The road to the 19th annual Best Of Evansville awards was different than any year before. COVID-19 has limited so many aspects of our lives in 2020, including the events, restaurants, bars, music, and art that weave their way through many of the categories that we ask readers to consider. Owing to the extra time many of us have spent at our computers and mobile devices, the awards competition generated a record number of completed online ballots, signaling, we believe, that now is a perfect time to proclaim our passion for our city. And while our editorial staff plays no role in determining the results of the annual poll, we are not content to sit back and keep our opinions to ourselves. In addition to the 16 winners among readers, we offer 11 categories as Editors’ Picks that are especially significant this year.
Magic Man Collin Culiver
When Collin Culiver was 6 years old, he saw his first magician and was hooked. Almost three years ago, he and his wife Ashleigh created the business Magic Man Collin Culiver, devoting themselves to the endeavor of bringing magic to the area.
“My shows implement a lot of tools from different kinds of magic into this one type,” says Collin.
The real draw, though, is being able to connect with their audiences, whether kids or adults.
“There’s a childlike wonder you get when you perform for children in any capacity,” says Collin. “But as we grow up, we kind of lose that. Magic, I think, is the key to unlocking that wonder again.”
Evansville Wartime Museum
Best Place You Haven’t Visited Yet
The Evansville Wartime Museum tells the story of war industry in Evansville and the contributions of local veteran heroes.
“Evansville produced more war material per capita than any other city. More than 300 products in addition to planes, ships, and bullets,” says museum chairman Richard Kuhn.
Collections at the museum include vehicles, weaponry, the famed Red Cross Canteen, uniforms, archival letters, and personal effects. Korea and Vietnam exhibits also are being prepared.
“As a volunteer-run organization that is growing, we welcome others interested in volunteering their time,” says Kuhn.
7503 Petersburg Road • 812-424-7461 • evansvillewartimemuseum.org
Located in historic Newburgh, Indiana, since 1943, diners will find a traditional tavern experience at Knob Hill. Order a plate of fiddlers, a giant tenderloin, fried chicken, or another homestyle meal and wash it down with an icy fishbowl of craft beer inside the dining room or out on the large covered patio.
1016 State Route 662 W., Newburgh, IN. • 812-853-9550 • knobhilltavern.com
Mary Ellen Damm
Best Petal Pusher
It was 1978 when Floyd and Mary Ellen Damm finished their log home in northern Vanderburgh County. While the couple had spent years building custom furniture, their new house prompted them to add another activity into their lives — flower gardening.
“I like being a petal pusher,” says Mary Ellen with a smile.
A group of women help Mary Ellen continue the Timberview tradition each year. On a typical day, you can find neighbor and close friend Judy Mossberger in the barn putting together bouquets or out in the garden with Mary Ellen, picking blooming flowers. During the summer, Mary Ellen’s sister-in-law Layne Damm is often at the farm helping, and Grateful Threads owner Teresa Miller comes out every Monday to lend a hand.
“We have a great time together, especially when planting with the help of a very ancient tobacco planter,” says Mary Ellen. “Every year, we learn something new!”
4501 Orchard Road • 812-963-3241 • timberviewflowerfarm.com
Best Hair Salon
When our readers want pampering, they call Shannon Aleksandr’s. A two-time Best Of Evansville winner, this Redken Elite Salon offers full salon services and strives to always offer the best experience for guests. Need a fresh look or a relaxing massage? Take our readers’ advice and schedule an appointment at Shannon Aleksandr’s!
5600 E. Virginia St., Ste. H. • 812-491-1000 • shannonaleksandrsalon.com
5th Street Boardwalk at cMoe
Best Summer Beach Bum Spot
Things may have been a little bit different this summer at the Children’s Museum of Evansville, but that opened the door for beach time fun. In early August, cMoe installed the 5th Street Boardwalk in front of the museum for community families.
Sponsored by Vectren, a Centerpoint Energy Company, the sandy display included hidden items, beach toys, umbrellas for shade, hula hoops, and sandcastle supplies donated by the Evansville Otters, Historic Newburgh, Inc., and T.R.U. Event Rental. Wilde Horticulture supplied and delivered the sand for the museum.
“It was and still is very popular,” says cMoe Marketing and Communications Manager Clay Prindle. “While traffic in the museum has slowed down due to school starting up again, we still see families enjoying the beach throughout the day.”
22 S.E. Fifth St. • 812-464-2663 • cmoekids.org
Blue Grass Fish and WildLife Area
Best Sunset Spot
Evansville isn’t short on spots to catch a beautiful sunset — in fact, the geography of southern Indiana provides a multitude of options for you to catch a unique sunset every night. But one of the best is the Blue Grass Fish and Wildlife Area. Situated just east of Daylight, Indiana, along New Harmony Road, this natural resource once housed mining services from 1973 to 1993. Today, the 2,532 acres and 28 pits and lakes create a unique landscape to enjoy, whether it’s sunsets or fishing and hunting.
Best Selfless Evansvillian
Lisa Vaughan is involved in 26 different nonprofits in Evansville. Through her volunteerism work, Vaughan has become passionate about fighting food insecurity. In March, Vaughan worked with Evansville City Council President Alex Burton to create the organization Feed Evansville to provide community food resources. For their efforts, the two were named the 2020 McGary Jones Visionary & Humanitarian Award recipients by Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.
“Food insecurity has always been a situation within the Tri-State,” says Vaughan. “COVID-19 has just shed a light on it. Prior to COVID-19, I would really have to convince people it was a problem. Now they see it, they feel it, they understand it.”
By June, Feed Evansville had transitioned to working with the USDA to provide 6,000 dairy and produce boxes that were distributed to area nonprofits. Next on Vaughan’s agenda is supporting students in EVSC’s Virtual Academy who are on free and reduced lunch to receive a two-week, shelf-stable kit through Dec. 20.
“Really what we’re doing is community food share,” says Vaughan. “And every community member in this town has a place in community food share, whether it’s receiving something, giving something, making something, advocating for something, or donating something.
Cork ‘N Cleaver
Best Special Dining Spot
The year 1974 saw both the Eagles and Kiss play at Roberts Municipal Stadium, workers at Evansville’s Whirlpool Corp. went on strike for 122 days, and the Cork ‘N Cleaver opened its doors here in the River City. Menus at the iconic restaurant no longer are presented on cleavers but diners still feel nostalgic — and special — when dining at “The Cork.” Ask for a cozy booth or reserve a table in the bar in front of the fireplace.
650 S. Hebron Ave. • 812-479-6974 • evansvillecork.com
Best Car Dealership
Marking its fourth win in Best Of Evansville, D-Patrick keeps customers up to speed with their line of vehicles, including Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Lincoln, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, and Volkswagen. With its wide selection and multiple locations throughout the area, the dealership will give you the keys to the perfect ride.
Various locations • dpat.com
Lic’s Deli & Ice Cream
Best Ice Cream
I scream; you scream; we all scream for Lic’s Deli & Ice Cream! The shop, with eight locations throughout Indiana and Kentucky, is celebrating 70 years of scooping ice cream for the community this year.
While Lic’s added the deli portion to the business in the ’90s, the ice cream has remained a sweet spot for the shop. The Choco-Cremes, hand-rolled ice cream balls hand-dipped in chocolate, are one of the most popular items, along with other sweet treats like classic milkshakes, sundaes, featured ice cream flavors of the month, ice cream cakes, and turtle pies.
“Consistency with ingredients in our ice cream has made us successful for 70 years, also that we make it ourselves in Downtown Evansville” says Kara Combs, director of marketing for Lic’s.
Eight locations • 812-422-2618 • licsdeliandicecream.com
Best Unsung Hero
For Warrick County Economic Development Executive Director Steve Roelle, success comes from seeing a project make a difference in the county and the region as a whole.
“I think it’s really just when you can see something from start to finish and then see people getting that benefit from it,” he says. “I want our region, our community to be the best it can be.”
Roelle has served in his role since April 2018, but he is no stranger to being active in the community. He has been a past president of the Warrick Trails Coalition and still serves on the organization’s board. He also has served as president for the Southern Indiana Triathlon team, bringing together hundreds of local athletes training or learning to compete in a triathlon race. Over the years, Roelle has been on the Alcoa Foundation board, involved in youth sports, and helped with cub scout groups.
“I think what gives me a ton of pride is the teamwork and collaboration it takes to make our community and our region better,” says Roelle. “When everyone is pushing for the community, we can move mountains.”
Best Teacher Who Inspires
In first grade, Kelsey Simmons knew what she wanted to be when she grew up — a teacher. Today, Simmons is in her sixth year teaching first grade at Vogel Elementary School.
Though this year has looked different from schoolyears past with the restrictions due to COVID-19, she says this year was the best first day of school she has ever had.
“You could just see the joy,” she says. “Everyone was happy to be back together. Plus, children are resilient. I’m happy to be back with my people.”
Whatever is thrown her way, Simmons says she knows being an educator is more than just teaching her students facts and figures. She’s building leaders and equipping her kids with the tools to succeed later on in life. “My biggest thing is the relationships I build with my students,” says Simmons. “When people feel accepted, they put their best foot forward.”
Whether you like your eggs sunny side up or scrambled, a sweet breakfast or savory start, pancakes or waffles, or breakfast in a skillet or rolled up in a burrito, Nellie’s Restaurant knows how to get the morning going on the right side of the bed. And since everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you can get it at Nellie’s all day long.
8566 Ruffian Lane, Newburgh, IN • 812-629-2142 • nelliesnewburgh.com
As the largest tract of virgin forest located within city limits in the U.S., it’s easy to see why readers think Wesselman Woods is the best park in Evansville. The 200 acres are home to more than 300 species of wildflowers, 150 species of birds, numerous mammals, and trees that have stood more than 400 years. Take a hike on the nearly 6 miles of walking trails, learn about the forest in the nature center, have fun on the Welborn Baptist Foundation Nature Playscape, or enjoy the grounds of Wesselman Park adjacent to the nature preserve.
551 N. Boeke Road
As the Evansville Living staff researched Mexican dining options in Evansville for our “Mex in the City” feature last year, our readers told us Los Bravos was the place to go for the best chips and salsa. This year, readers once again have spoken, dubbing the local restaurant the place to go for the best Mexican cuisine. Whether it’s an authentic dish of ceviche or the ever-popular chicken on the beach, Los Bravos has something to hit the spot.
Three locations • losbravosmexi.com
Best Jewelry Shop
For years the Brinker family was perhaps as well known for success on the golf course as they were for their family-owned jewelry business. The turf-like grass trim around Brinker’s Plaza nods to the game, but the company’s high-quality jewelry and unbeatable customer service is what the Brinker name is best known for today.
“We are honored to be the winner of Evansville Living’s Best Of Evansville Best Jewelry Shop. We could not have won this award for the eighth year in a row without the loyal support of our customers in the Evansville community,” says Kyle Brinker, chief financial officer and chief marketing officer of Brinker’s Jewelers.
111. S. Green River Road • 812-476-0651 • brinkersjewelers.com
Best Home Furnishings
The top-ranked furniture store in the U.S. (by total sales) also is the No. 1 store in Evansville as voted by readers in the Best Of Evansville poll.
“What has impressed me the most since I started working at Ashley is the stellar level of customer service and care,” says Ashley HomeStore Sales and Design Consultant Laura Hevron. “Our store is locally owned and operated by an Evansville family who truly cares about our customers and community. As a life-long resident myself, that means something to me.”
1441 N. Green River Road • 812-471-2090 • stores.ashleyfurniture.com/store/us/indiana/evansville
In total, Monte Skelton can play about 30 different instruments, and he teaches at least just as many to his 48 students at the Evansville Music Academy.
“Putting music and teaching together, that always kept it interesting to me,” says Skelton.
The Evansville native’s first gig in the city was when he was 15 for A Chocolate Affair at the former Kirby’s Private Dining with The Browne Sisters. Since then, Skelton has gone on to play with The Temptations during one of their concert stops in Evansville and last year graced the stage at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Locally, Skelton’s fans can catch him around town playing with one of his bands, jazz rock fusion with Skelton’s Montourage or R&B with the duet Loops and Rhythms, or on his new solo album “Monte Skelton: 2020 Vol. 1.”
“I’m just constantly fascinated by music and sounds,” says Skelton. “To me, music is a language, and the more I understand it, the better I can portray that. I’m naturally a very introverted person, so music is my outlet.”
River City Coffee + Goods
Best Gift Shop
When Evansville Living readers want a special something for a special someone, they head to River City Coffee + Goods. The gift shop on Main Street has goods and gifts for all occasions, with a special emphasis on items made by local artisans. Though River City is the perfect place to find something nice for someone else, you may just find something to treat yourself, too.
223 Main St.
Best Radio Station
Local radio station 96.1 WSTO is no stranger to the Best Of list — Evansville Living readers have given the station best radio station, best local morning show, and best radio personality nods four separate times! This year, readers again voted the station best in the city, proving whether it’s tuning in to Claire Ballard and the Hot 96 Morning Show on the way to work or catching Sarah Pepper in the afternoon, their radio dials are set to 96.1.
Vegan Eats and Treats
Best Way to Go Vegan
Bite into a dish made by Vegan Eats and Treats and you may not even realize it is vegan. Five years ago, Tori Chapman transitioned into vegan, plant-based cooking, adapting recipes handed down from her mother Kintina Chapman, grandmother Doris Chapman, and uncle Glen Chapman, who worked as the former head chef at Cavanaugh’s.
She, along with her life partner Ryan Herring, sister Teya Chapman, and friend Monique Watt, began Vegan Eats and Treats as a food blog three years ago, and now have expanded to make food for pop-up events in the Evansville and Indianapolis areas. Their baked goods can be found at Penny Lane Coffeehouse, and each Friday, Vegan Eats and Treats delivers a variety of cupcakes to Myriad Brewing Company. In October, those wanting to try some vegan food can head to Myriad for a fall-inspired pop-up.
“I wish more people would understand that cooking is not defined by the ingredients used in the dishes,” says Tori. “Cooking is defined by the love and flavor that goes into each creation. Vegan food can taste just as good, or even better, than traditional food.”
Downtown Evansville EID
Best Evansville Champions
When the Downtown Evansville Economic Improvement District hit the ground running in 2017, the goal was to focus on developing the Downtown district. The result, however, has gone far beyond just Main Street.
“We know that what we do in Downtown Evansville drives individual, family, organizational, city-wide and regional growth, prosperity, and development,” says Downtown Evansville-Economic Improvement District President Josh Armstrong. “There can’t be a suburb without a downtown and we are proud to be championing the center of our region.”
Though the current restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic have changed how the Downtown EID interacts with residents and business owners, the group continues to find new ways to keep connections growing. One recent project has been developing programs to support new business development by marginalized people.
“We know that our future vibrancy and delivering the maximum impact in terms of growing our region will come through intentionally developing the most diverse Downtown possible,” says Armstrong. “And while 2020 has created many challenges, we know that many opportunities will emerge. We will continue to be bullish on Downtown Evansville and advance our primary areas of focus while also driving new growth.”
Chicago has deep-dish. New York has the iconic slice. And in Evansville, we have the classic cracker crust at Turoni’s! This staple of the dining scene in our city took the most votes for best pizza, which is an honor the local business as captured 11 times before. So if you’re craving a square and a good local beer, hit up one of Turoni’s three locations!
Three locations • turonis.com
For 53 years, Donut Bank has kept its customers caffeinated with its menu of espresso drinks and coffee blends, and the Donut Bank coffee craze is still going strong today. The local bakery and coffee shop has nabbed Best Of Evansville awards specifically for its coffee in 2010, 2016, 2017, 2019, and now again this year. Whether regular, decaf, house blend, specialty blend, or a seasonal blend, Donut Bank has your coffee covered.
Nine locations • 812-426-0011 • donutbank.com
Best Downtown Restoration Leader
Take a drive around Downtown Evansville and it’s likely you’ll see a building Mike Martin has brought back to life. Restoring historic buildings in the neighborhoods of Downtown has been a passion of Martin’s since he was 20 years old, when he first purchased a home in Haynie’s Corner.
“Working on and living in that 1880s Second Empire-style home really put the pieces together for me,” says Martin. “Preserving the craftsmanship and history of our buildings also helps us sustain and invigorate our neighborhoods.”
His business, Architectural Renovators, works on commercial and civic buildings and residential homes. They also owns historic properties. Projects have included updates to the historic Greyhound Station (now Bru Burger), the Reitz Home Museum, the Old Courthouse, and more. In Downtown, Martin and his crews have turned the Cambridge Arms, MayBelle-Montrose, Audubon, and Owen Block into luxury, modern apartments.
“Picking a favorite project is like picking a favorite child — it’s just not possible. That gets to the heart of historic preservation; every building is unique,” says Martin. “So much life has been lived in and around these structures which have stood on the streets of Evansville for a 100 years or more.”
116 Baker Ave. • 812-422-2215 • architecturalreno.com