Best of the Upper East Side of Texas 2010



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The growing variety of dining and entertainment options and other attractions in this region can be mind boggling, but is mostly enjoyable. Each January, County Line Magazine offers up some examples of the “best,” although that’s a subjective and personal word for each of us. Here are readers choices for the “Best of the Upper East Side of Texas” for 2010.

Check them out. All of them. And let us know who else should be in the running for 2011, and what categories might need to be added.

Best Barbecue

Bodacious Bar B Q in Sulphur Springs: Draws customers from much of the world as license plates on the wall and push pins on the map show. Owner Galen Adams grew up in the mostly East Texas chain begun by his uncle Roland Lindsey with an idea based on top quality meats, a secret sauce, and a pile of hickory, oak, and pecan for cooking. The menu offers plate dinners, sandwiches, side, daily specials, a variety of family packs to go, and catering. 1220 Mockingbird, 903.885.6456. Runners up: Cibo BBQ in Winnsboro and Cowboy’s in Wills Point.

Best Breakfast

Kitchen’s in Mineola: Sometimes known as the Texas Original Hardware/Deli, the breakfast menu on weekday mornings ranges from three-egg omelets to migas (a corn tortilla with egg, tomatoes, onion and jalapeno to pancakes with traditional breakfast meats. The novelty-filled hardware store that shares the space opened in 1899. Deli sandwiches and blackberry cobbler are on the lunch menu, and steaks are on the dinner menu on Friday and Saturday nights. 119 E Broad, 903.569.2236, www.kitchenshardwareanddeli.com. Runners up: Edom Bakery & Grill and Lone Star Grill in Wills Point.

Best Catfish

Red Barn in Wills Point: All-you-can-eat, dine-in buffet on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights includes fried catfish, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, fries, hushpuppies, salad, coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, baked potatoes, cobblers, ice cream, and drink. You can get order to go, too. It’s all reasonably priced for adults 12 and older ($12.95), seniors 60-plus ($10.95), children 5-11 ($6.50), and children younger than five ($2.50). Thursday-Saturday 5-9 p.m. Interstate 20 at FM 47. 903.873.-8645, www.robertsonsham-willspoint.com/Redbarn. Runners up: Lake Athens Marina and Rocky’s in Grand Saline.

Best Chicken Fried Steak

Double C Steakhouse in Winnsboro: Opened in 2007 in the historic Bowery section of Winnsboro, there’s an extensive menu of appetizers; soups, stews, and sides; Angus steaks; barbecue beef, ham, and turkey; chicken; catfish and shrimp; and burgers. The belly-busting, plate-covering chicken-fried steaks with salad, baked potato, white gravy, and Texas toast is one of the most popular selections. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. 206 Market, 903.342.3111, www.doublecsteakhouse.com. Runners up: Texas Tea Room in Quitman and The Shed in Edom.

Best Coffee

Arts & Espresso in Winnsboro: The variety of aromatic and tasty coffee drinks includes espressos (naturally), lattes, cappuccino, café mochas, café au laits, regular and decaffeinated house blends, and adventurous combinations iced or hot. Owners Marilyn Arnaud and Jim Hollowell also offer an ever-changing menu of pastries, ice cream, and sandwiches with the coffee and other drinks. On Friday or Saturday night, you might catch some live music or even a poetry reading. Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m. 217 Market, 903.342.3343, www.artandespresso.com. Runners up: Mount Sylvan Coffee Shop and Rockwell’s in Lindale.

Best Place for Gas, Grub & Groceries

WAG-A-BAG #08 in Pittsburg. In addition to gas (Mobil) and basic groceries, visitors to this longtime Pittsburg landmark can get touted burgers, chicken, burritos, and hot wings any time, and during the week can choose sandwiches or even hot lunches from the full deli kitchen. Monday-Saturday 5 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday – the day or “rest” for staff – from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. 403 S. Greer, 903.856.2491. Runners up: Mr D’s at Hwys 243 and 19 in Canton and Martin’s Mill Store.

Best Hamburger

Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler: There’s the classic burger, of course, plus the Oh So Blue topped with homemade bleu cheese mayo, an onion ring, and applewood-smoked bacon, the chili cheese burger, the patty melt, and the mushroom burger. There are also daily specials plus a menu of salads, sandwiches, side orders, and fried pies (which are really, for the health conscious among us, baked). Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Thursday, through Saturday 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. 1551 FM 279. 903.833.5100, www.benwheelertx.com/moores-store. Runners up: Edom Bakery & Grill, Dairy Palace in Canton, and East Texas Burger Company in Mineola.

Best Malt/Shake

Dairy Palace in Canton: Thirty-six flavors available, all made as diners watch with Blue Bell ice cream and real milk. Basic vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry along with moo-lennium crunch, chocolate chip cookie dough, caramel pecan fudge, pecan pralines and cream, cotton candy, banana pudding, and more at this consistently popular, self-proclaimed world famous site with a wide-ranging breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 2203 N. Trade Days (Hwy 19 just south of I20), 903-567-6551, www.dairypalace.com. Runners up: Charley’s in Wills Point, Dairy Queen in Quitman, and Edom Bakery & Grill.

Best Pie

Edom Bakery & Grill. Selection of made-on-the-spot pies (and other desserts) includes coconut cream, chocolate cream, lemon cream, German chocolate, buttermilk, pecan, cranberry apple, apple, fudge brownie, chocolate chip, key lime, cherry, and peach. Not all of the varieties are available every day, but there are more than enough choices to fill a tummy and tantalize the taste buds. All pastries baked daily, including cakes, cookies, bread, and more special desserts; special orders with 24-hour notice. Monday-Wednesday 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m.-8 p.m. FM 314 at Hwy 279, 903.852.5552, www.edombakery.com. Runners up: The Butcher Shop in Longview and Tea Room on the Square in Canton.

Best Pizza

Cibo Vino in Winnsboro: Pizza isn’t all that’s on the tasty and extensive Italian and Mediterranean menu, but the Napolitano style pizzas from the wood-fired ovens are a treat. Offerings including margherita, Tuscan olive, meatball, white cheese, Quattro formaggi (mozzarella, feta, parmesan, and smoked gouda), balsamic glazed pomodoro (tomatoes, olives, onion, mozzarella, and basil), and chipotle chicken topped with the house salad. Wednesday and Thursday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Saturday 5-10 p.m. only. 218 N. Main, 903.342.0028. www.cibovinoitalian.com. Runners up: Val’s Italian in Canton and Bruno’s in Tyler.

Best Produce

Efurd Orchards in Pittsburg: Grows its own fruits and vegetables on family land, with more than 150 acres of peach trees plus more land figs, plums, pecans, potatoes, okra, onions, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelons, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peas and beans, and peppers. Plus peach syrup; peach cobbler, jams, preserves, and jellies; ice cream; salad dressings; hot sauces; cider; and unusual specialties such as Dr Pepper cake and frostings and peach and onion salsa. Hwy 271 three miles south of Pittsburg, 903.856.2253, http://efurdorchards.com. Runners up: Graham’s Produce in Edgewood and Goodson Family Market in Canton.

Best Restaurant

Four Winds in Wills Point: Known for its steaks, Four Winds also features chef Frank Rumore’s seafood (scallops, crab cakes, BBQ shrimp, shrimp remoulade, lobster, catfish), pork chops, beef tips and noodles, grilled chicken breasts, salads, and sides (glazed carrots, mushrooms and onions, baked potatoes, asparagus, creamed spinach, green beans, creamed corn). Steaks include rib eye, filet mignon, New York strip, chicken-fried beef tenderloin, and even a steak salad. Plus cabernet sauvignons, merlots, pinot noirs, chardonnays, zinfandels, and other wines. Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. 21191 FM 47, 903.873.2225, www.fourwindssteakhouse.com. Runners up: Cibo Vino in Winnsboro and Edom Bakery and Grill.

Best Salsa & Chips

Peralta’s in Winnsboro: What define a good tortilla chip? Crisp, fresh, tasty, and free. Thin, but strong enough that it won’t break in the bowl or on the way to the mouth loaded with salsa. And the salsa itself – chunkier than thin – is more about taste than heat. 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. seven days a week. 903.342.5303, 813 S Main. Runner up: Ochoa’s in Canton.

Best Salad

Sweet Pea Bistro in Athens: Spinach (baby spinach tossed with dried cranberries, smoked bacon bits, pistachios, tomatoes, vinaigrette), chicken (homemade chicken salad served in a baby iceberg bowl with balsamic vinaigrette), and broccoli (chopped broccoli mixed with onions, bacon bits, house dressing), all served with nut bread and fruit. Also gourmet sandwiches, desserts, and drinks in the retail area of The Sweet Pea Collection & Winnie & Tulula’s. Wednesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. plus Friday and Saturday nights open until 9 p.m. BYOB. Great dinner menu includes steaks, Chilean sea bass, calamari,... 119 E. Tyler, 903.677.6868, www.facebook.com/sweetpeabistro. Runners up: Our Special Touch in Mount Pleasant and Edom Bakery & Grill.

Best Sandwich

Loose Meat at Mojo’s in Holly Lake: “Best loose meat cheeseburger you will ever have,” said one customer. And, “Great food, great service, good atmosphere. The owners are very attentive to their customers.” The sandwich comes with grilled onions, two kinds of cheese, lettuce, pickle, and tomato on ciabatta. There are also other sandwiches plus half-pound all-beef hot dogs, pizza, salads, stuffed spuds, and breakfast until 11 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday 7 a.m.-8 p.m. 2129 S FM 2869, 903.769.1000. Runners up: Edom Bakery & Grill and The Forge in Ben Wheeler.

Best Seafood

Johnny Cace’s in Longview: The extensive menu and special ambience that can only be found in a restaurant more than 60 years old, makes this restaurant a shoe in for Best Seafood. See reviews and learn more on page 11. Open Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday/Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.1501 E. Marshall Ave (Hwy 80). 903.753.7691. www.johnnycaces.com. Runner up: Four Winds in Wills Point.

Best Steak

Four Winds in Wills Point: Diners who want to stick with the steak here can start with the 26-ounce bone-in ribeye with brandy peppercorn sauce if you’re really hungry. Or there’s the six- or 10-ounce filet mignon, the 12- or 14-ounce New York strip, or the 12- or 14-ounce ribeye. Or chicken-fried beef tenderloin, beef tips and noodles, or even the steak salad (broiled steak, baby lettuce, grilled asparagus, tomatoes and crispy fried onions with blue cheese-balsamic vinaigrette). Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. 21191 FM 47, 903.873.2225, www.fourwindssteakhouse.com. Runners up: Double C Steakhouse in Winnsboro and 5D Cattle Company in Avinger.

Best Sweets

Sweet Shop USA in Mount Pleasant: Family-owned producer of handmade chocolates features more than 100 options including various Truffles, Famous Brags®, Nuts and Chewies, and its signature Fudge Love®. All-natural ingredients are simmered in large kosher copper kettles. The chocolates are distributed to Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Lord & Taylor, Hallmark, Hallmark Flowers, Central Market, Whole Foods, and other stores. The outlet store is open to the public Monday-Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. 1316 Industrial. 903.575.5505, sweetshopsusa.com. Runners up: Mary of Puddin Hill in Greenville and Edom Bakery & Grill.

Best Tex-Mex

Mercado’s in Tyler. The menu doesn’t stop here with the full complement of traditional Tex-Mex appetizers and entrees. There are also steak, seafood, chicken, and quail entrees and, for those who need hardier liquids, a private club. Festive decorations adorn the walls of the numerous rooms, and the service is so attentive that it can sometimes be on the point of hovering. Established in 1987, Mercado’s is the forerunner of the popular and expanding Posado’s group. 2214 W Southwest Loop 323. 903.534.1754, www.posados.com. Runners up: Los Pinos in Ben Wheeler and Peralta’s in Winnsboro.

Best Winery

Tara Vineyard and Winery in Athens: Varieties and labels produced in East Texas and elsewhere include Texas Blanc du Bois, American Chardonnay, Angel’s Kiss (Blanc du Bois with a citrus introduction), Something Sweet white, Lenoir Blush, Southern Sunset,  (light, tangy sweet red wine blend), Sweet Scarlet Rose (full-bodied sweet red), Stagecoach Red blend, American Merlot, American Syrah, Gone with the Zin American Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, and Cynthiana. Tastings of all of the wines are available. Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-early evening/sunset. Saturday opens 2 p.m.8603 CR 3914, 903.675.7023, www.tarawinery.com. Runners up: Los Pinos in Pittsburg and Kiepersol in Bullard.

Best Annual Event

Fire Ant Festival in Marshall: Nobody likes the pest called the fire ant, but everybody likes the festival in its name every second week in October since 1982: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” There’s a parade, a bicycle “Tour de Fire Ant,” a 5K “Six Feet on the Street” run, dominos and rubber chicken throwing contests, kids’ activities, a chili cook-off and more. Plus plenty of food. W. Austin, Wellington, and W. Rusk streets. 903.935.7868, www.marshall-chamber.com. Runners up: Fall Feral Hog Festival in Ben Wheeler and Autumn Trails in Winnsboro.

Best Attraction

The Eiffel Tower in Paris. Texas, that is. With a giant red cowboy hat on top. Yes, it’s a 65-foot-tall (plus the hat) replica of the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, and it draws quite a few visitors, too. That’s just one of the ways you show civic pride in a town that local residents like sometimes like to refer to as the second largest Paris in the world. Hwy 82 at the corner of Jefferson and S. Collegiate next to Love Civic Center. 903.739.9912. Runners up: Edgewood Heritage Park Historical Village and the Museum for East Texas Culture in Palestine.

 

Best Bed & Breakfast

Pecan House B&B in Pittsburg: With carefully restored original timber floors, high decorated ceilings, and architectural features, this home evokes a Victorian residence. The law library can seat 20, and the Chelsea Lounge is a popular setting with diners. Home-cooked English gourmet breakfasts, lunches, afternoon teas, and gourmet dinners. For a small fee, take a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Silver Spur to nearby Los Pinos vineyard and winery. Available for corporate lunches and other events. Pecan House Bed and Breakfast.212 College, 903.856.5504, www.pecanhousebnb.com. Runners up: Rose Manor in Wills Point, Thee Hubble House in Winnsboro, and Hunter’s Moon Farmhouse in Winnsboro.

Best Birdwatching

Mineola Nature Preserve: At various times of the year, diligent birders and other visitors have claimed to spot wood ducks; mallards; snowy and great egrets; great blue, little blue, and black-crowned night herons; belted kingfishers; great horned, eastern screech, and barred owls; red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks; Carolina chickadees and wrens; tufted titmouses; northern cardinals; red-bellied and downy woodpeckers; prothonotary warblers; northern parulas; swallow-tailed kites; painted and indigo buntings; blue grosbeaks; summer tanagers; eastern kingbirds and wood-peewees; blue-gray gnatcatcher; white eyed, yellow-throated, and red-eyed vireos; wood storks; northern bobwhites; greater roadrunners; various wading birds, and more. On the Sabine River between Mineola and Lindale on Hwy 69: 903.569.8228, www.mnpfriends.org. Runners up: East Texas Arboretum in Athens and Tyler State Park.

Best Bookstore

Beauty and the Book in Jefferson: It’s the only hair salon/book store in the world with a shrine to Oxford American Magazine and then-publisher John Grisham is a magnet of sorts for authors as the home base for the more than 300 Pulpwood Queen Book Clubs. The bookstore features local and regional books, children’s books, beauty and girlfriend books, official Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club selections, and owner Kathy Patrick’s own book, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life. More than 500 authors and other celebrities have visited the store. 608 N. Polk, 903.665.7520, www.beautyandthebook.com. Runners up: Books a Million in Longview and Barnes & Noble in Tyler.

Best Camping Spot

Tyler State Park north of Tyler: The 985.5 acres include a 64-acre lake. Activities include picnicking, camping, boating, fishing, birding, hiking, mountain biking, lake swimming (unsupervised), and nature study. Campsites ($13-$20 a night) include 37 tent sites with water, 20 with electric and water hook-ups, and 57 with electric, water and sewer hook-ups. Other facilities include restrooms with and without showers; picnic sites with one pavilion, and a dining hall with a full kitchen for day-use only. The park store seasonally rents boats and mountain bikes. 789 Park Road 16, 903.597.5338, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/tyler. Runner up: Lake Tawakoni State Park.

Best County Courthouse

Hopkins County in Sulphur Springs: Built in 1895 and restored, the Romanesque Revival, pink granite and red sandstone structure is a Texas and national historic landmark occupying the northeast corner of the spacious town square. Massive Roman arches at the entrances are topped by second-story porticos which are crowned by third-story open porches. The courthouse, designed by J. Riely Gordon, received the East Texas Historical Association 2005 Lucille Terry Historical Preservation Award. Downtown. 903.438.4006, www.hopkinscountytx.org. Runners up: Henderson County in Athens and Van Zandt in Canton.

Best Dance Hall

Star Dust Dance Barn in Edgewood: A 2,100-square-foot dance floor which dominates the building, with picnic-size tables line both sides. Most people come to dance, some to learn, some for fellowship in the space built by Dorothy Miller. The Star Dust hosts country dancing with a live band– waltz, two-step, line, a bit of jitterbug, drawing 75 to 125 or so smoke-free, alcohol-free people – from teens to octogenarians, leaning heavily toward the older side. County Road 1113, 903.873.8023, countrydancer@wildblue.net. Runner up: Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler.

Best Fishing Hole

Lake Fork between Yantis and Quitman: Sitting on 27,264 acres with a maximum depth of 70 feet, the predominant fish species are largemouth bass, crappie, channel cats, white bass, and sunfish. A combination of restrictive harvest regulations, stocking of Florida strain largemouth, and abundant habitat has contributed to Lake Fork’s development as one of the country’s premier trophy bass lakes. More than 65% of the Texas top 50 largest bass (including the current state record) were caught in Lake Fork. On the Sabine River in Hopkins, Rains and Wood counties. 903.878.2262, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fork. Runner up: Lake Cypress Springs near Mount Pleasant.

Best Golf Course

Links at Land’s End in Yantis: The 18-hole, 6,664-yard course is somewhat challenging at par 71. One hole literally ends on a peninsula jutting out into the waters of Lake Fork and half of the holes are along the shore of Lake Fork. The other half of the holes meander through the trees and among some nice homes. The PGA member staff is knowledgeable and friendly. Avid Golfer rated it as the #1 Hidden Gem. Approximate weekend price range: $45.00 to $59.00. 285 Private Road 5980, 903.383.3290, www.golflakefork.com. Runners up: Garden Valley Golf Resort and Twin Lakes in Canton.

Best Hotel/Motel

The Excelsior House in Jefferson: Welcoming guests with elegance and taste since the late 1850s, including Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Lady Bird Johnson. Southern charm graces this historic hotel with rich rosewood, cherry, and mahogany furnishings that are an antique lover’s delight. Beautifully appointed ballroom, dining room, and manicured grounds. Each room has its own private bath with shower, cable television, and telephone. Rooms approximately $90-$160. Each additional person age four and older $20. Constructed of brick and timber, with lacy iron work gallery. 211 W. Austin. 903.665.2513. www.theexcelsiorhouse.com. Runner up: Best Western Mineola.

Best Improved Small Town

Ben Wheeler: Almost fading away after World War II, the small Van Zandt County community thrives again today thanks to Ben Wheeler Development Company and Ben Wheeler Arts & Historical Foundation. The popular Moore’s Store and the newly opened Forge both feature popular menus and live music on most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. There’s also the Scoots ‘n’ Scoops Blue Bell store and motorcycle museum and other unique stores downtown: Flying Fish Gallery, Players, Antiques & Texas Heritage, Whimzee, Sojourn Gallery, Harrison & Son KnifeSmith, Wagon Wheel Forge & Gallery, and the new one in the blue building called Rave Art Gallery that houses Steel Metals and other artists. Hwys 773 and 279 south of Hwy 64. 903.833.1070, www.benwheelertx.com. Runners up: Sulphur Springs and Winnsboro.

Best Lakeside Town

Gun Barrel City: On the eastern shore of Cedar Creek Lake, this community grew from 60 residents in 1970 to a booming 5,145 in the last census; surely it’s considerably more now. The name is derived from its motto, “We shoot Straight with You.” It began as an unincorporated area known as the Old Bethel Community and once sheltered outlaws including Bonnie and Clyde. After completion of the lake, and was incorporated on May 26, 1969. Today, it’s grown into the central hub and access point for the lake and draws lots of visitors, particularly during the summer boating season. 903.887.1087, www.gunbarrelcity.net. Runners up: Hideaway and Yantis.

Best Live Music Venue

Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Eclectic mix of original and cover music three nights a week, ranging from country to big-band jazz to classic rock plus a menu that includes burgers, daily specials, appetizers, and beer and wine. The big-band East Texas Jazz Orchestra plays once a month; Bugs Henderson blisters his guitar from time to time, and other local and regional bands including Tommy Alverson, Max Stalling, blacktopGYPSY, Wesley Pruitt Band, WhiskeyFish, and others. There’s even room for some dancing. Thursday-Saturday music begins at 7 p.m. 1551 FM 279, 903.833.5100, www.benwheelertx.com. Runners up: Southern Junction in Rockwall and Music City Texas in Linden.

Best Museum

The Longview Museum of Fine Arts: Founded in 1958 with consulting assistance from Jerry Bywaters, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, the museum’s permanent collection of more than 300 paintings, etchings, woodcuts, photographs, works on paper, lithographs, serigraphs, collages, and sculpture rotate through the main Wrather Gallery. The adjoining Premier I and II galleries host well-regarded traveling exhibits six times a year and the Judge J.T. Smith Sculpture Garden rotates exhibits annually. Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday noon-4 p.m. 215 E. Tyler Street, 903-753-8103www.lmfa.org. Runners up: Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Center (with its Ezekial Airship) in Pittsburg and Mineola Historical Museum.

Best Nature Walk

Mineola Nature Preserve: Nearly 3,000 acres includes a bluebird trail, live beehive, equestrian trails, chimney swift roost, herds of longhorns and buffalos, a sensory garden, and wildflower area. Along the approximately four miles of handicapped accessible trails, there are observation platforms for viewing the local wildlife. Future projects are a mountain bike trail, a rest area along the river for canoes and kayaks, and more foot trails. The City of Mineola is also working with some outside entities in creating a mini ecosystem for educational programs. On the Sabine River between Mineola and Lindale on Hwy 69: 903.569.8228, www.mnpfriends.org. Runners up: East Texas Arboretum in Athens and Tyler State Park.

Best Park

Caddo Lake State Park: Caddo Indian legend attributes the formation of the picturesque lake to a giant flood. Scientists believe the lake formed when floodwaters, blocked by massive log jams on the Red River, backed up into the Cypress Bayou watershed. Thick bald cypress and a tangle of aquatic plants thrive in the waters at Caddo Lake State Park. Fishing is excellent. Other activities include camping, hiking, swimming, picnicking, nature study, and boating. It was the only natural lake in Texas until it was artificially dammed in the early 1900s when oil was found and in 1914 for flood control in 1914. 245 Park Rd 2, Karnack. 903.679.3351, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/caddo_lake. Runners up: Children’s Park and Bergfeld Park both in Tyler.

Best RV Park

Mill Creek Ranch RV & Cottage Resort in Canton. Named Texas Park of the Year by the  Texas Association of Campground Owners & Texas Recreational Vehicle Association, the site has well-designed and appointed RV sites, and landscaped cottages on well kept grounds plus a grand lodge, outdoor pavilion, pools, and gardens. Also hosts corporate and social events, occasional music festivals, and RV rallies. A typical visitor comment: “I don’t think we have ever stayed at a nicer campground in 20 years of travel. Without exception, every employee was friendly and helpful. They all made us feel like family.” Hwy 19 just south of I20. 903.567.7275, www.millcreekranchresort.com. Runners up: Lake Athens Marina and Governor Jim Hogg City Park in Quitman.

Best Sign

Moon Pie/RC mural in downtown Ben Wheeler: The mural of a country boy enjoying a Moon Pie and an RC, painted by Brent Hale, conjures olden and seemingly simpler times. It fills the south wall on the side of the Scoots ‘n’ Scoops ice cream shop, motorcycle museum, and t-shirt emporium. 903.833.1070, www.benwheelertx.com. Runners up: mural on Canton’s downtown square and, one voter commented, “my pulse.”

Best Slogan

“I’ll meet you at 2 in the morning if I know you’re coming.” The longtime and widely known through his radio commercials advertising slogan for Canton Chevrolet dealer Henry Lewis signals a friendly, customer-focused desire to sell you a car. Runner up: selection of puns on Ben Wheeler t-shirts including Ben Addiction, Has Ben, Ben Naughty, I Ben Had, etc. – all focused around the straightforward and serious sign “Ben Wheeler Matters.”

Best Small Town Downtown

Mineola: With a plethora of good restaurants, coffee shops, antique stores, and other retail along the Hwy 80 and Hwy 69 junction, and with its own Amtrak train station, downtown is a magnet for regional and even further away shoppers. The first city government was organized in 1873 and the town incorporated in 1877 as a railroad and farming center. Downtown even has one of the region’s few remaining theaters, the historic Select, which hosts first-run movies, stage plays, concerts, and more. 903.569.2087, www.mineolachamber.org. Runners up: Jefferson and Sulphur Springs.

Best Artist

Georgia Lange Moore, Winnsboro: Georgia studied sculpture under Octavio Medallin and has taught art at Calvary Lutheran School in Dallas at Northeast Texas Community College. Her work can be seen in her own studio and at museums in Pittsburg and Mount Vernon, and is available at The Frame Up Gallery in Mount Vernon. Her next scheduled show is in April at the Franklin County Arts Alliance in Museum. In 2004, Georgia married another artist, sculptor Al Moore, and together they operate Bent Pine Studios. 903.365.2536, www.bentpinestudios.com. Runners up: Joe Hopps in Edom and Paige Bridges in Wills Point.

Best Art Gallery

P’s Gallery in Longview. The focus in this 800-square-foot space is mostly on local and regional artists, and the quality of the work is outstanding. The current show will be on the walls (and, in some cases, on the floor) through January. The show – a mix of paintings in several styles and of sculpture – features six local artists, two regional artists, and one from New York: Joshua Kight, Robert Jessup, Stacy Deslatte, Dennis O’Bryant, Cece Bode, Paul Anderson, Jan Statman, Melinda Buie, and Cheryl McClure. A new show will go up during the first week of February. 712 Glencrest, Suite B. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. 903.212.2626. Runner up: Flying Fish Gallery in Ben Wheeler.

Best Barber/Hair Stylist

Dana Johnson at Salon Elegance by Dana in Winnsboro. In business in Winnsboro since 1993, and at Salon Elegance for a year or so, Dana offers hair cuts, coloring, tanning, and waxing for men and women. Her “secret,” she says, is listening to the clients and giving them what they want. Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; later by appointment. 403 Beavers, 903.342.6688, www.salonelegancebydana.com. Runners up: Stan Brown at City Barber Shop in Wills Point

Best Chef

Jeff Redden at Sweet Pea Bistro in Athens. Jeff, a Dallas native, had a fine dining restaurant in Oklahoma but moved back to the Cedar Creek Lake area and was shopping with his wife Misty one day at Sweet Pea Collections in Athens. He noticed the bistro, got into a conversation with owner Gloria Kerzee, and she hired both of them on the spot. His specialty is Italian cooking – he trained in Italy – and he’ll gladly create something on the spot to satisfy a customer’s whims. Wednesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. plus Friday and Saturday nights open until 9 p.m. BYOB. Great dinner menu includes steaks, Chilean sea bass, calamari,... 119 E. Tyler, 903.677.6868, www.facebook.com/sweetpeabistro. Runner up: Jackson York at Edom Bakery & Grill.

Best Play

“Sanders Family Christmas: Smoke on the Mountain II,” presented by Quitman Community Theatre. The second in a trilogy of bluegrass gospel musicals features music from the “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou” era as the Sanders family tries to witness the community of the fictional Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. It’s a loosely structured review in which group numbers are spaced out between solos, and punctuated with a few character-developing monologues. 903.967.2164, www.qctheatre.org. Runners up: “The Altos” and “Scrooge,” both at Winnsboro Center for the Arts, and “Man of La Mancha” at Lake Country Theater in Mineola.

Best Small Theatre Co.

Quitman Community Theatre: Founders Becky and Bob Hibbard have been involved in live theatrical productions in the past in other communities, and brought that love with them when they moved to Quitman in 2004. The group’s goals include providing quality theatrical productions, introduce theater to new fans, helping local actors perform, teach aspiring actors, and providing scholarships to deserving Quitman High School drama students while helping “make the world a better place by the infusion of culture into our society.” Performances are at Carroll Green Civic Center, 602 S McAllister. 903.967.2164, www.qctheatre.org. Runners up: Lake Country Playhouse in Mineola and Talent Box in Wills Point.

 

Best Theatre

Actor/Actress

Bob Hibbard of Quitman Community Theatre: Bob is QCT’s artistic director and has been acting for 40 years. He’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists and has performed with Denzel Washington, James Woods, Peter Fonda, Brian Dennehy, Yvonne DeCarlo, James Farentino, and many others. He’s had lead roles in “The Odd Couple,” “Oliver!,” “Peter Pan,”” How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and more. Bob is also a licensed auctioneer, a Mensan, and a retired prison warden. Runners up: Keith Haisten and Michael Phifer.

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