little more heft, go for the Mountaineer Skillet. Skillet potatoes are cooked with sausage, green peppers, onions, cheese and three eggs and the whole dish is smothered in gravy. Also, be sure to try one of Joy’s biscuits with homemade strawberry jam.
2nd: Billy Gail’s, Branson West and Ozark; 417-338-8883, billygailsrestaurant.com
Better bring your appetite to Billy Gail’s. The Ozarks institution has been dishing up oversized portions of breakfast favorites since Billy and Gail Blong opened down the road from Silver Dollar City in 1985. The eatery still serves up their famous 14-inch pancakes alongside their five-egg omelets. For something new, add a side of Billion Dollar Bacon. Their signature hardwood-smoked apple bacon is cooked with brown sugar, pepper, cayenne and maple syrup.
EC: The Mudcat Coffee House, Oak Ridge; 573-382-2642
If you leave The Mudcat Coffee House hungry, it’s your own fault. Owner Rebecca Moore serves up plentiful portions to all her guests, and that includes breakfast. Swing by on the weekend and try some signature biscuits and gravy with deep-fried biscuits and gravy with potatoes. Feeling unsure of what to order? Opt for The Matt and put your faith in Rebecca, the menu description says it all: Sit down and eat what I give you.
1st: Katy Trail State Park; mostateparks.com
The popular Katy Trail — the nation’s longest rails-to-trails project — is the perfect spot for those seeking a leisurely afternoon stroll, bike ride or a multi-day, 240-mile test of stamina. The trail runs from Clinton to Machens in northeast St. Charles County. Depending on where you start your adventure, there are plenty of stops along the way worth your time. You can visit the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, tour the State Capitol in Jefferson City, enjoy authentic German sausages in Hermann, visit wine country once you get to Defiance or explore the shops in historic downtown St. Charles.
2nd: Lake of the Ozarks; 800-386-5253, funlake.com
There’s plenty to explore between the 1,100 miles of shoreline that surround the 93-square-mile lake that stretches across mid-Missouri. The Lake of the Ozarks offers plenty of coves so your time on the water can be as lively or quiet as you’d like. If your outdoor adventure is better spent on the links than the water, there’s no shortage of golf courses from which to choose around the lake. With plenty of waterfront accommodations, your getaway can last as long as you like.
EC: Wallace State Park, Cameron; 816-632-3745, mostateparks.com
Wallace State Park offers a little bit of everything for the family that loves the outdoors, and all of it is located less than one hour from Kansas City. Visitors can fish or boat on the park’s centerpiece, 6-acre Lake Allman, or hit the trail on five different hikes. Relax from the day’s adventure in the park’s picnic area or one of the many campsites complete with a nearby playground.
Getaway With The Kids
1st: Branson; 417-334-4084, explorebranson.com
The possibilities are endless for a trip to Branson with your kids, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Feeling adventurous? Try one of the many zip line courses in the area including one that propels you over Lake Taneycomo and ending right onto the famous Branson Landing. There’s plenty of kid-friendly museums, shows, go-kart tracks, mini golf courses and interesting adventures lining historic Highway 76 — The Branson Strip — for you and your family to enjoy. Throw in all the outdoor activities at Big Cedar Lodge and Silver Dollar City and its attractions, and you’ll have no shortage of possibilities in Missouri’s music city.
2nd: Lake of the Ozarks; 800-386-5253, funlake.com
Lake of the Ozarks offers fun for all ages. You can rent a boat from one of many marinas and enjoy a day taking in the views, tubing or just relaxing on the enormous man-made lake. Back on dry ground, there’s plenty to do at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Your kids are sure to love a trip around the many go-kart tracks or mini golf courses. When you’ve worn yourself out for the day, stop by one of the many restaurants on the water and take in a delicious meal on the patio.
EC: Elephant Rocks State Park, Belleview; 573-546-3454, mostateparks.com
Your kids will have a blast! This state park in Iron County won’t be forgotten because of the giant boulders formed from 1.5-billion-year-old granite. The giant formations offer the perfect backdrop for fun Instagrammable photos to share. The park is named for the boulders that stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants.
Getaway Without The Kids
1st: Hermann; 800-932-8687, visithermann.com
This postcard-worthy Missouri River town lets you and yours keep busy if you want or just rest, relax and enjoy each other’s company. With more than 300 guest rooms in the town consider making your stop more than just a daytrip. There are plenty of unique and interesting boutique shops and restaurants to visit. Go on a nice day and you can spend your afternoon outside enjoying one of the many wineries, breweries and distilleries. Looking for a unique way to get there? Consider taking the train as the Amtrak station is located right next to downtown and is connected to many Missouri cities.
2nd: Wilderland Glamping Cabins, Arcadia; 573-432-0068, glampinginmissouri.com
This adults-only escape is designed as an upscale glamping experience for just one or two guests looking to get away from all the hustle and bustle. The cozy cabins are located in remote areas and come with your very own private campfire area to watch the stars go by or cook dinner. You can get out and visit the three nearby state parks or stay put in nature relaxing the weekend away seemingly a million miles from Monday.
EC: Weston; 816-640-2909, westonmo.com
There’s no shortage of history in Weston, just a few miles west of Interstate 29 north of Kansas City. Spend your afternoon meandering around the historic downtown district founded in 1837 and visiting the shops, boutiques and artisan offerings that make it so unique. There’s plenty of places to stay between the historic antebellum downtown hotel and a number of bed-and-breakfasts. Wrap up your day with a visit to O’Malley’s 1842, Missouri’s oldest pub, located 50 feet underground.
State Park/Historic Site
1st: Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton; 573-346-2986, mostateparks.com
One look at the hilltop castle ruins and it’s easy to see why Missourians love the majesty and mystery of Ha Ha Tonka State Park. But the park’s most visible feature is just the tip of the iceberg. Ha Ha Tonka Spring, a natural bridge, caverns and other geologic wonders dot the landscape, notable features of the unique karst topography of the Ozarks. Hikers will find more than 30 miles of trails navigating the natural wonderland which include prime examples of the state’s woodlands, glades and native plants and animals that call the park home.
2nd: Missouri Mines State Historic Site, Park Hills; 573-431-6226, mostateparks.com
Visitors to Missouri Mines State Historic Site receive a crash course in the state’s history of mining, where the former St. Joe Lead Co. served as the gateway to Missouri’s Lead Belt. Park interpreters along with displays and exhibits of machinery and minerals give fascinating insights into the science, history and economic importance of Missouri’s underground wonders.
EC: Roaring River State Park, Cassville; 417-847-2539, mostateparks
Nothing says the Ozarks like rugged scenery and fantastic fishing, and both come together at Roaring River State Park. Anglers make the trip every year to fish for rainbow and brown trout in an activity that has for many become family tradition. Hiking trails, picnic areas, a nature center and multiple camping and lodging options for an overnight stay make Roaring River a popular choice for family fun and adventure.
1st: Missouri State Fair, Sedalia; 800-422-FAIR, mostatefair.com
Every August hundreds of thousands of Missourians make the pilgrimage to Sedalia to celebrate the Show-Me State’s premier agriculture showcase. Along with children showing their prized cow or pig, the grounds are filled with 11 straight days of action. There’s thrills all over in the midway, food of all kinds and plenty of showcases highlighting some of the best things Missouri has to offer. Make sure your yearly stop includes a visit to the Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives Building where you can meet and get your picture taken with Rural Missouri’s mascot, Buddy Bear. See you at the fair!
2nd: Heritage Reunion, Fair Grove; 417-759-2807, h fg-historical.org
The last full weekend in September is a celebration of the past and display of high-quality, handmade goods in Fair Grove. Tens of thousands of people flock to the southwest Missouri town to take in the vendors, music, threshing and mill demonstrations. The festival kicks off Saturday morning with a parade of vintage cars, trucks and tractors flowing through town.
EC: Chautauqua in the Park, Chillicothe; 660-646-4050, chillicothemo.com
For three dozen years, festivalgoers have enjoyed the artisans, crafters, musicians, food and farmers market at Chautauqua in the Park in Chillicothe. The art-driven event is vast and spreads throughout Simpson Park in the northwest Missouri town. In addition to the handmade crafts and arts, guests can see plenty of action from blacksmiths, spinners, weavers and more every September.
1st: Cherry Mash, St. Joseph; cherrymash.com
This delicious, Missouri-made candy has been a contest staple for Rural Missouri readers for years. The first Cherry Mash was made more than a century ago inside a plant on 2nd Street in St. Joseph. Demand for the tasty treats skyrocketed and four short years later, the company built a brand new plant with 400 employees. The candies start out with a mix of white fondant cream and maraschino cherries to create the inside mixture. That is coated with chocolate and ground, roasted peanuts then the chocolate again. The ever popular candies are still made at a factory in northwest Missouri today.
2nd: Backer’s Chips, Fulton; 573-642-2833, backerchips.com
Backer’s Chips first started hand-cutting potatoes and cooking them without electricity in 1931. Now located in Fulton, they produce their lip-smacking chips a bit more efficiently than those early days, which included delivery in the family car. Today they produce more than 7,000 pounds of chips per hour, five days per week.
EC: Burger’s Smokehouse, California; 800-345-5185, smokehouse.com
Whether you’re looking for that perfect country ham to put on the Easter table, Thanksgiving turkey or just thick-cut bacon to go with your Saturday morning eggs, you can’t go wrong getting it from Burger’s. Ever since E.M. Burger built his first Ham House on the Burger family farm in 1952, discerning eaters have taken notice of the delicious food. The operation has scaled up considerably through the decades, but remains a Moniteau County staple.
Winery, Brewery or Distillery
1st: Piney River Brewing Co., Bucyrus and Waynesville; 417-967-4001, pineyriverbrewing.com
Piney River Brewing is a celebration of the Ozarks region where Brian and Joleen Durham call home. They began brewing and canning their flagship brews in 2011. Cans were the only option for them as glass isn’t allowed on some Missouri waterways and they wanted to make sure brews — such as their Float Trip Ale — could accompany float trips throughout the state. Their brewing operation in Bucyrus includes Piney River’s BARn, which is packed with craft beer lovers on weekends. Feel free to bring your kids to the BARn and they can enjoy Andy’s Root Beer, handmade by the Durham’s son.
2nd: St. James Winery, St. James; 800-280-9463, stjameswinery.com
The Hofherr family started making wine in St. James more than 50 years ago. Today, their production has increased from 8,000 gallons annually to 500,000. Stop by their tasting room and enjoy your glass in The Gardens, an outdoor space full of games shared with The Public House Brewing Co. For a unique experience, join them on May 21 for their Grapes & Grains 5K. The run/walk through St. James vineyards features beer and wine samples during the race.
3rd Place: Sweetwater Distillery, Monroe City; 573-406-4051, sweetwater-distillery.com
Andy and Heather Utterback use a 1950s grinder from Heather’s family to grind the local grain which will become their signature vodka in stills Andy constructed. Stop by their tasting room for a cocktail made with one of their three vodkas or for something sweeter, get a drink made with their Apple Pie Moonshine.