Best of the Upper East Side of Texas 2018



Published:

True Vine Brewing Company won the Best Of for Best Brewery over 50K.

Courtesy Photo

County Line Magazine celebrates its 15th year of conducting the annual Best of the Upper East Side of Texas readers survey. More than 3,500 nominations were received with an expanding list of gems in this growing region featuring delicious food, wonderful attractions, beautiful backdrops, one-of-a-kind shops, exciting entertainment, and many talented individuals. New this year were numerous nominations for food trucks, one of a handful of growing trends in the region with award-winning cuisine readily available in downtown areas and an increase in marina kitchens. Sounds like a good time.

Some of the categories’ winners are divided by size of the town, 50,000 and under and 50,000 and over. The winners represent a great selection of what visitors and residents alike enjoy in the Upper East Side of Texas.

Best Barbecue

Cowburners BBQ & Taproom. Mineola. With mouth-watering, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone barbecue, Cowburners offers brisket, turkey, sausage and “rib candy” by the pound; half and full rack ribs; Yankee, Diablo, and Texan sandwiches; and sides including the Gut Bomb baked potato, pork rind nachos, fries, okra, and more. They also have numerous draught beers and a kid-friendly menu. 109 N Johnson St. 903.638.8668

Honorable Mentions: Judge Hunt’s BBQ & Catering, Quitman; Texas Bar-B-Que Corral, Mount Vernon; Big Smith’s BBQ, Sulphur Springs; and Slaughter’s BBQ Oasis, Sulphur Springs

Hall of Fame: Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, Tyler

Best Breakfast

The Forge Bar & Grill. Ben Wheeler. The Forge is located in a renovated blacksmith shop in historic downtown Ben Wheeler and serves brunch from 8-11 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday and until 3 p.m. on Sunday. Try their Eggs Florentine, Migas, Breakfast Pizza or The Hippy, a three-egg omelet with mozzarella, cheddar, and ricotta cheese, spinach, mushrooms, sauteed onion, red bell and poblano peppers. They also serve great Bloody Marys, mimosas, coffee, and more. 1610 FM 279. 903.833.5970. theforgebenwheeler.com

Honorable Mention: The Cake Lady Bakery Cafe, Mount Vernon

Best Brew

Under 50k

Backstory Brewery. Sulphur Springs. This brewery specializes in bringing a wide variety of house-made beers to the table like A Slice of Sunshine, Minivan Meltdown, Strawberry Creme Pie, Notta Hazy IPA, Strong Bock, Belgian Style BOSS, Hefty Lefty, and many more. 211 Magnolia. (903) 438-2337. Backstorybrewery.com

Over 50k

True Vine Brewing Company. Tyler. They live up to their motto of “great craft beer, and even greater craft community.” True Vine is open six days a week and they have live music every Friday and Saturday. Some of their popular brews include Mermaids & Unicorns, a mythical blonde; Rose City IPA, double dry-hopped IPA; Round Table, an amber pub ale; and Daddy’s Juice Box, a double IPA. Their food partner, Sola Bread, serves salads, pretzels, and wood-fired pizzas and food trucks are on site at times. They are kid and pet friendly with a nice park area for both to run and play. 453 Earl Campbell Parkway. (903) 600-0124. truevinebrewing.com

Best Catfish

Catfish Plantation. Waxahachie. A gem of a restaurant, the converted haunted Victorian home invites diners to enjoy fresh deep-fried, Cajun-battered catfish, best paired with homestyle fried okra and coleslaw, and the menu also includes juicy grilled steaks, shrimp, tilapia, and more. 814 Water Street. 972.937.9468. catfishplantation.com

Honorable Mentions: Seth’s Lake Fork Creek, Quitman and The Marina at Lake Cypress Springs, Mount Vernon

Best Cheesecake

Bryan’s Cheesecakes. Mineola. Bryan Mendez has mastered the art of cheesecakes and shares his decadent desserts with guests from all over; among his most popular are the Black and White Chocolate, Specialty 24 Karat, and Salted Caramel Apple Pie. 119 W Broad St. 903.881.0420. bryanscheesecakes.com

Best Chicken Fried Steak

Tracks Restaurant. Sherman. Tracks Restaurant brings classic Southern dishes to Sherman since 1988, and their most popular menu item is their chicken fried steak. It is hand battered and deep-fried to crisp perfection and sided with the diner’s choice of baked or mashed potatoes, fries, onion rings, or a veggie. They also have a hefty menu of burgers, sandwiches, and Tex-Mex. 109 North Woods Street. (903) 870-2034. tracks-restaurant.com.

Honorable Mention: Buttermilks, Canton; Tony B’s Texas Kitchen, Quitman; Southern Fried Chef, Mineola

Best Coffee

Under 50k​

Standpipe Coffee House. Lufkin. Start the morning off with an artsy, freshly brewed specialty coffee, such as The Standpipe, Criminal (Creme Brulee), Snowy Lodge, or the Black Spot, best paired with one of their delicious handcrafted pastries. 123 S 1st St, Ste A. (936) 632-7473

Honorable Mentions: Book Club Café, Rockwall; Watermelon Mills, Mount Vernon; and Speakeasy, Quitman.

Over 50k

Kool Beanz. Tyler. Kool Beanz never fails to impress guests with smooth lattes and cappuccinos, complete with various flavors, vanilla, caramel, and mocha, as well as sugar- free options. They also serve breakfast and lunch items, like sandwiches, wraps, and pastries and recently added Pittsburg Hot Links. 11613 Highway 69 North, (903) 881-9505

Best Dog-Friendly Place

Under 50k

The Marina at Lake Cypress Springs. Mount Vernon. Not only is this restaurant a great stop for family and friends, but guests can also bring their furry friends for a night on the docks, and a wholesome meal, of either hand-rolled pizzas, angus burgers, signature sandwiches, and other savory entrees. 4445 N FM 2723. (903) 860-2198. themarinalcs.com

Over 50k

The Shacks Dining & Dog Park. The Colony. Six small restaurant spaces, surrounding one large open patio, around one acre of dog park, guests can’t go wrong with a visit to the Shacks. Dining choices include Japanese cuisine at Ten Ramen, Cajun-style seafood at The Tackle Box, burgers and craft sandwiches with Dirty Burger Bar, Tex-Mex at OMG Tacos, and to finish it all off, a large variety of taps and packaged beers at Grrrowler’s. And don’t forget to take the pooch on an adventure in the dog park. 5800 Windhaven Parkway, (972) 347-0128 shacksaustinranch.com

Best Hamburger

Under 50k​

Big Mouth Burger Company. Emory. This burger joint brings quality food and quality service to the public with their juicy certified Angus burgers, signature bread, and savory baked buns. They also pride themselves in their gourmet salads and homemade potato chips. 124 N Planters St. (903) 473-3904

Over 50k

The One and Only Burgers and Fries. McKinney. At One and Only Burgers and Fries, the owners — Gabriel and Chrys Pineda — live by two ideas, “Keep it simple and always strive to be the best we can be.” Here, guests can chow down on simple, delicious, customizable burgers, fresh hand-cut fries, and top it all of with a classic shake. They also serve hotdogs, specialty sandwiches, and draft beers or wine. 1330 N McDonald St. (469) 678-5002. oneandonlyburgersandfries.com

Honorable Mentions: County Seat Cafe, Linden; and The Liberty Bell, Nacogdoches

Hall of Fame: Dairy Palace, Canton

Best Malt Shop

Ashley’s Flowers & Soda Shop. Winnsboro. Take a step back into the past and become a kid again with a classic shake or malt at Ashley’s Soda Shop. Made with Blue Bell ice cream, they also serve sundaes, ice cream cones — single and double scoop —or some old-fashioned candy like salt water taffy, lollipops, candy buttons or cigarettes, or assorted boxes of candy. 306 East Coke Road. (903) 342-0607. winnsborofloralbyashley.com

Best Pie

Ain’t Just Pie. Greenville. Here, it really “ain’t just pie.” Shannon Arnold Foltz has turned it into an art. Her old fashioned, handmade and freshly baked pies are unique from generations of family recipes, and come in all sorts of flavors, including the classic Pecan, Pumpkin, Cherry, Apple, and Blueberry, as well as a breakfast quiche. 2205 Lee St. (903) 455-4314. aintjustpie.net

Best Pizza

Under 50k

Nardello’s. Mount Pleasant. Nardello’s brings a whole new meaning to wood-fired pizza, with menu items like Summer Fling with Efurd’s peaches, Italian ham, Nardello peppers, fresh basil, and topped with a three-cheese blend; Straight Up, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and a three-cheese blend; or the Millennial, with roasted garlic cream sauce, baby spinach, roasted mushrooms, Gruyere, ricotta, and garlic oil. They also serve delicious and unique appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and rich desserts. 103 North Madison Ave. (903) 380-6200. jimmynardellos.com

Over 50K

Pietro’s. Longview. Pietro’s brings the true, authentic flavor of Italian pizza to the Upper East Side of Texas, with gourmet pizzas like Chicken Alfredo, with season chicken breast, basil, mozzarella, and garlic alfredo sauce; Hawaiian Luau, topped with juicy pineapple and baked ham, covered in mozzarella; Meat lovers, dressed in Canadian bacon, smoked ham, hamburger meat, sausage, and pepperoni; and finally, the Brooklyn Deli, with baked ham, sausage, salami, and green olives. 2418 Gilmer Road. (903) 295-7900. www.pietros.net

Best Produce

Winnsboro Farmers’ Market. The Winnsboro Farmer’ Market is a charming event that takes place in the downtown arts district of Winnsboro every Saturday April through October. They feature locally-grown produce, artisan breads, honey, handmade soaps, organic and grass-fed meats, jellies, jams, and much more. The backdrop of the arts district and live music creates a festive atmosphere and makes for a fulfilling time. They also have an online market where people can order produce throughout the year and pick up in downtown Winnsboro once a week. (903) 629-7079, www.winnsborofarmersmarket.com

Best Restaurant

Under 50k

The Marina at Lake Cypress Springs. Mount Vernon. The Marina hosts a large and varied menu. Among these interesting foods, some of the more eye-catching items include Fried Jalapeño Bottle Caps; fresh and savory Grilled Atlantic Salmon; their signature homemade chicken salad sandwich; the famous Raspberry Chipotle Brie Burger; or the build-your-own hand-rolled pizzas. Besides good food, the ambience is inviting for people of all ages. There’s a full bar and guests can enjoy indoor or outdoor dining. They have live music on a regular basis and the outdoor seating holds a view of the lake, a kids’ play area, and beach volleyball and other regularly scheduled activities. Pets welcome. The serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and are open Thursday through Sunday. Nearby lodging on Lake Cypress Springs can make for a nice weekend getaway at this dining destination. 4445 N FM 2723. (903) 860-2198. themarinalcs.com

Honorable Mentions: The Chophouse on Bankhead, Mount Vernon and The Barrel House, Winnsboro

Over 50k

Villa Montez. Tyler. This family-owned restaurant serves fine Latin cuisine, with a local source to grass-fed cattle and an herb garden on this renovated mansion on a hill. Their menu is comprised of original family recipes fused and created by their mother. They serve a series of appetizers, chicken dishes, pastas, seafood, soups, quesadillas, steak, pork, enchilada dinners, burritos, and chimichangas. 3324 Old Henderson Highway. (903) 592-9696. www.villamontez.com

Honorable Mention: Lil Thai House, Longview

Best Salad

Panera Bread. Greenville. This restaurant chain offers guests wholesome food and fresh ingredients to create good salads. On the menu are a few specials including Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad with Chicken, Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken, Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken, or the Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa. 3208 Interstate Highway 30. (903) 458-7509. www.panerabread.com

Best Sandwich

Plain & Fancy Sandwich Shoppe. Sulphur Springs. This little eatery lives up to its name, serving guests with a simple menu of delicious sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some of their more popular menu items include the Chicken Salad sandwich, made with all white chicken, diced with grapes, pecans and celery, and mixed together with mayo; the Pimiento Cheese, Swiss, American and cheddar cheeses with chopped pecans, and mixed with mayo; traditional meat sandwiches with ham, turkey, roast beef, tuna, or a BLT; the Club, with ham, turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on three slices of toasted wheat; or the Hoagie, ham, turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing on a hoagie bun. 120 Main Street. (903) 885-9225. www.plainandfancyshoppe.com

Honorable Mention: Pint and Barrel Drafthouse, Palestine; Moore’s Store, Ben Wheeler; Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue, Tyler

Best Seafood

Under 50k

Seth’s Lake Fork Creek. Quitman. The choices at Seth’s are not scarce, with a large menu and all kinds of seafood to choose from. The appetizers range from boudin, fish, jalapeno poppers, and more; to burgers, sandwiches, Poboys, salads, steaks, shrimp, catfish, alligator, and so much more. All made with authentic Cajun seasonings and fresh seafood. 1667 S State Highway 37. (903) 763-0320

Over 50k

Sea Breeze Fish Market & Grill. McKinney. Sea Breeze invites guests for in-house dining or take out. A fresh fish market is open to the public and provides seafood from scallops and mussels, to seasonal halibut, tuna, swordfish, and more. The restaurant menu includes Sesame Crusted Yellowfin Tuna Nachos with Avocado Wasabi; Sweet Thai Chili and Lemon Zest; Fried Calamari; Sautéed Snow Crab Claws; Lobster Bisque; Sea Breeze Seafood Salad to name a few. They also serve sandwiches, like the New England Style Lobster Roll; House Smoked Salmon Club, and other items including Crawfish Etouffee; Lobster Mac n’ Cheese; Rainbow Trout; and Atlantic Salmon. 4017 Preston Rd #530. (972) 473-2722. www.seabreezefish.com

Best Steak

Under 50k

Redneck Bar & Grill. Sulphur Springs. Settle down for a juicy steak, seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and topped with garlic butter and cooked to the diner’s preference. Steaks vary from sirloins, rib-eyes, New York strips, and hamburger steaks; sided with the guests’ choices of one of two sides, including Smashed Tators, Carrots, Pinto Beans, Mac & Cheese, Fried Squash, Fried Okra, Fried Corn on the Cob, broccoli, side salad, Baked Tator, or Baked Sweet Tator. They also serve appetizers, wings, sandwiches, seafood, a chicken menu, salads, and a kids’ menu. 400 Shannon Road. (903) 885-1600

Hall of Fame: Four Winds Steakhouse, Wills Point; Five D Cattle Company, Avinger

Over 50k

Kiepersol. Tyler. Kiepersol prides themselves in utilizing their Texas fresh ingredients with a steak menu that includes filet mignon, rib-eye, New York strip, and even Colorado lamb chops. All steaks are served with the diner’s choice of Lyonnaise potatoes, baked potato, garlic mashed potatoes, or white rice. From their on-site vineyard come perfect wines to accompany any meal. 21508 Merlot Lane. (903) 894-3300. www.kiepersol.com

Best Mexican Cuisine

Rio Lerma Mexican Restaurant. Forney. Rio Lerma takes pride in serving quality authentic Mexican food. On their menu, they have Tex-Mex, fajitas, tacos, comida casera, seafood, and other house specialties. They also provide vegetarian options, pasta, burritos, and sandwiches. On Saturdays and Sundays, they offer a special brunch menu. Some of their more popular items include enchiladas, Chile Relleno, or tamales. 124 E Hwy 80, Ste 100. (972) 552-2023. www.riolermaforney.com

Best Vegetarian

Under 50k

Auntie Pasta’s. Nacogdoches. Auntie Pasta’s offers guests a large variety of meatless dishes. A few of their bigger dishes include build-your-own-pasta; Stuffed Manicotti, pasta shells stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and layered in marinara sauce and topped with more mozzarella cheese; Vinny’s Skinny Pasta; Eggplant Parmesan, served with spaghetti; or handmade gourmet vegetarian pizza, with tomato sauce, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, black olives and onions, and topped with mozzarella. They also serve soups and salads, and desserts. 211 Old Tyler Road, (936) 569-2171, www.auntiepastas.com

Over 50k

Lil Thai House. Longview. Thai food is a special culinary art, one that takes time and patience, and this restaurant does not stray from the traditional cuisine of the Thai culture. They respectfully provide vegan and vegetarian options in the form of Tofu substitutes and more. They happily serve guests with dishes of fried rice, stir fry entrees, noodles, soup, or curry. They also serve egg roll appetizers, and sides of veggies, brown and red jasmine rice, or white jasmine rice. All of their dishes are carefully prepared with fresh ingredients. 212 N Fredonia St. (903)236-0155. www.lilthaihouse.com

Best Winery

Grand Oaks Vineyards & Winery. Mineola. Grand Oaks takes their names from the original oak trees that still reside on the property. They host more than 1,800 hand-planted grapevines and are open to the public for tours and wine tastings. They serve a series of dry and semi-sweet red wines; off-dry and semi-sweet white wines; all made from the fresh grapes harvested on the property. Grand Oaks currently grows Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Syrah, Lenoir/ Black Spanish, Chenin Blanc, and Blanc du Bois, all of which derive from both Spanish and French heritages, as well as a few American hybrids. 2455 County Road 2724. (903) 569-2801. www.gowinerymineola.com

Honorable Mentions: Los Pinos, Pittsburg; Green Goat Winery, Edom

Best Annual Event

Texas Shakespeare Festival. Kilgore. Every year thousands of people descend upon Kilgore to see revolving repertory performances of Shakespeare’s and other plays in the Van Cliburn Auditorium. The festival has received numerous awards and grants and brought quality entertainment to East Texas for more than 30 years. www.texasshakespeare.com

Best Antique Store

Muzzy’s Alley Antique Shop. Greenville. This downtown shop is packed to the brim with a large variety of renovated furniture such as shelves, vanities, and dressers; household decorations including lamps, wall signs, or statues; glassware; quilts; hand-held games or slot-machines; typewriters; and even a few vintage vehicles, including early 20th century Chevy’s, a Nash, and a motorcycle. 2406 Lee St. (903) 455-3663

Honorable Mentions: Town Square Antiques, Sulphur Springs; Between Friends, Mineola

Best Art Gallery

211 Art Gallery. Athens. The community gallery supports and embraces the educational and cultural benefits of fine art and uses this to bring in local artists and provide art exhibits and classes for the public and to spread and share the importance of art. This brick-and-mortar gallery rests in the cozy downtown Athens. 211 N Palestine Street. (903) 292-1746. www.artgallery211.net

Honorable Mention: Webb Gallery, Waxahachie

Best Arts or Cultural Destination

Winnsboro Cultural District. The Texas Commission on the Arts selected the Winnsboro Cultural District as an official district of the state in 2009. The district has numerous offerings for visual and performing arts as well as culinary artistry. The district is anchored by the Winnsboro Center for the Arts which features ongoing art exhibits, a gift shop, and monthly musical and other performances on The Bowery Stage. The Winnsboro Art & Wine Festival is held each year in November bringing local, state, and national artists. In 2018, Culture Club Art Gallery opened downtown featuring a collection of talented artists working in a variety of art mediums. www.winnsboroculturaldistrict.com

Best Attraction

The Gentle Zoo. Forney. This place has a petting zoo, playground, picnic area, indoor party room, train ride, giant maze, a giant jumping pillow, and more. The animals are conditioned to be handled and pet by children and adults alike. Many are rescues from shelters, private homes, and sanctuaries in Texas. They have llamas, an umbrella cockatoo, peacocks, Sulcato tortoise, emus, goats, kangaroo, unusual animals like the coatimundi and capybara, a Chincilla, a tegu, and a bearded dragon. 12600 FM 2932, (469) 834-2857, www.gentlezoo.com

Honorable Mention: Galaxy Drive-In, Ennis

Best B&B

White Oak Manor. Jefferson. This bed and breakfast is conveniently located in the Historic District of Jefferson and is run by David and Tammy Doriot. In 2011, they purchased the White Oak Manor, and decided to keep the historic Jefferson feel throughout all of the rooms, decorated to match the Greek style that was popular in the time period when the manor was built. The rooms are packed with the essential amenities and they offer a gourmet breakfast, scenic gardens, and a front-row seat for all of the district happenings. 502 E Benners Street. (903) 665-8185. www.bedandbreakfastjeffersontx.com

Hall of Fame: Thee Hubbell House, Winnsboro

Best Bookstore/Book Club

Books and Crannies. Terrell. Located in an old movie theatre built in 1925, Books and Crannies still has the feel of a theatre but with lots of books and places to sit and read them. The sell used books, new books, and gift items. They also have a line of hand-made soaps and skin-care products and have a small theatre in the back of the store where they show classic movies and where a troupe, The Vagabond Players, perform live theatrical presentations. 209 West Moore Avenue, (972)563-5481, www.bookscrannies.com

Best County Courthouse

Cass County. Linden. This courthouse was built in 1859 and has remained in operation since 1861 making it the only existing Antebellum courthouse in Texas and the oldest courthouse in continuous operation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. www.co.cass.tx.us

Hall of Fame: Hopkins County, Sulphur Springs

Best Getaway

The Harbor. Rockwall. From the stellar service and ambience of the Hilton Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront hotel to the getaway feel of Lake Ray Hubbard’s sailing and sunsets, waterfront dining, garden paths, and beautiful water fountains, The Harbor is an exceptional nearby getaway. Restaurants like Gloria’s Latin Cuisine, Dodie’s Cajun Diner, and Campisi’s Italian are inviting, relaxing locations for delicious food and drinks near the water’s edge. The Harbor is under new management and promises new shopping experiences, and its Cinemark movie theater shows the latest releases. During the summer, The Harbor offers a concert series by the lake and picnics are encouraged anytime. The Hilton has a great relaxing lakefront pool area and its own share of lake views. 2059 Summer Lee Drive, (469) 428-7995 www.harborrockwall.com

Best Golf Course

Crown Colony Country Club. Lufkin. Resting on 750 acres of rolling hills and surrounded by the historic tall pines of East Texas, golfers can play in luxury on the 18-hole course. Established in 1979, the Crown Colony hosts a tennis court, villas, and a large banquet hall for special events and catering. The course is open to the public. 900 Crown Colony Drive. (936) 637-8811. www.crown-colony.com

Hall of Fame: Links at Land’s End, Lake Fork

Best Home Décor

Dumpster Diva’s Design. McKinney. Visitors love that they can always find something new in this shop that designs, builds, and repurposes furniture and home décor. Beautiful workmanship, some with a farmhouse feel. 351 East Louisiana, (469) 450-6507, www.dumpster-diva-mimi.blogspot.com

Best Hotel

The Excelsior House Hotel. Jefferson. The Excelsior House has welcomed travelers to Jefferson since the 1850s including famous people like Ullysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, and Lady Bird Johnson. They boast about their Southern charm and elegant decor with rich rosewood, cherry, and mahogany furnishes and the outside is constructed with brick, timber, and lacy iron work. It has a ballroom, dining room, and beautifully manicured grounds, and is within walking distance to downtown Jefferson’s retail shops and entertainment venues. 211 West Austin Street, (903) 665-2513, www.theexcelsiorhouse.com

Best Improved Town

Quitman. Although Quitman is the county seat of Wood County, for many years there was not much going on in the downtown area and was often just a pass-through point between the thriving towns of Mineola and Winnsboro. Things have changed for the better in Sissy Spacek’s hometown with a revitalization program that started a couple of years ago. Helping to create a downtown dining district already are Speakeasy Coffeehouse serving delicious coffees, lattes, espressos and more; Tony B’s Texas Kitchen with an extensive menu of scratch-made items including hand-picked steaks and classic Southern sides and a full wine list and bar; and Your Appetites, a to-go style lunch restaurant and bakery that uses fresh, seasonal ingredients for their menu that includes chickpea salad, pimento cheese sandwiches, fried chicken sandwiches, baked salmon, and much more. The Shops at 107, a retail renovation, opened in December. New antique store, a music hall, distillery, and so much more coming soon to this rapidly growing tiny town. Not to be missed is the Quitman Arboretum & Botanical Garden with 23 acres of beautiful gardens, nature trails, the picturesque George Bridge, the historic Stinson House, and Governor Hogg Cabin. (903) 763-2223, Quitman Texas Development Corporation

Best Improved

Community Space

Edom Art Emporium. An unsightly old abandoned gas station sat amidst the artists in downtown Edom for more than 10 years before it was purchased last year by local entrepreneur James Wilhite. Built in the mid 1940s to early 1950s, the building has a small store, bay area, and upstairs apartment. Wilhite painted it “Caribbean Blue” and it didn’t take long for a group of artists to claim it as the Edom Art Emporium, while the apartment upstairs is leased. The emporium holds a collection of original and one-of-a-kind art, handmade soaps, and gifts. 8281 FM 279, (903) 714-7414

Best Live Music Venue

Banita Creek Hall. Nacogdoches. Banita Creek Hall is a dance hall and concert venue with performances by local, state, and nationally touring artists. Some recent performers include Deryl Dodd, Roger Creager, William Clark Green, and coming in February is Russel Dickerson and Carly Pearce. 401 West Main, (936) 715-0480, www.banitacreekhall.com

Honorable Mentions: The Bowery Stage, Winnsboro

Hall of Fame: Moore’s Store, Ben Wheeler

Over 50k

The Celt Irish Pub. McKinney. This place pairs up British pub food and beer and regular live music five days a week. Irish music sessions take place every Wednesday. Americana Roots Music is heard here as well as Classic Rock and other genres. 100 North Tennessee Street, (972) 562-2929, www.theceltmckinney.com

Best Museum

Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Center. Pittsburg Two museums in one including the Depot Museum and the Farmstead Museum. The Depot houses an array of antiques and artifacts including a focus on the native Caddo Indians in an archeology exhibit. Also included is a firetruck, a steam engine, a wildlife diorama, and a small art gallery as well as the famous Ezekial Airship, a flying machine built in 1902. 204 West Marshall, (903) 946-3243, www. Pitttsburgtexasmuseum.com

Best Nature Walk

Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary. McKinney. Hike over 6.5 miles of self-guided or interpreted nature trails that wind through the diverse habitats of this 289-acre wildlife sanctuary including tall grass prairie, bottomland hardwood and limestone escarpment, encountering many species of birds, insects, and animals. 1 Nature Place, (972) 562-5566, www.heardmuseum.org

Best Park

Caddo Lake State Park. Karnack. Peacefully tucked away along the bayous of Caddo Lake, the park includes sites for camping tents, screened-in shelters, or historic cabins. The park provides shower facilities, hiking trails, fishing, and plenty of boating opportunities. Don’t forget the camera to capture breathtaking sights of the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze as it dangles from branches of Cypress trees.  245 Park Road 2. (903) 679-3351. www.tpwd.texas.gov

Over 50K

Klyde Warren Park. Dallas. This 5.2-acre public park is over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway with something for everyone all through the week every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. There’s a full-service restaurant in the park, a kids playground, food trucks, live music often, a butterfly garden, game carts and tables, and more.  It is named for the son of East Texas-born Kelcy Warren. www.klydewarrenpark.org

Best RV Park

Bluebonnet Ridge RV Park & Cottages. Terrell. Guests at Bluebonnet rave about its cleanliness, friendly staff, and nice relaxing atmosphere. Situated on 64 acres in a country setting, they offer an on-site camp store, swimming pool, hot tub, fitness room, children’s play area, a fishing lake, tennis and pickleball, basketball, a pavilion and gathering room, fenced pet area, and more. 16543 FM 429, (972) 524-9600, www.bluebonnetrv.com

Hall of Fame: Mill Creek Ranch Resort, Canton

Best Shopping Experience

Downtown Sulphur Springs. The number of places to shop in downtown Sulphur Springs are too numerous to mention but suffice it to say visitors find antiques, clothing, wine, books, jewelry, paintings, candy, and so much more. There’s also a day spa and many dining choices all with a backdrop of the amazing courthouse park that has places to sit and enjoy the veterans plaza, a splash pad, beautiful landscaping, game tables, and the unique see-through bathrooms. This town calls this area the “Celebration District” and it’s easy to see why. www.sulphurspringstx.org

Best Sign

BigFoot Area. Jefferson. A number of signs in Jefferson note that guests should beware of BigFoot. After all, they are proclaimed the “BigFoot Capital of Texas.” There’s a large BigFoot statue at a trail entrance across from the City of Jefferson Convention and Visitors Center near “BigFoot Alley.” www.visitjeffersontexas.com

Best Slogan

“Life Is Sweeter Here.” Mount Pleasant. The home of Sweet Shop USA, Mount Pleasant decided to capitalize on that connection, hence the sweet slogan. Sweet Shop USA is a family-owned chocolate manufacturer making more than 100 varieties of delicious candy that is sold to some 7,000 retailers nationwide, including gourmet, gift, coffee, floral, and specialty stores as well as major department stores. As if that weren’t enough reason, Mount Pleasant is also home of Laura’s Cheesecake which ships its famous delights all over the country as well. www.mtpleasanttx.com

Best Downtown

Under 50k

Mineola. Mineola offers a variety of possibilities summed up by both its red-bricked streets and its advent from a town built around the railroad to a town serviced by Amtrak twice daily. Amid all those “comings and goings,” Mineola welcomes guests to enjoy live music at the gazebo, fried pies and fudge for sale, a farmers’ market (in season), the Select Theater movies and stage plays, and lots of family-friendly restaurants and shopping fun. Although small in size, there’s nothing confining about downtown Mineola. www.mineola.com

Hall of Fame: Winnsboro

Over 50k

McKinney. It began 170 years ago as a center of commerce in the region and now downtown McKinney offers 42-plus square blocks of nonstop things to see and do. Among a fine assortment of preserved buildings are more than 100 unique shops and two dozen restaurants. Visitors find art galleries, antiques, gifts, home décor, apparel, furniture and more. A free electric shuttle simply called “Dash” makes getting around a breeze as well. The downtown also includes the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts for art lovers and the McKinney Performing Arts Center — actually housed in the Collin County Courthouse —  for lovers of live theater and visiting acts like live music and more. www.downtownmckinney.com

Best Chef

Brandon Rodriguez. Mount Vernon. Everyone loves a chef who walks around … you know, comes out of the kitchen now and then to meet diners. Brandon Rodriguez excels either place to the delight of many. The chef at The Marina of Lake Cypress Springs can also often be found in festivals in nearby Mount Vernon, and also teaches culinary arts part-time at the Northeast Texas Community College. His dishes speak for themselves: Red Wine and Goat Cheese Burgers, Macaroni & Cheese with Cajun Andouille and even crowd-pleasing Peach Bellinis. 4445 FM 2723, (903) 860-2198, www.themarinalcs.com

Hall of Fame: Frank Rumore, Four Winds Steakhouse; Jackson York, various locations.

Best Artist

Maureen Killaby. Maureen Killaby truly does make art very accessible for everyone. Her compelling creations do that one way and her love of teaching art does it another. Killaby’s own work ranges from drawing birds to figurative work to landscapes to impressionist to studying the classic Russian and Spanish artists. Her studio is located in Lindale. 105 North Main Street, (903) 830-6694, www.maureenkillaby.com

Best Local Band

Lulu and the Black Sheep. Although constantly on the road around the nation, Longview’s Lulu and the Black Sheep still keeps the home fires burning in its fans’ estimation. With the duo’s unique honkytonk and alt-country sound and unreserved instrumentals, it’s clear to see how Lulu’s powerful and gritty voice and her husband Allen’s accompaniment create a faithful fan base. www.luluandtheblacksheep.com.

Best Local Singer/Songwriter

Meredith Crawford. The tall redhead from Chandler, Texas, can belt out everything from country blues to Americana folk. She started singing at the age of 13, first at Tyler’s Green Acres Baptist Church, then she veered towards country music. She sang at a number of oprys: Gladewater Opry, Texarkana Opry, the Cotton Pickin’ Theater in Point, Mount Pleasant Jamboree, Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue in Arlington, and even as far away as the Texas Jamboree in Houston. Today she performs more roots rock and Texas soul. She writes her own songs and some of her covers are real crowd pleasers. www.meredithcrawfordmusic.com

Best Play

Under 50k

1776. Mineola. Last summer’s 1776 — the spirited retelling in music of the crucial beginnings of our nation’s history — garnered many votes as the region’s top stage production. The musical was directed by Bob Hibbard and featured a talented group of knickered, bonneted and powder-wigged actors. 114 North Johnson Street, (903) 569-2300. www.lakecountryplayhouse.com

Honorable Mention: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Lindale Community Theater

Over 50k

Tyler Civic Theatre. In June, Tyler Civic Theatre entertained audiences with the foot-stomping musical story of country music great Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Ring of Fire had it all: hit songs, drama, humor, romance and nostalgia. Directed by Helen Strotman, the stage hit starred Ray Carter as Johnny and Libby Davis as June. 400 Rose Park Drive, (903) 592-0561. www.tylercivictheatre.com

Best Theatre Company

Community Players. Sulphur Springs. Community Players simply do theater right. Operating out of the Main Street Theatre, Sulphur Springs, the company gets high praise, year in and year out. According to one fan: “Great local theater at a reasonable price, talented cast, and cozy atmosphere. Highly recommend!” Equally impressive is the brave undertakings in 2018 like Vintage Hitchcock: A Radio Play and the tearful Women of Lockerbie. Additionally, the theater company welcomes the thespians of the future to get hands-on exposure to theater once or twice a year. 227 Main Street, 903-885-0107. www.communityplayersinc.com

Honorable Mention: Community Theatre of East Texas, Hughes Springs.

Best Actor/Actress

Rodney Mize. Rodney Mize has won the public’s confidence for his stand-out role as the singing and dancing character of John Adams in the production of 1776 by Mineola’s Lake Country Playhouse. Mize reminded audiences through his winsome performance that, yes, “politics” can be fun to watch. 114 North Johnson Street, (903) 569-2300, www.lakecountryplayhouse.com

 

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