Another glorious day spent outdoors is coming to a close, and the anticipation of one the most satisfying meals one can enjoy — the post-adventure meal — is high.
If these five places aren’t on your list, a visit to any of them will surely change your plans in the future. What ties them all together? Mostly a proximity to some of the best hiking, paddling, camping, backpacking, climbing, biking, and trail running in the Midwest.
Our list features three burger stands, one country store, and a charming mercantile filled with a “you have to see this” assortment of decadent goodness.
We’ll start by talking burgers. Is there a more satisfying culinary experience than the first bites of a freshly made burger with a side of fries? The Dairy Shack, the Jolly Cone, and the Dairy Isle are each locally owned and staffed by family members (young and old) augmented by a steady supply of high school students on summer break.
During the 1930s and ’40s, franchising was taking off in the burger stand business. In fact, the Dairy Shack in Eminence, Missouri, was originally a Dairy Isle franchise, as was the Steelville, Missouri, Dairy Isle, which retains the name. Most of the early franchisors shipped the building to the franchisee in pieces to be reassembled on site. Many of these diamonds in the rough are still found throughout the Midwest in small towns, often along scenic byways.
You’ll place your order at the window and have a seat in the outdoor dining area, fully awakened by the aroma of charbroiled or flat-top grill-cooked burgers. No matter your choice, disappointment will not enter your heart! The menus are full of everything you’d expect, with local twists on old favorites.
Ice cream, of course, is a popular draw, and the proof is marked by the full parking lots and window lines on most summer evenings. If your adventure dog is along for the trip, a free “pup cup” with dog treat sprinkles is a Dairy Isle tradition.
A few short miles from Council Bluff Recreation Area in Belgrade, Missouri, sits Bixby Country Store, standing alone against the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest. Offering breakfast, sandwiches, and hot meals all day, this stop is one made by many before their day of adventure. If you’re the person who pulls a large sandwich out of your pack for lunch, or if you enjoy a hot breakfast platter with your kayaking, Bixby Country Store is your place.
Caledonia, Missouri, lies in the heart of a Missouri State Park trifecta consisting of Elephant Rocks State Park, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, and Johnson Shut-ins State Park. The village is home to 30+ buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making for a lovely backdrop for many festivals throughout the year. Entering the mercantile is the closest thing to time traveling and well worth the trip. Inside, you’ll find a coffee/espresso bar, smoothies, house-made ice cream, fudge, truffles, antiques, and hundreds of varieties of candy that will draw you back again and again. Before you move on down the road, we recommend a stroll through the village, taking in the architecture of the historic bed and breakfasts, shops, and restaurants.
The adventure doesn’t end once you’re off the trail or water. There are always new places and flavors to discover. Take a little trip to once of our recommended places and keep the fun going.
The Dairy Shack
18603 Main St.
Eminence, MO 65466
Since 1968, The Dairy Shack has served the best burgers and ice cream in Shannon County, and after a devastating 2019 fire, we’re happy to report that the shack is back. Insider tip: Eminence carries the title of Elk Capital of Missouri.
- Ozark National Scenic Riverways
- Ozark Trail
- Echo Bluff State Park
- Current River State Park
Jolly Cone On The Current
203 James Street
Van Buren, MO 63965
The year 2017 brought record flooding of the Current River, overwhelming the small town of Van Buren and leaving the Jolly Cone standing in eight feet of water. First opened in 1953, Jolly Cone has fully recovered and continues to serve its signature Jolly Burger, a delicious, loose-meat sandwich that’s way better than any Sloppy Joe. Insider tip: You can walk to Jolly Cone from the river.
- Eleven Point National Wild & Scenic River
- Peck Ranch Conservation Area
- Current River
- Ozark Trail
Dairy Isle & Grill
502 W Main Street
Steelville, MO 65565
The Dairy Isle has served customers since 1962 and claims the title of “Root Beer Float Capital of Missouri” (they’ll get no argument from us on that moniker). Insider tip: Get a free pup cup ice cream for your dog.
- Huzzah Conservation Area
- Meramec River
- Onondaga Cave State Park
Bixby Country Store
2569 Highway 32
Bixby, MO 65439
Bridget Bohac, the current owner, purchased the Bixby Country Store in 1979 after immigrating from Ireland with her Czech Republic-born husband. Not surprising, Bohac whips up a massive amount of corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day, drawing fans from hours away. Breakfast is served all day, and with 24 different sandwiches to choose from, you won’t leave hungry. Insider tip: Want to eat in a train caboose parked outside?
- Council Bluff Recreation Area
- Ozark Trail
- Dillard Mill State Historic Site
- Bell Mountain Wilderness Area
Old Village Mercantile
219 S State Highway 21
Caledonia, MO 63631
Constructed in 1909, the home of The Old Village Mercantile is full of treats and nostalgia for the young and old. They hired a retired school teacher, who they sent to “ice cream making school” training, and now serve their own in-house frozen goodness! Insider tip: Don’t pass up the pumpkin malt balls.
- Elephant Rocks State Park
- Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
- Johnson Shut-ins State Park
- Ozark Trail
Author and Images: Mark Nettles is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.