Best of 2007
So, what’s it mean to be the “best?” Some pride, probably some additional business earned from years of hard work or good luck or circumstances, or an idea just too good to forget. To be known as the “best” is a challenge for the “winners” to maintain excellence, and for everybody else to aspire toward. Or, simply, for those that already are excellent to become a little more visible so that others will know how good they are.
That said, here are the choices for the “Best of the Upper East Side of Texas for 2007,” chosen by readers and staff deliberations. Each of these is a good starting point for readers’ own explorations.
Stanley’s Famous BBQ, Tyler. “Famous” isn’t much, if any, of a brag for this small place with a big patio near the Tyler medical complex. Texas Monthly magazine has called it one of the 50 best places to eat barbecue in Texas. In business since 1958 (with a “new” owner since 2000), Stanley’s serves all the usual meats and sides, plus ham and turkey. Unusual combinations include the Brother-in-Law sandwich with hot link, chopped beef, and cheese. From time to time, there’s also live music. Other popular choices: Bakers Ribs, Canton, Riverport Bar-B-Que. Jefferson, Texas Barbeque Corral in Mount Vernon.
Edom Bakery & Grill, Edom. The extensive breakfast menu includes – take a deep breath and then read this – salt-rising, rye, dark Russian, raisin, banana, zucchini, and carrot-pineapple breads; an assortment of muffins including cranberry nut, Hawaiian, cinnamon chip, and blueberry; lox and bagels with capers; eggs benedict; and an assortment of eggs with biscuits, gravy, Belgian waffles; and fresh seasonal fruit. Another popular choice: Excelsior Hotel in Jefferson, The Shed in Edom.
BEST CHICKEN FRIED STEAK
Dwayne’s Country Café & Mercantile, Tyler. Real chicken-fried, hand-breaded steak “made with love, like mama used to make.” Available in the down-home atmosphere for breakfast with eggs and toast, for lunch with two vegetables, and for dinner with two vegetables and a salad. Other popular choices: The Old Fashioned Hamburger Store in Jefferson, The Shed in Edom.
Dinner Bell, Van. It’s fried catfish, simply prepared and available all day long every Friday with choice of French fries or baked potato, and cole slaw or salad. There’s also “good home cooking” all day every day and Tex-Mex on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in the newly redecorated diner. Other popular choices: Cindy’s Catfish in Avinger, The Shed in Edom, Vaughn’s in Lake Cypress Springs.
Holly Perk, Mineola. Just about everything somebody could get at Starbucks: lattes, cappuccinos, frozen and blended drinks, regular coffees, and loose-leaf teas in a warm, friendly atmosphere in a 100-year-old building in the antique district. Sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, play a board game, take advantage of the wireless access for your computer grab a used book off the shelf, or shop through the antiques, gifts, collectables, greeting cards, and more. Other popular choices: Brady’s Specialty Coffee in Tyler, The Farmhouse in Van.
BEST GAS, GRUB, AND GROCERIES
Sam’s Exxon, Ben Wheeler. Excellent, generous ’burgers, malts and shakes, and wide-ranging breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus including grilled chicken, fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, barbecue, fries, corn dogs, hot dogs, chili dogs, egg rolls, beef fajitas, chicken fajitas, beef tacos, chicken tacos, homemade chili and stew, breakfast tacos, eggs, bacon, hash browns, grits, oatmeal, and a variety of croissants all served from behind an old-time soda fountain counter. Plus gas, lots of convenience store groceries and gifts. Other popular choices: Gary’s Texaco in Jefferson and Mr. D’s (243) in Canton.
Dairy Palace, Canton. Even setting aside the obvious quality, the choices are tantalizing: varieties include bacon, chili, catfish, salmon, bison, and two kinds of vegetarian burgers. The old-fashioned burgers come in six sizes – fifth-pound, third-pound, and half-pound, with double meat available on each – and the main ingredient is fresh (not frozen) ground beef chuck processed on site. It’s all available 24 hours a day and, thanks to First Monday Trade Days crowds, it’s all world famous. Other popular choices: East Texas Burger Company in Mineola and The Old Fashioned Hamburger Store in Jefferson.
Dairy Palace, Canton. Blue Bell ice cream, real milk, and 36 flavors including moo-lennium crunch, chocolate chip cookie dough, caramel pecan fudge, pecan pralines and cream, cotton candy, and banana pudding along with basic vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Another popular choice: The General Store in Jefferson.
The Farmhouse, Van. Coconut, chocolate, pecan, buttermilk, fudge brownie, Dutch apple, buttermilk pecan are available daily. Special requests include lemon and season favorites including pumpkin – all good enough that two other restaurants getting votes buy their own pies from The Farmhouse. Other popular choices: House of Pies in Jefferson and Sweet Shoppe in Mount Vernon.
Edom Marketplace. The proof is in the “putting,” and this Walker Farms produce store with the big dining room includes its own vegetables on its lunch plates. There’s always a daily luncheon special along with sandwiches and salads, and breakfast in the mornings seven days a week. Edom Marketplace doubles as a small grocery store and deli with some of the usual produce offerings, homemade ice cream, cookbooks, relishes, and Watkins flavorings and soup kits. Another popular choice: Graham’s Edgewood Market.
Pizza Boy, Van. Most people get their pizzas to go, since there are few tables in these tiny parlors. Traditional toppings range across the usual; the “secret” is in the blend of cheeses, in the tomato sauce, and in, if requested, the garlic butter swiped onto the crust. Another popular choice: Bulldog Pizza in Jefferson.
Four Winds Steakhouse, Wills Point. The steaks – choice, hand-selected, aged, grain fed from the Midwest – are cut to order, seasoned, and put on the dinner grill by former Del Frisco chef Frank Rumore. Specialties include a fresh, 26-ounce bone-in rib eye with a brandy peppercorn sauce, pecan-breaded catfish, fried shrimp, and marinated grilled chicken breast served with fresh vegetables. There’s also the tomato mozzarella salad and New York-style cheesecake (with sour cream topping) made in the restaurant (once the home of Dallas Cowboys legend Lee Roy Jordan) which sits on an 1,100-acre tract next to a 15-acre pond. Quality wines also are available. Other popular choices: Stillwater Inn in Jefferson, Winnsboro Bakery & Café.
Edom Bakery & Grill, Tyler. Choose from shrimp Louis salad, chopped salad, blackened chicken Caesar, strawberry fields (with optional grilled chicken), quiche Lorraine, chicken salad plate, and an outstanding house salad and dressing. The “country gourmet” menus also feature eggs benedict, lox and bagels, frittatas, half-pound ’burger, barbecue, seafood, Italian specialties, steaks, and surprises. Baked goods are a staple. Other popular choices: Corner Café in Lake O the Pines, Olive Garden in Tyler.
Peralta’s, Quitman. Good hot sauce and salsa are about the taste, not the heat. And the chips have to be crisp, fresh, and complementary. Tasty chips that don’t break in the bowl. Also on the distinctive menus is Mexican shrimp cocktail. Other popular choices: Don Juan’s Mexican Restaurant in Jefferson, El Presidente in Brownsboro.
Winnsboro Bakery & Grill. Deli sandwiches served on homemade focaccia, sourdough, or honey-cracked wheat bread include smoked turkey breast; smoked ham; combo with ham, smoked turkey, and summer sausage; chicken salad, and peanut butter and jelly. Grilled sandwiches include Reuben, muffuletta, turkey, ham, pork tenderloin, French dip, Philly steak, and chicken Caesar. The menu also includes salads, soups, specialty dinners, and desserts. Other popular choices: The Bakery in Jefferson, Edom Bakery & Grill.
Fat Catz Louisiana Kitchen, Terrell. Fresh Gulf Coast seafood including crawfish, shrimp, and six different kinds of fish fried, grilled, blackened, broiled, or any other way customers want it. Three kinds of gumbo, fresh crawfish bisque, endui sausage, Asian-Cajun shrimp salad, hush puppies, jalapeno cornbread, garlic bread, red beans and rice, garlic mashed or baked potatoes, fries. Try the pasta LaSalle with scalloped shrimp, crawfish, and lobster meat in a roasted pepper cream sauce over fettuccini noodles. Another popular choice: Stillwater Inn in Jefferson.
Circle E Steakhouse and Market, Canton. Like good steakhouses anywhere, Circle E keeps it simple: meat cooked over an open flame, baked potato, one more vegetable, and rolls. The steaks are strip, sirloin, and rib eye weighing in at 12 to 14 ounces, and filet at eight ounces. Fast, friendly service in a clean, no-smoking atmosphere. During the prime weekend hours, there might be a short wait for a table. Other popular choices: Five D Cattle Company in Avinger and Petty’s in Lindale.
The Fudge Store, Jefferson. Freshly made fudge and pralines from the kitchen, along with jellies, sugar-free candies, and more. Assortment of antiques, collectibles, and books of local interest. Another popular choice: Calico Chocolates in Grand Saline.
Posado’s, Lindale. Fried tacos, quail fajitas, barbecue ribs, beef and chicken fajitas, and grilled and broiled specialties. There are also complimentary chips and salsa, honey and butter and sopapillas. This is one of 14 of the Tyler-based company’s locations from Shreveport to Dallas, founded on the premise of giving customers “a great value in a great building and wonderful service.” Other popular choices: Don Juan’s Mexican Restaurant in Jefferson and Two Senoritas in Canton and Mineola.
The Shed, Edom. Adds up to just a bit of friendly sass and confident posture with promptness, getting the order right, quick authentic smiles, and the willingness to take care of any problems with just enough (never too much) attention. New waitresses at the shed get three days of on-the-job, side-by-side-with-a-veteran training, observation, and “suggestions.” Other popular choices: Dairy Palace in Canton, Stillwater Inn in Jefferson.
Savannah Winery & Bistro, Canton. Texas wines from Brushy Creek Vineyards, Homestead Winery, Los Pinos Ranch, Lou Viney Cellars, Messina Hof, and Paris Vineyards. Broad selection of appetizers and lunch and dinner menus ranging from fruit and cheese plates to baked chicken topped with raspberry hazelnut dressing served with crackers to roast beef with gravy, salad, garlic mashed potatoes, bread, and dinner salad. Plus dessert of the day. Live music and entertainment Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Other popular choices: Los Pinos in Pittsburg, Lou Viney in Winnsboro.
BEST ANNUAL EVENT
Mardi Gras Upriver, Jefferson. Mardi Gras in Jefferson is a three day event (Feb. 1-3 this year) held the same weekend as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Historically, Mardi Gras was celebrated in Jefferson in the 19th century as a sign of the city’s cultural ties with New Orleans via the waterways of the Big Cypress Bayou, Caddo Lake, Twelve Mile Bayou, and the Red River. Other popular choices: Edgewood Heritage Festival, Fire Ant Festival in Marshall.
BEST AFTERNOON STROLL
Edom. In this distinctive arts community, stroll the main drag to shop for unique birdhouses, clothing and accessories, handmade jewelry, pottery, antiques and collectibles, and more. Eat at one of the three fine restaurants: Edom Bakery & Grill, Edom Marketplace, or the well-known Shed. If you’ve got car troubles, you can do all this while waiting on repairs at Edom Service Station, or just hang out on the front porch and listen to locals tell stories about Edom and anything else that crosses their minds. Other popular choices: First Monday grounds in Canton, downtown Jefferson.
BEST BED & BREAKFAST
Thee Hubbell House, Winnsboro. Tim, Gary, and Rebekah Carmichael host guests nestled within 400-year-old oak trees and beautifully landscaped gardens. Houses on the property feature period antiques in suites with specially furnished common areas that complement the estate’s historical essence. Other popular choices: Azalea B&B in Canton, Hale House in Jefferson, The Ranch at Selah Inn in northern Franklin County.
BEST BOOK STORE
Fred’s Books on the Bayou, Jefferson. Nestled in a two-story Colonial Revival house between the Excelsior Hotel and Big Cypress Bayou, Fred McKenzie, 89, mixes nearly 20,000 used books (and selected new ones) with cluttered memorabilia and his own local history books and those of other local authors. Fred’s there unless he’s riding his bike around town. He’s also adding a coffee bar and reading room. Another popular choice: Barnes & Noble in Tyler.
BEST HARDWARE STORE
Hilliard Hardware, Van. This maze of a place has been in business since 1951 (since 1978 in its current location) and customers regularly challenge staff with “I bet you don’t have . . .” Staff regularly comes up with it, off the shelves crammed with thousands of items: hardware, plumbing supplies, footwear, appliances, lumber, propane, computer cables, ice cream and other snacks, etc. It’s often quicker to stop at the front counter and ask for help than it is to find it yourself. Another popular choice: H & H Hardware in Jefferson.
BEST HEALTH FOOD STORE
Granary Street, Lindale. The little operation that began in Gladewater in 1991 now has 10 or so stores including five in the Upper East Side of Texas. What’s the secret? “Good people interested in others’ health, really good prices, and a full line of everything.” Lots of organic and natural food; several brands of vitamins, minerals, and herbs; “green foods” such as barley, alfalfa, chlorophyll, and spirolina; and the ability to fill all (or most) grocery shopping needs.
Excelsior Hotel, Jefferson. The Excelsior House has welcomed travelers since the late 1850s, including Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Lady Bird Johnson. The historic hotel with rich rosewood, cherry, and mahogany furnishings is built of brick and timber with lacy iron work gallery. The ballroom, dining room, and manicured grounds are elegant and tasteful, and the orange blossom muffins served daily at breakfast are tasty.
BEST LAKESIDE TOWN
Uncertain, Texas. This is, indeed, a town, not a refusal to commit. Tourism is a mainstay of this tiny, 150-resident community on the shore of storied Caddo Lake, a mecca for fisherfolk, birders, photographers, sightseers, canoers, and boaters with its heavily-forested bayous, sloughs, and channels that flow into the more open part of the lake. Other popular choices: Hideaway Lake and Holly Lake.
BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE
Crossroads Coffeehouse & Music Co., Winnsboro. Musicians Lynn Adler and Lindy Hearne – and Lindy’s daughter Kate – celebrated the downtown Winnsboro venue’s second anniversary in November, consistently bringing some of Texas’ and the nation’s best acoustic acts to the Upper East Side of Texas nearly every weekend. Other popular choices: Auntie Skinners, Jefferson, Gater’s Sports Bar and Grill, Gun Barrel City, Music City Texas in Linden, Wildwood Coffeehouse in Tyler.
Tyler Museum of Art. The growing permanent collection features more than 600 works including paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures by artists such as James Surls, Vernon Fisher, Alexander Calder, Terry Allen, and Charles Umlauf. From its inception, the museum concentrated on exhibitions of 19th and 20th century art and gained recognition for its emphasis on the work of emerging contemporary artists from Texas and surrounding states. For the past few years, exhibitions have included a greater variety of styles as the museum has worked to more fully represent the diversity and interests of the community. The hass two major exhibition galleries on the ground floor and a smaller gallery on the upper level as well as a library, classroom, café, and gift shop. Other popular choices: Edgewood Heritage Park Museum and Grand Saline Salt Palace.
BEST SMALL-TOWN THEATRE PLAY
“Barefoot in the Park,” Quitman Community Theatre. Marriage of Neil Simon’s “detonatingly funny” dialogue, an experienced cast, and a responsive audience for what was purportedly one of the “best performances ever in East Texas.” Another popular choice: “I Married a Country Doctor,” Van Zandt Community Theatre.
BEST POOL HALL
VFW Van Zandt Memorial Post 9171, Canton. Nine-ball tournaments every Monday night and eight-ball tournaments every Wednesday and Friday night on five well-spaced tables. The entry fee is $5, and the public is welcome. Another popular choice: Clicks in Tyler.
BEST RV PARK
Mill Creek Ranch RV Park & Cottage Resort, Canton. Takes a new approach to living on the road with its slogan “leisure at its finest.” The 200-acre, wooded park near the First Monday grounds offers cottages and RV sites along with an outdoor pavilion, gazebo, cabana, and other facilities for all sorts of events and gatherings including company barbeques, family reunions, etc. Other popular choices: Diamond Don’s RV Park on the River and Cypress Bayou RV Park, both in Jefferson.
BEST SCENIC DRIVE
Backroads all over the Upper East Side of Texas. Forget Interstate 20. Forget, just for a moment, the charms of Hwy. 80. Even forget the roads through tiny Uncertain, Poetry, Fate, Moscow, Mars, Weeping Mary, etc. To really “find yourself” someplace else, go deep into the backroads looking for remnants of leftover old communities like Big Rock.
BEST RADIO DJ
Tom Perryman, Tyler. Heard 9-11 a.m. on KKUS-FM 104.1, Tom celebrated 60 years in radio and 80 years on Earth in 2007. The Disc Jockey Hall of Fame and Texas Country Music Hall of Fame member got his start in radio in 1947 at KEBE in Jacksonville, and promoted stars including Jim Ed Brown, Hank Thompson, and Elvis Presley as a DJ at KSIJ in Gladewater. Tom once co-owned KGRI in Henderson with Jim Reeves.
BEST RADIO STATION
KMOO 99.9 FM, Mineola. “Real country” music with a Texas flavor that includes Robert Earl Keen and Miranda Lambert, and also Kacey Musgraves and Lauren Alexander and Tommy Alverson and Max Stalling. Jason Hightower’s station features weather, local and state news, local sports, Texas Aggie football, NASCAR, a popular call-in swap-and-sell show, and more.
“Best Place in Town to Take a Leak,” East Texas Radiator, Canton. People sometimes call the shop just to say they like the heck out of the slogan, which certainly is an attention getter for the radiator business and for the new muffler shop. It’s tried and true, in use for about 13 years now on all of the advertising, the sign out front, the business cards, and the truck. Other popular choices: Henry Lewis Chevrolet’s “I’ll meet you at 2 in the morning if I know you’re coming,” and the state’s anti-litter slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas.”
BEST SMALL-TOWN DOWNTOWN
Winnsboro. With the region’s best acoustic music venue in Crossroads Coffeehouse and Music Co., Trails County Center for the Arts, and quality downtown restaurants including LouViney, Winnsboro Bakery & Grill, and the highly anticipated Cibo Vino, Winnsboro is an evening entertainment magnet for locals, regional, and “weekend” East Texans commuting from the city. Other attractions include Copper Leaf Day Spa, The Frame Shoppe & Gallery, Mossman Guitars shop, a variety of additional gift shops for daytime shopping, the newly renovated train depot and visitors’ center, and lodging adjacent to downtown. Other popular choices: Edom, Jefferson, Mineola.
www.jefferson-texas.com , Marion County Chamber of Commerce. Graphically interesting, not too much clutter, lots of clearly written information promoting the area without too much hype, and loads fairly fast. Other popular choices: www.countylinemagazine.com , www.myspace.com/imagewarehouse
BEST ART GALLERY
Whatley Center for the Performing Arts at Northeast Texas Community College, Mount Pleasant. Plenty of performing arts, as the name implies, but this center also hosts student and faculty art and numerous visiting art shows the during the year, as well as theater and music classrooms. The facility features a theatre with modern, instructional stage and seating for 570. Other popular choices: The Frame Shoppe & Gallery in Winnsboro, Texas Art & Frame in Sulphur Springs.
Cheryl Hicks, Athens. The Athens High School photography and writing teacher publishes prose and poetry in literary journals and her mixed-media canvases have been shown across Texas and in New York. Her work is showcased at the Image Warehouse in Athens. Other popular choices: Cindy Kent at Clayworks in Mount Vernon, Terry Ward in Jefferson.
BEST BARBER STYLIST
Michael Lenz, Image Warehouse, Athens. Popular hair stylist by day and arts entrepreneur by night, Michael’s styling ranges from the traditional to the trendy in his art-filled salon in an old warehouse just north of downtown. He also sells quality hair-care product lines. Michael and his wife, Catherine, host a live music venue, an art gallery, photography and art studios, and a performing arts space for community art education and enjoyment. Image Warehouse’s goal is to create a place where no boundaries exist. Other popular choices: Mike Thrash at Lone Star Barber Shop in Canton, singing barber Russell Cooner at Fugler’s Barber Shop in Jefferson.
Jackson York, Edom Bakery & Grill. Jackson York, a certified executive chef, joined Edom Bakery & Grill full time after previously hosting the grill’s once-a-month gourmet dinners. Educated in French-Continental cuisine, he now specializes in “country gourmet” after moving to Edom from Fort Worth, having met co-owner Annie Berry, with her husband Bud, at a couple of cooking classes he taught. Other popular choices: Frank Rumore at Four Winds Steakhouse in Winnsboro, Bill Stewart at Stillwater Inn in Jefferson.
Mathew Greer, Mineola. With a recurring role on the “Friday Night Lights” TV show and roles in the movies “No Country For Old Men,” “The Mist,” “Ruffian,” and “The Wendell Baker Story,” Mat still finds time for his touring stage version of “Driving Miss Daisy” and, in partnership with Gary Martin, making an independent film with local actors, with filming tentatively scheduled to begin in late January. Other popular choices: Marcia Thomas in Jefferson, Theresa Skinner in Mineola, Kelly Farris in Mineola.
Monica Carter, Auntie Skinners, Jefferson. Monica must be good. She works in this popular Jefferson site only on Friday nights and sometimes on Saturdays while she goes to school the rest of the week. Co-workers call her a “fantastic waitress and a good bartender” because of her personality and the friendly way she takes care customers.
Other popular choices: too many to list.