2016 Best of the Upper East Side of Texas

In its 13th year now, County Line Magazine’s annual survey keeps uncovering more and more local gems in the Upper East Side of Texas. More than 1,200 nominations were received this year and 2016 showed that our region continues to grow as a Texas treasure with delicious food, wonderful attractions and beautiful backdrops, one-of-a-kind shops, exciting entertainment, and many talented individuals. 

This year’s winners represent a great selection of the best of 2016 in the Upper East Side of Texas. If your favorites didn’t make the cut this year, please let us know about them and we’ll spread the word.

Best Barbecue

Country Tavern. Kilgore. Simple choices with award-winning ribs, brisket, or sausage. This location is a bit out of the way but so worth it according to the masses of people that keep coming back since it opened in 1939. 1526 FM 2767. 903.984.9954. facebook.com/Country-Tavern-Barbecue.

Best Breakfast

The Fatted Calf. Rockwall. This downtown eatery specializes in what’s called "Down-Home Chic" cuisine. Along with the usual favorites for breakfast are some entrees like Sweet Potato Pancakes and The Chic & Waffle. 112 E. Rusk St. 972.722.3343. thefattedcalfrestaurant.com.

Best Brew

Fosters Place. Pickton. An Americana menu in a laid-back venue comes with a surprisingly extensive selection of craft beers and special selections from micro breweries in and around the DFW area. The knowledgeable owner and bartender enjoy discovering what taste buds like and adding new flavors to the mix. 15244 TX-11. 903.866.0606.

Best Brunch

The Liberty Bell. Nacogdoches. Yes, the menu items are reason enough to eat brunch here, but so are the special drinks. Combine mimosas or bloody marys with Crab Cakes Eggs Benedict, migas or chicken and waffles. Brunch served from 10  a.m. -2 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 422 E. Main St. 936.622.6425. libertybellbar.com.

Best Catfish

Claw Daddy’s. Mineola. Claw Daddy’s gets big points for its fried catfish and also serves up boiled crawfish, shrimp, snow crab, gumbo, red beans and rice, and more. Outdoor patio seating. BYOB. 120 S. Johnson St. 318.235.8822. facebook.com/clawdaddysboiledcrawfish.

Best Cheesecake 

Laura’s Cheesecake. Mount Pleasant. In business for more than 20 years in downtown Mount Pleasant, Laura’s Cheesecake has perfected the artform, baking its goodies from scratch with cream cheese, farm fresh eggs, sugar, and sour cream. Besides the classic, there’s triple chocolate, marbled brownie swirl, raspberry, apple streusel, turtle, and key lime. With cheesecake and baked goods sold during regular business hours, Laura’s serves lunch daily from  11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There’s also an online store with 2nd Day delivery options. 109 N. Madison. 1.800.252.8727. laurascheesecakes.com.

Best Chicken Fried Steak

Buttermilk’s. Canton. For the second year in a row, Buttermilk’s takes the prize for its homestyle, perfectly battered chicken-fried steak. 100 W. Dallas St. 903.567.3287. buttermilkscanton.com.

Best Coffee

Watermelon Mills. From a Signature Drip with notes of milk chocolate, pecan and strawberry to a creamy, cold-brewed Nitro Brew, Watermelon Mills celebrates the barista arts. Specialty drinks like the $3 Arnold Palmer – classic lemonade with loose leaf black tea – expands the tasty options. 100 Houston St. 903.270.2511. watermelonmills.com.

Best Dog-Friendly Restaurant

The Patio at Fresh by Brookshire’s. Tyler. This inviting space welcomes pets on leashes. There’s a wide variety of foods and beverages to choose from at the outdoor grill or inside at various food bars, and live music is a frequent offering. 6991 Old Jacksonville Highway. 903.747.3503. freshbybrookshires.com.

Best Hamburger

Jucy’s. Longview. Prepared fresh daily ingredients including grinding their own fresh beef. Jucy’s is recognized around the state but this is the original location that opened in 1980. 816 West Marshall Ave. 903.753.8993. juicyshamburgers.com.

Best Lunch

Taste Buds. Mineola. Thirteen is the lucky number for sandwich lovers here. The menu offers choices like the Meat Lover’s and the Mineola Grand Slam. If preferring something light, try one of seven salads or their homemade soups. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. 13 E. Commerce St. 903.569.2888. tastebudsccc.com.

Best Malt/Shake

Idzi Bitsy Bakery. Sulphur Springs. After a day of fun in Sulphur Springs’ Celebration District, the prize might be a "cupshake" from this full-scale bakery with a clear devotion to sugary treats. An Idzi Bitsy cupshake costs $5 and involves a cupcake drowned in a milkshake in flavors like wedding cake, salted caramel and chocolate. 209 Main St. 903.885.9866. idzibitsybakery.com

Best Pie

The Farmhouse. Van. A sprinkle of nutmeg, a drizzle of chocolate syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream...and those are just the toppings! Among their pie selections are classics like buttermilk, southern pecan, and dutch apple with more varieties extending beyond the main menu. Take-home and special occasion orders are welcome – just give 24 hours notice. 1125 S. Oak St. 903.963.7077. thefarmhousevantx.com.  

Best Pizza

Roast Social Kitchen. Tyler. Fresh dough made daily using the finest flour and extra virgin olive oil make these brick oven pizzas the bee’s knees. Coincidentally, Bee’s Knees is one of their signature pies, featuring roasted garlic, a four cheese blend, soppresatta, and sausage topped with Mike’s Hot Honey, thyme, and fresh orange. Gluten free available on request. 1125 E. 5th. 903.202.0295. roastsocialkitchen.com.

Best Produce

The Farmer’s Wife. In addition to offering pantry essentials like oils, spices, pastas, and coffees, this downtown market boasts specialty foods including local, high-quality meats and cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and artisan breads. Open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 210 N. Madison Ave. 903.573.155. thefarmerswifeshop.com.

Best Restaurant

Kiepersol. Tyler. Specializing in USDA Prime steaks, fresh seafood, and hand-selected wines, Kiepersol is all about fine dining. There’s a bar and lounge as well, plus private event dining spaces. Reservations are recommended and a dress code is enforced. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner, with breakfast served on Saturday. 21508 Merlot Lane. 903.894.3300. kiepersol.com.

Best Queso

Chilango’s Mexican Restaurant. Clarksville. Queso takes no second place to salsa here. The authentic Tex-Mex chip dip has plenty of fans, who often even trade up to Queso Fundido: melted cheese with Mexican sausage, beef or chicken fajita meat. 2000 W. Main St. 903.427.0089. 

Best Salsa and Chips

Posados. Lindale. Folks come away from Posados admiring the crispy thin chips and flavorful salsa. And for a change of pace, some regulars  opt for the tomatillo sauce. 3201 S. Main St. 903.881.0434. posados.com.

Best Salad

Pearl’s Kitchen. Mount Pleasant. This popular lunch venue puts a lot of healthy thought into their menu including the salads. Choices include one with kale, roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and feta with a maple dijon vinaigrette; and another with spinach, grapes, roasted sweet potatoes with a pear/white balsamic vinaigrette, and several other delicious combinations. 2237 N. Edwards Ave. 903.563.7721. pearlskitchentx.com.

Best Sandwich

Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q. Tyler. Hall of Fame winner for best barbecue in the Upper East Side of Texas, Stanley’s wins Best Sandwich this year for their Jumbo Brother-in-Law with grilled hot link, cheese, and chopped brisket and sauce on a jalapeno cheese sourdough bread. 525 S. Beckham Ave. 903.593.0311. stanleysfamous.com.

Best Seafood

Copeland’s of New Orleans/Longview. Longview. A New Orleans-style restaurant serving a wide variety of seafood including crab claws, oysters, shrimp, crawfish, catfhish, redfish, salmon and more. They offer an extensive drink list including their  signature Applewood Smoked Bacon Bloody Mary. Open daily for lunch and dinner and brunch on Sunday. 3213 N. Fourth St. 903.212.7200. copelandsofneworleans.com/longview-store-details.

Best Steak

Lone Republic Steakhouse. Winnsboro. Lone Republic promises to impress your taste buds with 30-day aged Certified Angus Beef. Indulge in the intense flavors of their hand-cut top sirloin, NY strip, filet mignon, or ribeye all while enjoying live entertainment under the outdoor pavilion. 206 Market St. 903.347.6526. lonerepublicsteakhouse.com

Best Tex-Mex

La Finca Mexican Restaurant. Gilmer. A spacious new building added ambience and comfort to La Finca’s offerings, but the family restaurant’s menu remains its biggest selling point. From sizzling fajitas to cold margaritas, the south-of-the-border fare is fresh, flavorful and inexpensive. Special seasonings make the refried beans and rice particularly tasty, and the signature dessert — ice cream in a flour tortilla topped with fruit and whipped cream — is a necessary indulgence. 200 E. Warren St. 903.843.5355. facebook.com/LaFincaGilmer

Best Vegetarian

The Forge. Ben Wheeler. This cozy corner offers vegetarians quite a few options, including delicious pizzas with a large variety of toppings or portabella pesto or vegetarian specials. For appetizers try the fried avacado, cheese board, or Blue Cheese Chips. The Meltdown is a delicious grilled cheddar and Havarti dill with grilled onions, roasted bell peppers, spinach and avocado, and there’s a grilled portabella sandwich as well. The veggie wrap is popular as is the gorganzola salad and vegan tacos. All burgers can be ordered with a chickpea or black bean patty on request. 1610 FM 279. 903.833.5970. theforgebenwheeler.com.

Best Winery

Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards. Pittsburg. Aside from the landscape and live jazz on weekends, the labels for the 10 dry and seven sweet wines ensure each visit is unique. Try Rosie the Riveter, All My X’s, Symphony or Texican. 658 County Road 1334. 903.855.1769. lospinosranchvineyards.com.

Best Afternoon Stroll

Edom Craft Community. Edom. Home to an eclectic array of shops and boutiques, Edom caters to window-shoppers and lovers of artistic handmade items. Must-stops include Zeke & Marty for jewelry and "cool guys stuff," Potters Brown for precious pottery, Arbor Castle for  beautiful, quirky birdhouses, and the Old Edom Firehouse for visual arts.  844.633.6689. visitedom.com.

Best Alternative Well-Being Shop

StarDragonfly Herb Company. Winnsboro. It starts with bulk herbs, spices, fragrant candles, botanicals and organic chocolate. But that’s just the warm-up for earth-mother treasures like aprons, sachets, granola and lye soap. Shop in the afternoon and someone will offer you a cup of tea, and, that’s just a heartbeat away from buying a totally unnecessary but oh-so-cute tea cozy. 300 N. Main St. 903.588.4313.

Best Annual Event

Wonderland of Lights. Marshall. This magical event happens each year since 1987 from about Thanksgiving to New Year’s with ice skating, millions of white lights, and activities in the downtown area. 101-125 W. Houston St. 903.702.7777. wonderlandoflights.com.

Best Antique Store

The Vintage Bucket. Texarkana. This popular landmark offers antiques, vintage, repurposed, and many other treasures. 2121 N. State Line Ave. 903.793.2830. facebook.com/statelinetreasures.

Best Art Gallery

Gingko Leaf Art Gallery. Marshall. A delightful collection of works by regional artists that includes fiber arts, metal sculpture, paintings, pottery, jewelry, and more. They also offer classes, workshops and demonstrations. 212 N. Washington Ave. 903.471.5225. gingkoleafgallery.com.

Best Attraction

First Monday Trade Days. Canton. This phenomenal attraction in downtown Canton continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors once a month for shopping, eating, touring, entertainment, people watching, and more. 903.567.6556. firstmondaycanton.com.

Best Bed and Breakfast

Savannah’s Meadow. Celeste. Guests enjoy this 18-acre farm getaway with options to stay in a treehouse. Ammenities include a hot tub, pond fishing, and walking trails. 4445 FM 903. 214.668.4299. savannahsmeadow.com.

Best Camping Spot

Jellystone Park. Tyler. Here are 47 acres of fun in the East Texas Piney Woods with wagon rides, horseshoes, shuffleboard, ping-pong, tennis, basketball, swimming and pedal carts plus an adult saltwater pool and spa. Tent sites are $20 plus $5 per person; Cabin rentals range from $120-$160. 5583 FM 16 East. 903.858.2405. jellystoneatwhisperingpines.com.

Best County Courthouse

Franklin County. Mount Vernon. The stately courthouse in the county seat of Mount Vernon was restored a couple of years ago to all it’s original majesty including a clock tower dome. 903.537.2252. visitmtvernontx.com.

Best Dog Walk

Harry Myers Park. Rockwall. Our fine furry friends enjoy plenty of romping space (in fenced areas), drinking water and even on-leash walking trails at this city park. Small dogs have a section, too. 815 E. Washington St. 972.771.7740. playrockwall.com/harry-myers-park.

Best Fishing Hole

Cedar Creek Lake. Cedar Creek. The lake is the fourth largest in Texas with 320 miles of shoreline. Numerous kinds of catfish, bass, and crappie are the predominant fish species. Fishing is particularly good in the spring and into summer. 903.887.1087. gunbarrelcity.net.

Best Getaway

High Hill Farm. Arp. With 75 acres of with forests, meadows, manicured gardens, vineyards and nature trails, the new resort boasts several bungalows and Southern-by-way-of France fine dining, plus activities ranging from skeet shooting to sunset champagne picnics. Ongoing construction of new bungalows continues to expand the offerings. 2626 County Road 217. 903.730.5055. highhillfarm.com.

Best Gift Shop

Blue Moon Gardens. Edom. Located in an old farm house, the shop offers plant and outdoor accessories and so much more. Unique, thoughtful items include candles, jewelry, sented sachets, hand-dyed fiber arts, towels, soaps, lotions, wind chimes, and more. 13062 FM 279. 903.852.3897. bluemoongardens.com.

Best Golf Course

Van Zandt Country Club. Canton. A popular, member-owned club, this location has an 18-hole course and a spacious clubhouse with all the amenities to accommodate weddings and special events. The 52-year-old facility won a few extra fans two years ago with the completion of a dramatic remodel, and you can’t beat the scenery of the course. 117960 I-20. 903.56.4884. vanzandtcc.com.

Best Historic Building

Redlands Historic Inn. Palestine. A charming 102-year-old building in Palestine’s downtown hub, Redlands has a claim to fame as the former headquarters of the International and Great Northern Railroad, and touts 16 suites, including several two-bedrooms and one with four. 400 N. Queen St. 903.729.2345. redlandshistoricinn.com.

Best Hotel/Motel/Inn

Hilton Inn. Rockwall. An ideal "get-away" option, this hotel overlooks Lake Ray Hubbard and the stunning Harbor Rockwall development. Besides shopping, dining and entertainment choices, guests can go sailing or fishing, take in a movie or play golf. 2055 Summer Lee Dr. 214.771.3700. dallasrockwall.hilton.com.

Best Improved Small Town

Downtown Lindale. Lindale. The addition of The Cannery and other tourism and entertainment-based businesses in the past year has meant significant positive changes for the town. The Cannery is a mixed-use development offering lofts, dining, shopping, and music and includes the popular Love & War in Texas eatery and music venue and The Pink Pistol, owned by country music artist Miranda Lambert. 105 Ballard Dr. 903.882.3422. thepinkpistol.com.

Best Kids’ Meal Deal

Moore’s Store. Ben Wheeler. Kids eat free on Tuesday nights at this charming nostalgic gathering place, but the food is good all week long. The menu includes chicken strips, steak fingers, corn dogs, burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.  1535 FM279. 903.833.5100. mooresstore.com

Best Lakeside Town

Lake Jacksonville. Lake Jacksonville. A recreational and retirement area on the Neches River Basin situated just a half-mile from Jacksonville, the 1,325-acre lake maintains a quiet profile but is well-known to anglers. Three boat ramps and camping facilities with showers entice non-natives, while an active homeowners association keeps things civilized for full-timers. 903.586.2217. jacksonvilletexas.com

Best Live Music Venue

The Bowery Stage. Winnsboro. Located within the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, The Bowery Stage consistently brings stellar performers of classical, American, folk, and country music to East Texas. Judy Collins, Peter Yarrow, Pauline Reese, Susan Gibson, Druha Trava, Trout Fishing in America, Beyond the Pale, and Adler & Hearne. 200 Market St. 903.342.0686. winnsborocenterforthearts.com.

Best Museum

Michelson Museum of Art. Marshall. Established in the mid-1980s to care for the work of Russian-American artist Leo Michelson, who died in 1978 at 91, the museum expanded its permanent exhibits to include early 20th century American art  as well as African masks and Chinese opera puppets gathered by Jay Ward, creator of the cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right. A Discovery Room is popular with children and student exhibits are scheduled year-round along with interactive hands-on student tours. 216 North Bolivar St. 903.935.9480. michelsonmuseum.org.

Best Nature Walk

Mineola Nature Preserve. Mineola. Breathtaking views any time of the year on well-paved trails. 1860 CR 2724. 903.569.6183. mineolanaturepreserve.com.

Best Park

Faulkner Park. Tyler. Family-friendly offerings here range from a tennis complex, softball fields and bike trails to a splash park and fishing pond — plus play areas with plenty of bench seating for tired parents. 410 W. Cumberland Rd. 903.531.1370. parksandrec.cityoftyler.org.

Best RV Park

Barefoot Bay. Pittsburg. Eighty waterfront sites situated in Barefoot Bay Cove on the shores of Lake Bob Sandlin feature full hookup and shade. Marina amenities include 40 covered boat slips, six cabins, kayak and paddle board rentals, and a sports bar.  5244 FM 1520. 903.856.3643. barefootbaymarina.com.

Best Scenic Drive

Love’s Look Out. Jacksonville. Some of the best views in East Texas start or end with a scenic drive. On a clear day, visitors can see into several counties. It’s a lovely sight any time of the year, but blooming dogwoods and other flowers enhance the views in the spring, and the autumn foliage is not to be missed. 43822 Hwy. 69 North. 903.586.4868. jacksonvilletexas.com/loves-lookout.

Best Shopping Experience

Uptown Forum. Greenville.  The historic old building that once housed Greenville’s Perkins Brothers Department Store is approaching a 40-year history as an eclectic mix of stylish shops, artist studios and small businesses. From the Calico Cat Contemporary Clothing & Gifts and The Black Chandelier Boutique to Yaya’s Café and Conner’s Corner Antiques & Collectibles, it’s a fun mix. 2610 Lee St. 202.270.4276. uptownforum.net.

Best Sign

Texan Theater. Greenville. The generously-sized vertical banner announces entertainment is nigh with plenty of neon and nostalgic pizzazz on Greenville’s old cinema, renovated two years ago as a 120-seat dinner theater venue. 2712 Lee St. 903.259.6360. texantheatergreenville.com.

Best Slogan

Champagne Served, Boots Welcome. Palestine. Palestine is showing visitors their very tasteful offerings from stately homes and fine dining to true Southern experiences like the Texas State Railroad. They promise everything from food trucks to fine china. 825 W. Spring St. 903.723.3014. visitpalestine.com.

Best Small Downtown

Sulphur Springs. A major revitalization project here has created a lively business hub of eateries, boutiques, galleries and attractions. Transformed from a parking lot to a park, the square features a splash pad, game tables and bistro areas and the city’s "Celebration District" is highlighted by an interactive, illuminated fountain shaped like a Texas star and a see-through public bathroom — reportedly the first in the nation — with one-way mirrors that maintain privacy but allow the people inside to look out. Restaurants with names like John’s Potato House, Redneck Bar & Grill, Al’s Diner and Plain and Fancy Sandwich Shoppe keep visitors well fed. sulphurspringstx.org.

Best Chef

Simon Webster. Palestine. Chef Webster was classically trained at the New Zealand Culinary Institute and apprenticed with some of the finest chefs in the area. His experience spans 40 years with five-star restaurants, wine bars, and catering. He opened Sabor a Pasion in 2004 and it is a well-respected getaway with his attention to personal service and detail to food and flavor. 110 CR 406. 903.729.9500. saborapasion.com.

Best Artist

Debora Schubert Lytle. Lytle paints portraits, animals, landscapes, still lifes and murals for commission and exhibit. deboralytle.com.

Best Local Band

Wesley Pruitt Band. This band never disappoints, playing Texas music with soul led by the incredibly talented Wesley Pruitt. facebook.com/Wesley-Pruitt-Band.

Best Local Singer/Songwriter

Heather Little. A local favorite, she’s also quite popular in Nashville and all over Texas for her beautiful lyrics and voice. heatherlittlemusic.com.

Best Play

Last Chance Romance. Athens. This hilarious comedy about dating, marriage, and french fries took place in September. Directed by Gary McDonald with a vibrant team of actors and others with the Henderson County Performing Arts Center. 400 Gibson Rd. 903.675.3908. hcpac.org.

Best Small Theater Company

Lindale Community Theater. Lindale. Planning and performing four to five stage productions each year, this busy community theater group also hosts concerts in its intimate setting and conducts winter and fall theater classes for kids via an LCT Too program. 109 W. Hubbard St. 903.638.0402. lindalecommunitytheater.org.

Best Actor/Actress

Beth Walker. Walker had two significant roles in 2016 with the Lindale Community Theater that may have garnered her nominations for "Best." One was the sour-tempered Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias and the other was a more kindly, concerned Aunt Eva in The Miracle Worker.

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