Best of the Upper East Side of Texas
Synonyms for “the best” include choicest, coolest, finest, foremost, greatest, nonpareil, outstanding, perfect, preeminent, premium, second to none, terrific, tops, transcendent, unparalleled, unrivaled, and unsurpassed. And, oddly, “bad,” if used with the right tone of voice. All of those help describe some of the best of the Upper East Side of Texas for 2012, providing a primo road map for discovering excellence.
Here are the choices for the unequaled places to go and things to see, until more challengers come along to knock them off.
It’s all a matter of opinion, of course, but enough people calling something the best is a good indicator of excellence.
Readers made a lot of suggestions for what’s best in the region; some of those didn’t get enough votes to triumph this year, but may still do so in future years.
Joseph’s Riverport Bar-B-Que in Jefferson. The popular, casual, inexpensive barbecue and burgers place opened in 1993 and offers a full menu of meats and sides. One of the most popular dishes is the combo plate with ribs and sliced brisket with baked beans and fried okra. Hours are Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Riverport also does catering and offers take out; that take out might be a good idea during the often crowded prime serving times. 210 N. Polk. 903.665.2341. www.facebook.com/pages/Josephs-Riverport-Bar-B-Que. Runner up: Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ in Tyler.
Simply Berties in Lindale. A do-it-all-or-at-least-a-lot kind of place, Berties serves American traditional food, Tex-Mex, burgers and other sandwiches at inexpensive prices. It’s the breakfast and the promise of service with a smile that draws lots of folks. One of the most popular dishes is “trashy eggs,” with cheese, onions, sautéed vegetables, bacon, and sausage all mixed in. Also get pancakes, waffles, hash browns or home fries, biscuits and gravy, and coffee or juices. Berties also serves homemade chorizo, breakfast tacos, huevos rancheros, huevos con papas, and other traditional Mexican breakfast items. Monday-Saturday 5 a.m.-2 p.m., with breakfast served until 1:30 p.m. Plus Thursday night karaoke and burgers. 16073 FM 849. 903.881.9391. www.facebook.com/pages/Simply-Berties. Runner up: The Shed in Edom.
Tie: Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler and Stacy’s Fish Fry in Miller’s Grove. Nothing fancy at either of these places. Just quality ingredients cooked well. At Moore’s the catfish is “huge and hand cut and trimmed” and served every Friday at lunch. Stacy’s offers a catfish and shrimp buffet with fries, hush puppies, and salad bar in quaint surroundings.” Stacy’s hours are limited: Friday and Saturday evenings 4-9 p.m. Stacy’s is at 7565 FM 275. 903.459.3300. www.stacysfishfry.com. Moore’s is at 1551 FM 279. 903.833.5100. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Vaughns in Cypress Springs.
Best Salsa and Tortilla Chips
Don Juan’s in Jefferson. The definition of a good tortilla chip is that it’s crisp, fresh, tasty, and free with the meal. It’s 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 – chunkier than thin – is more about taste than heat. with a reputation for excellent service. Sunday-Thursday 11a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 400 S Walcott, 903.665.6407. www.donjuansmex.com. Runner up: Peralta’s in Quitman.
Best Chicken-fried Steak
Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Six-ounce fresh steaks hand seasoned with the secrete stuff and hand battered. Comes with mashed potatoes, green beans, and a roll. 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10:30-2 p.m. Sunday.1551 FM 279, 903.833.5100. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: The Shed in Edom.
Art & Espresso in Winnsboro. Frothy espresso with steamed milk or hot chocolate, cappuccinos, lattes, iced coffees, and more. Personalize by adding favorite flavors to the gourmet, house-blend coffee. Plus freshly brewed loose-leaf teas, light lunches, and desserts including Blue Bell ice cream and homemade pastries from owners Marilyn Arnaud and her husband, Jim Hollowell. 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. Runner up: Mount Sylvan Coffee House and Mercantile.
East Texas Burger Company in Mineola. Home-style burgers come in quarter pound or half pound sizes with all the trimmings at this popular downtown eatery. Go traditional or choose from a number of varieties – all with fresh ingredients. Plus apricot fried pies, sweet potato fries, and peanut butter pie. Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Hwy. 80 at Hwy. 69. 903.569.3140, www.easttexasburger.com Runner up: Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler.
Jefferson General Store in Jefferson. Grab a malt or a shake at the soda fountain in a roomy, old-fashioned 1800s-era mercantile store. They come in 16 flavors – chocolate and vanilla are still the big sellers – and are made with Blue Bell ice cream. Or pick up some pralines and other candies; jams, jellies, salsa, butters, and “everything pickled;” or some books, cards, hats and caps, toys, t-shirts, or other souvenirs. Sunday-Thursday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m. 113 E. Austin. 903.665.8481. www.jeffersongeneralstore.com. Runner up: Charley’s in Wills Point.
Ganny’s in Winnsboro. Choose servings from as many as a dozen or more different kinds of pie – not the same kinds every day – made by owner Georgia Goggans. The shop also serves a daily lunch special. Get a sample pie with six giant slices, or two sample pies to try most of the offerings. Tuesday-Saturday 10 am.-5 p.m. except during First Monday Trade Days when everybody’s at the shop on The Mountain in Canton. 108 W. Elm. 903.243.0992. www.facebook.com/pages/Gannys-Pie-Shop. Runner up: The Farmhouse in Van.
The Forge in Ben Wheeler. Thin-crust pizzas with all the usual toppings: But that’s not all. The menu also includes half a dozen reasonably priced specialty pizzas: The Buffalo with grilled chicken and a spicy wing sauce; The Greek with garlic-infused olive oil, feta cheese, and more; The Caesar with tomatoes, fontina and mozzarella, grilled chicken, and more; The Taco with homemade salsa, spicy taco meat, and more; The Razorback with smoked bacon and jalapeno, a variety of cheeses, and more; and The Great White with white cheddar, mozzarella, and fontina. 1610 FM 279. 903.833.5970. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Angelo’s in Winnsboro.
Brookshire’s FRESH in Tyler. FRESH is the newest addition to the hometown Brookshire’s operations, with an emphasis on being one of the most environmentally friendly structures in East Texas. The store is the first in East Texas to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation from the U.S. Green Building Council. The store also partners with numerous local vendors to provide customers with locally produced and grown products, which also minimize energy and fuel usage associated with shipping. It also features selections of natural, organic, chemical-free, lactose-free, sugar-free or gluten-free items in virtually every department. Sunday-Thursday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 7 a.m.-10 p.m. 6991 Old Jacksonville. 903.747.3503. www.freshbybrookshires.com. Runner up: Cycle of Seasons in Lindale.
The Forge in Ben Wheeler. Small, soon-to-expand bistro in a rustic old blacksmith shop has an eclectic menu ranging from smoked salmon wraps to wild hog pork tacos and a variety of sandwiches including three little pigs, The Big Easy, the apple-smoked bacon, the rooster, spicy veggie wrap and veggie tacos, baked Portabella, and more along with frequent specials. Add an appetizer or salad. There’s also a full bar, and there’s live music every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night and on Saturday afternoons. The Forge is a 50-seat bistro that’s expanding to 70 seats with some renovations. It’s also expanding hours to seven days a week: Monday-Tuesday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursday-Friday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight, and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 903.833.5970. 1610 FM 279. 903.833.5970. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Liefie’s in Winnsboro.
The Forge in Ben Wheeler. Choose from Greek, spinach, southwestern chicken, grilled shrimp, gorgonzola and fruit, or the house salad. Mix and match with Greek, poppy seed, balsamic, ranch, and blue cheese dressings. 1610 FM 279. 903.833.5970. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Liefie’s in Winnsboro.
Liefie Li Vine in Winnsboro. Big selection includes fresh-baked bread of the day toasted with choice of smoked chicken with cream cheese, sharp cheddar; creamy jalapeño chicken with tomato, onion, sharp cheddar and cream cheese; salami with basil pesto, sautéed onions and provolone; tropical tuna with banana, raisins and provolone cheese; vegetarian; smoked brisket, provolone cheese and monkey sauce; chicken ciabatta with baby lettuce, tomato, cranberries, cheddar and onion vinaigrette house dressing; tuna ciabatta with provolone; smoked brisket with baby lettuce, tomato, cranberries, provolone and famous monkey sauce; and more including salads and entrees. Wines and specialty drinks. Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. 302 N. Main. 903.347.1111. www.liefie.us. Runner up: The Forge in Ben Wheeler.
Fish City Grill in Tyler. Popular menu items include fish tacos, honey chipotle shrimp tacos, shrimp and grits, basic fish and chips, and even slow-roasted pot roast with all the right trimmings. Plus daily specials, salads with homemade dressings, soups, appetizers, and sandwiches. Some gluten-free selections. Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 4740 S. Broadway. 903.266.9218. www.fishcitygrill.com. Runner up: AJ’s Fish House in Lake Fork.
Four Winds Steakhouse in Wills Point. Rustic cedar tabernacle’s steak entrees include ribeye with brandy peppercorn sauce, filet mignon, and New York strip. Other entrees include Australian cold water lobster tail, sugar-cured pork chops, chicken-fried beef tenderloin, beef tips and noodles, grilled chicken breast, fried jumbo shrimp, pecan-breaded catfish, fresh fish of the day, and more with the full complement of sides, salads, and appetizers. Reservations highly recommended. Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. 21191 FM 47. 903.873.2225. www.fourwindssteakhouse.com. Runner up: Texas Roadhouse in Tyler.
The Luscious Crumb in Mineola. This specialty bakery strives for originality in its creations filled with real butter, real cream, farm fresh eggs, and other ingredients, offering cookies, cakes, brownies, brownie cakes, and more including “Table Scapes” – stacks of goodies “sugar”-scaped for its catered events. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 130 E. Broad Street. 903.881.CAKE (2253). www.thelusciouscrumb.com/contact-us. Runner up: Creative Cakes in Winnsboro.
Gloria’s in Rockwall. Born as a tiny Salvadoran restaurant in Dallas, Gloria’s grew first by word of mouth and then added new locations. This location features brunch, lunch, and dinner. The “Salvatex” menu includes grilled pork tenderloin, grilled steak, marinated chicken breasts, chili relleno (shrimp, steak or chicken fajita), fajitas, tilapia tacos, brisket tacos, shrimp, salmon, sampler plats, and more. Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. 2079 Summer Lee. 972.772.4088. www.gloriasrestaurants.com/locations/glorias-rockwall. Runner up: Juan Pablo’s in Sulphur Springs.
Best Afternoon Stroll
The Harbor in Rockwall. A bit of the country and a bit of the city with garden paths, lake views, waterfront dining and shopping. Just hang out, or explore the shops including En Fuego, Genuine Jake, Hollywood Nails, Juvanew Medspa, and Zeus. Find lunch or dinner at one of nearly a dozen places: Agave Restaurant and Bar, Cold Stone Creamery, Dodies Cajun Diner, Gloria’s Restaurant, Luna de Noche, Potrillo de la Sandia, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Ruby Tuesday, Twisty Treats, Campisi’s, and/or Sushi Saikou. 2074 Summer Lee. 469.402.2850. www.theharboratrockwall.com. Runner up: Mineola Nature Preserve in Mineola.
Best Annual Event
Hog Fest in Ben Wheeler. The Friday night follies where the hog queen is crowned are followed on Saturday with local businesses on parade floats; lots of live music at the Pickin’ Porch, the Hog Pen Beer Garden, Moore’s Store, and The Forge; carnival; vendor booths; a kids’ area; and the annual World Championship Wild Hog Cook-Off draw thousands of folks downtown and to the surrounding park in this small, rejuvenated community. 903.833.1070. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Autumn Trails in Winnsboro.
Best Art Gallery
Flying Fish Gallery in Ben Wheeler. Eclectic collection of arts and crafts including works by gallery owners Randy and Sherri Martin. Finds include unique and colorful items from kinetic metal art to collage to jewelry to pottery to paintings and more. Wednesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 1553 FM 279. 903.833.5743. www.facebook.com/pages/Flying-Fish-Gallery-art-with-an-edge. Runner up: Main Street Gallery in Tyler.
First Monday Trade Days in Canton. First Monday is the oldest, largest continually operating outdoor flea market in the United States, operating on hundreds of acres with space for 7,000 or so vendors and a whole lot – into the hundred thousands – of visitors on the weekend preceding the first Monday of each month. Shopping days are on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Merchandise ranges from new home furnishings and furniture, clothing, jewelry, candles, handbags and shoes, electronics, iron works and outdoor decor, plants, tools, antiques, collectables, quilts, intricate crafts, folk and fine art, woodworking, and live animals and pets of many types and sizes. www.visitcantontx.com. Runner up: Texas State Railroad in Palestine.
Best Bed & Breakfast
Thee Hubbell House Bed and Breakfast Resort in Winnsboro. A Southern plantation estate near the heart of Winnsboro, Thee Hubbell House nestles among 400-year-old oak trees and landscaped gardens. Period antiques furnish the rooms and common areas. Each room in the Mansion and the Carriage House is en-suite and has its own sense of inviting warmth (plus high speed wireless Internet). Get a full country breakfast – bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, pancakes, coffee, and orange juice – between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. or make arrangements for a more convenient time. Catering is also available. 307 W. Elm. 800.227.0639. www.theehubbellhouse.com. Runner up: 15 Acres in Quitman.
Barnes & Noble in Tyler. One of more than 700 stores in the national company that dates back to 1873, the Barnes & Noble Tyler location sells a bunch of books including discounted bestsellers as well as magazines, newspapers, DVDs, graphic novels, gifts, games, and more. There’s also an in-store coffee shop. Barnes & Noble hires community relations managers to engage in community outreach including author appearances, children’s story times, and book groups and they work closely with local schools and groups to promote literacy and the arts. Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. 4916 S. Broadway. 903.534.3996. www.barnesandnoble.com. Runner up: Beauty and the Book in Jefferson.
Best Camping Spot
Lake Bob Sandlin State Park near Pittsburg. Features 75 campsites with water and electricity for $18 a night plus daily entrance fee. Activities include picnicking, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, in-line skating and fishing for largemouth bass, catfish and crappie. Eagles can be spotted during winter months. A variety of birds and wildlife can be viewed year-round. The park also offers a variety of educational opportunities including interpretive tours and nature walks on some weekends and by request. Open seven days a week year-round. 341 Park Road 2117. 512.389.8900. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/lake-bob-sandlin. Runner up: Caddo Lake State Park.
Best County Courthouse
Old Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall. Replaced by a modern courthouse in 1964, local residents turned the old Renaissance Revival courthouse into the County Historical Museum. The National Register of Historic Places property in the center of Whetstone Square was built in 1900 from a design by architect James Riely Gordon. The building’s dome is its most distinctive feature and stands above a four-level rotunda. www.visitmarshalltexas.org. Runner up: Hopkins County Courthouse in Sulphur Springs.
Best Fishing Hole
Lost Prairie Lake in Palestine. Find somebody who’s a member, because this is a private fishing lake in Anderson County. Consult with local guides and resources before heading out to fish. www.fishingworks.com/lakes/texas/anderson/northeast-palestine/lost-prairie-lake.
Best Golf Course
Cascades Country Club in Tyler. Nestled in 300 acres on the shore of Lake Bellwood, surrounded by oak and pine, Cascades has hosted the Texas Open for six consecutive years. Members and guests enjoy an array of dining options with both fine and casual dining options along with a lakeside pool, two indoor air conditioned plexi-pave tennis courts, and access to the adjacent Rose Fitness Club and Spa. The grounds include a par 71, 7,142-yard championship layout plus three other courses. 4511 Briarwood. 903.525.0005, www.cascadesoftexas.com. Runner up: Garden Valley in Lindale.
Best Western in Mineola. Affordable guest rooms feature cable satellite television with HBO, microwave, refrigerator, and free high-speed Internet access. Outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, and fully equipped exercise facility and business center. Plus free complimentary breakfast with choice of breads, cereal, fruit, eggs, yogurt, and juice. Convenient access to Lake Fork, Mineola Nature Preserve on the Sabine River, and downtown antique shopping. 100 Debby Lane. 903.569.5331. http://bestwesterntexas.com/hotels/best-western-mineola-inn. Runner up: Comfort Suites in Lindale.
Most Improved Small Town
Sulphur Springs. Sulphur Springs is in the final stages – if it’s ever final – of a complete revitalization effort downtown. Free movies are displayed on the square every Friday night at dusk through Christmas and there’s a thriving farmers’ market in season. A lighted, interactive fountain in the shape of the Texas star, illuminated with ultra violet light is a favorite with kids. Sulphur Springs also now has a new attraction that’s both whimsical and practical: one of the only see-through public restrooms in the world – built with one-way mirrors so people inside can see out, but those outside cannot see in. 903.243.0252. www.sulphurspringstx.org. Runner up: Ben Wheeler.
Best Lakeside Community
Hideaway Lake. A gated private community of more than 1,600 homes on nearly 10 square miles just off Interstate 20 west of Lindale and Tyler, Hideaway lake is surrounded by oaks, pines, azaleas, and three lakes including boat ramps, dock facilities, fishing piers, a beach, and an active lake and fisheries management program. There are also 27 holes of golf, dining facilities, and other amenities for couples, families, and retirees. 903.882.6151. www.hideawaytexas.net. Runner up: Callender Lake.
Best Live Music Venue
Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Live music Friday and Saturday nights ranging from country dance to blues-rock to the East Texas Jazz Orchestra often draws more than 200 people who also enjoy burgers, drinks, and more from the menu. Big stage backed by a big mural depicting an earlier era of Ben Wheeler’s history. Small dance floor. Music 8-11 p.m. 1551 FM 279. 903.833.5100. wwwbenwheelertx.com. Runner up: Music City Texas in Linden.
Longview Museum of Fine Arts in Longview. Established in 1958, the Longview Museum of Fine Arts draws some of the more interesting and eclectic exhibits as it works to create interest in, and promote knowledge of, the visual arts by exhibiting, interpreting and preserving works of art and providing educational opportunities to a diverse audience. The museum displays its permanent collection in rotation in the Wrather Gallery, the main gallery inside the front doors. The Martin-Stoudt (Premier I) and Barrow-Cave (Premier II) galleries adjoining the Wrather Gallery host traveling or temporary exhibits six times per year. The Judge J.T. Smith Sculpture Garden rotates exhibits annually. In 2012, the museum opened the ArtWorks: Creative Learning Center as a space for creating and teaching. Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday noon-4 p.m. 215 E. Tyler. 903.753.8103. www.lmfa.org. Runner up: East Texas Culture Museum in Palestine.
Best Nature Walk
Davey Dogwood Park in Palestine. Meandering trails wind through this popular park features more than 200 acres of rolling hills, forests, meadows, and flowing streams. There also are picnic areas, scenic overlooks, and a pavilion. The park is featured during the annual Texas Dogwood Trails Festival from late March to early April, and admission is free. 210 N. Link near the Museum for East Texas Culture. 903.723.3014. www.visitpalestine.com. Runner up: Faulkner Park in Lindale.
Coleman Park in Sulphur Springs. After several years as a favored project, the 186-acre Coleman Park is now open to the community and visitors, offering numerous facilities and activity areas. A 2.5-mile walking trail circles the lake, passing a waterfall, crossing over three bridges and through a tunnel that connects to the soccer and baseball fields. The park’s facilities include seven soccer fields, three baseball fields, three softball fields, two tennis courts, a fishing pier, several picnic areas equipped with charcoal grills and tables, a playground area, a one-third-mile nature trail, and two concession stands. located in the soccer and baseball areas. Just off Interstate 30 in the city limits. 903.885.7541. www.facebook.com/pages/Coleman-Park. Runner up: Graham Park in Greenville.
Best RV Park
Walleye Park at Lake Cypress Springs. Waterfront RV sites with boat docks. Sixty-six sites with 50-amp and 30-amp power. Children and pets allowed. Showers available, and dumping allowed. SE 4220, Mount Vernon. 903.537.4536, www.fcwd.com. Runner up: Whispering Pines in Tyler.
Best Scenic Drive
Wildflower Trails of Texas at Linden, Avinger, and Hughes Springs. Each spring, Avinger, Hughes Springs, and Linden join to celebrate spring and the wildflowers – yellow coreopsis, Indian paintbrush, red clover, wisteria, jasmine and other colorful blooms – with a festival that includes Texas 11 between Linden and Hughes Springs, Texas 155 between Linden and Avinger, and Texas 49 between Avinger and Hughes Springs. Thousands of varieties of wildflowers occur naturally in the area. 903.756.7774. www.lindenwildflowertrails.net.
RC/Moon Pie mural in Ben Wheeler. Painted by Brent Hale in red, yellow, and other colors on the side of a restored 1940s grocery store turned ice cream shop and motorcycle museum in the heart of downtown, a smiling, freckle-faced country boy with his Moon Pie and big ol’ RC conjure seemingly simpler times of yesteryear. Painted by Brent Hale. 903.833.1070. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Auntie Skinner’s Riverboat Club in Jefferson.
Home of the World’s Largest Bowl of Salsa in Jacksonville. It’s not a brag; it’s a fact. During the 25th Annual Jacksonville Tomato Fest, 20 volunteer choppers and Bob Blumer, host of Food Network Canada’s “Glutton for Punishment”, made a 2,672-pound bowl of salsa to set the new world record. The previous Guinness world record was set by Pollo Tropical cooks at a “meager” 1,170 pounds. Blumer chose Jacksonville because of the tomato festival which is, in turn, based on the region’s popular crop. The salsa include tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cerranos, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, cilantro, mint, lime juice and pureed jabaneros. And, yes, the taste was important. A health inspector was on-site for the duration of the record-breaking attempt. 903.586.2217. http://jacksonvilletexas.com. Runner up: Where Texas Began, Crockett.
Best Small Downtown
Ben Wheeler. After World War II, Ben Wheeler, like so many other small communities across the country, began to fade away as more people moved to big cities. Today, thanks to the efforts of Brooks and Rese Gremmels and lots of other people, Ben Wheeler is back. With two restaurants and a number of shops, the community has become a destination as a music community and an arts community in just a handful of years. Moore’s Store and The Forge provide the eclectic menus and, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, the live music. Other late-week and weekend attractions include the Flying Fish and Rave art galleries, Made in America, Secret Garden Embroidered Art & Gifts, Scoots ‘n Scoops ice cream store and motorcycle museum, and renowned wood carver R.D. Wilson at Blue Moose and renowned knifesmith Dan Harrison. There’s also the Harmony Park Chapel, and the unique Ben Wheeler Children’s Library, which gives – not loans – books to local children. 903.833.1070. www.benwheelertx.com. Runner up: Mineola.
Best Small Theater Group
Lindale Community Theater in Lindale. The group’s mission is to provide a creative outlet to enrich, educate, and entertain the community while providing a superior theatrical experience. As usual in community theater, the actors, directors, and technical staff work for free because theater is something they love. The 2013 season includes “The Foreigner,” “On Golden Pond,” “Quilters,” and “The Hallelujah Girls.” Certain roles may be cast in advance, but audition dates and times for upcoming productions will be posted on the website. 111 W. Van. 903.638.0402. www.lindalecommunitytheater.org. Runner up: Texas Theatre in Palestine.
Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard and Winery in Harleton. Won third place at the prestigious Grapefest in Grapevine for its red varietal Norton 2009 wine, and has accumulated more than 90 medals since it opened in 2004. Founded by Altus Koegelenberg (a fifth-general grape grower from South Africa) and Jon Kral in, the vineyard sits on 90 acres of rolling hills and grows 12 acres of grape vines including Black Spanish (a.k.a. Lenoir), Blanc DuBois, Norton (a.k.a. Cynthiana), Villard Blanc, Champanel, and Chambourcin. Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday noon-6 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m. 871 Ferguson (CR 4312). 903.240.1587. www.enochsstomp.com. Runner up: Los Pinos in Pittsburg.
Bruce Peil. Peil is a signature member of Oil Painters of America and is co-founder and signature member of the Outdoor Painters Society. His paintings – including widely recognized American West landscapes – are in many corporate and private collections. He teaches monthly workshops at his studio in Athens where he and his wife, Stacey, own and operate Meadowlark Fields Country House, a bed and breakfast and artist retreat. His work is frequently seen in Southwest Art Magazine and other publications and his one-man shows have included Grapevine Gallery in Oklahoma City; Mockingbird Gallery in Bend, Oregon; Mountain Trails Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming; and Ann Hughes Gallery in Dallas. 903.677.1117. www.MeadowlarkFields.com. Runner up: Anup Bhandari in Longview.
Chef Debbie, the Traveling Chef. The traveling part of Chef Debbie’s title comes from the fact that, as a person chef and caterer, she travels to the clients home to customize private meals. From her base in Gilmer, the 30-plus-year food industry veteran does catering, cooking classes, and personal cooking for couples and larger groups for occasions such as birthdays, pool parties, anniversaries. She’s also a frequent speaker on cooking topics. 903.424.8392. www.thetravelingchef-chefdebbie.com. Runner up: Chef Phillip at Liefie’s in Winnsboro.
Best Local Band
Wesley Pruitt Band. Eclectic mix of blues, soul, and Americana from Pruitt (guitar and vocals), Calvin Sheffield (bass and backing vocals), and Chris Oliver (drums and backing vocals) influenced by Buddy Guy, Jaco Pastorius, Dennis Chambers, Stoney LaRue, and many others that make the band a popular draw at clubs all over the Upper East Side of Texas. The band’s new CD is Line ’Em Up, with eight originals and two covers, one from old-time bluesman Willie Dixon and one from recent Americana semi-icon Pat Green. Most of the songs on the CD deal with hard-hearted men, cheating women, and, whether self-imposed or not, hard times. www.wesleypruittband.com. Runner up: Miss Demeanor and the Groove Felons.
Best Local Singer-Songwriter
Heather Little. An exquisite songwriter and quiet performer with a bit of Appalachia in her, Lindale-based Heather Little is another in a long line of East Texas talents. She co-wrote, among other songs, two of Miranda Lambert’s hit songs – “Me and Charlie Talking” and “Gunpowder and Lead.” She’s working on her first, long-overdue CD. Little has written maybe 200 songs, and is also working on new material for the CD. Influences include Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones as writers, and Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, and Trisha Yearwood as singers, although she doesn’t sound like any of them. https://www.facebook.com/heather.littlestandifird. Runner up: Adler & Hearne from Winnsboro.
Hats! The Musical by Quitman Community Theatre. “Hats! The Musical” tells the story of a 49-year-old woman who reluctantly faces the inevitable big 5-0 until she meets several remarkable women who show her about fun, friendship and forgetting about things that simply don’t matter anymore. The musical comedy is inspired by the experiences, philosophies, and mission of the Red Hat Society, and it turned out to be still another wise selection by the folks at Quitman Community Theatre, a group dedicated to providing quality theatrical productions to local play lovers, introducing new theatre-goers to live theatre, providing an outlet for local actors and aspiring actors, and providing scholarships for deserving Quitman High School drama students. Performances are at the Carroll Green Civic Center. www.qct.org. Runner up: Steel Magnolias by Lindale Community Theatre.
Best Theater Actor/Actress
Thomas Hulme. Thomas is a veteran of “Comedy Night” and of three parts in the “War of the Worlds” reenactment in 2012 at Winnsboro Center for the Arts, the “Kids on Stage” summer drama camp, and some plays at Winnsboro Elementary School. Which wasn’t that long ago. Thomas is 12 years old and is now a student at Memorial Middle School. He says he just showed up for the auditions because he thought it would be fun, and took part in some skits to win the roles. http://winnsborocenterforthearts.com. Runner up: Jean Pines, who performed in several local productions.