These days, everyone’s an expert on the best and the brightest. But can you distinguish the enthusiasm from the hype? Readers of this magazine can, and each year for 13 years, you’ve shared your opinions on the best places to eat, the coolest places to drink, the most stylish places to shop, and the most interesting people to know. We, the editors of Evansville Living, also share a few of our go-to spots — after all, we live and breathe Evansville all year long, too. Here in the spotlight, we present the Best of Evansville. (*Note: The Best of Evansville awards are not presented in rank or category order.)
Best Local Celebrity Readers’ Pick
With a distinctly deep voice likened to Barry White, a sincere on-air demeanor, and a genuinely friendly personality, it’s no wonder that Evansville’s favorite celebrity is 14WFIE news anchor Mike Blake, host of the popular “Midday with Mike” show. Blake has faithfully reported to the Tri-State for 42 years. “I want to be as good as anybody in the business,” he told us in our May/June 2010 Evansville Living story “The Voice of 40 Years.” Two-and-a-half years later, he’s still striving for perfection.
West Side Nut Club Fall Festival
Best Local Festival Readers’ Pick
Everyone looks forward to visiting Franklin Street during the first full week of October for that legendary annual food throwdown and charity fundraiser — the Fall Festival, now in its 92nd year. From deep-fried Oreos to chocolate-covered bacon, the smorgasbord of unhealthy eats — plus a few healthy ones — is like a national holiday for Evansvillians. Long live the deep fryer. The festival features live music, carnival rides, three parades, and amateur hour talent contests. Most folks set aside several evenings and lunch hours to enjoy the communal event.
Best New Chain Store Readers’ Pick
Remember the days when shopping at Forever 21 meant planning a road trip? Now we don’t have to wander any further than Eastland Mall. Touting a spectacular selection of bold styles, shoppers love piecing together spot-on outfits at affordable prices. Jewelry, shoes, cosmetics, and other accessories make this store a fabulous one-stop shop, and it seems the local scene has caught on to its charm.
Cheddar’s Casual Café
Best Restaurant Opened in 2012 Readers’ Pick
A chain of more than 80 restaurants nationwide, Cheddar’s (2100 N. Green River Road) offers an inviting neighborhood feel and serves completely made-from-scratch dinners in its large, attractive freestanding building. Apparently that’s a trend worth catching on.
American Legacy Fishing Company
Best Place to Lure You In Editors’ Pick
With quality fishing gear galore and a 3,000-square-foot showroom complete with leather couches, an espresso machine, a flat-screen TV, and nifty, antique fishing-related prints, American Legacy Fishing Company (500-A N. Congress Ave.) is heaven on earth for dedicated anglers. Opened in August 2007 by fishing enthusiast Tom Ashby, the store offers everything G. Loomis, from fishing rods to every accessory a true fisherman could dream up. Let’s face it, when it comes to this store, we’ve taken the bait — hook, line, and sinker.
Best Local Radio Station Readers’ Pick
Founded in 1948, this full-service/adult contemporary music radio station, operated by Evansville-based South Central Media and broadcasting from the top of Mount Auburn Road, is an established favorite among Evansvillians. Almost 100,000 Tri-State listeners tune in to WIKY each week for great music, lively and informative on-air programs, and rewarding contests. And when most stations shut off the lights and go automated, WIKY is always staffed and ready to inform its audience about threatening weather and breaking news.
Best Place to Get Fit Readers’ Pick
No one knows better how hard it is to get in shape than someone who started a business from scratch. That’s what Bob Swallows did when he opened Bob’s Gym with his parents in 1991. The first location on the West Side has now grown to three more on the East Side, North Side, and in Newburgh. Through it all, Bob’s commitment to his customers has remained the same: Your rates will never change. Group classes include yoga, aerobics, cycling, and Pilates. Personal trainers are available to help you reach your personal fitness goals and to help you plan meals. And since each location is open 24 hours a day, there’s always a reason to go to Bob’s Gym.
Best New Reason to Go to the Mall Editors’ Pick
If shopping’s your thing, then head to Francesca’s Collection at Eastland Mall. From fun, flirty dresses to colorful stud earrings and trendy wedge shoes, this new store (opened Aug. 10) is all about being unique. You’ll see that in its turquoise bracelets, crossbody bags, and lace skirts, among other things. “That’s exciting!” store manager Brandi Hilborn says about the store’s selection as a “Best Of” winner. She adds that new products come in every day Monday through Friday, with only two of each size per item. Hilborn says her customers are varied, from teenagers to women in their 40s and 50s. Even men purchase gifts at the store.
Ashley Furniture HomeStore
Best Place to Buy a Sofa Readers’ Pick
Opened in Evansville in 2007, Ashley Furniture HomeStore (1441 N. Green River Road) is a community-minded chain store offering stylish, quality furniture for the entire home. Owner Dean Bosler, a veteran of 35 years in the furniture business, believes his and his staff’s experience has helped build sales: of the chain’s more than 400 independent stores, Evansville’s Ashley Furniture HomeStore has been ranked No. 1 in the nation in recent years with the largest increase in sales.
St. Mary’s Medical Foundation Cornette Ball
Best Black-Tie Event Readers’ Pick
The breathtaking West Baden Springs Hotel is the backdrop for the St. Mary’s Cornette Ball, named for the headwear that once adorned the Daughters of Charity. The annual ball allows hundreds to dance and mingle in what once was the largest domed building in the world — all to provide medical care for uninsured and underinsured residents in the Tri-State. Recently renovated, the West Baden Springs Hotel was named the Eighth Wonder of the World, before the Houston Astrodome took its place.
V Barber Salon
Best Barber Readers’ Pick
Opened in December 2006, V Barber Salon (14 S.E. Third St.) — commonly referred to as Vbar — is an upscale, popular destination for men to tend to their grooming needs. With a bar for soda, coffee, tea, and water, a comfortable lounge area equipped for gaming, and sleek interior designing, Vbar makes even getting a simple haircut luxurious. Owner and operator Kale Viehe, a fourth-generation barber, has 18 years of experience and many satisfied customers to show for his hard work.
Best Grocery Store Readers’ Pick
A staple in Evansville, Schnucks has grown over the years, now with four locations in Evansville and one in Newburgh. This St. Louis-based company may be a chain, though it has a neighborhood feel. Generations of families have walked its aisles for decades, reaching for the fresh-baked blueberry bagels and fine selections of seasonal fruits and good-quality meats. Schnucks has a diverse cheese spread, such as the Somerdale Black Mountain (a type of white cheddar available at the Washington Avenue location) and the Bocconcini (small mozzarella balls). Its wine selections differ based on the branch, meaning you’ll have a greater chance of finding something you’ve never had before. And lunchtime shoppers know they can rely on Schnucks for its salad bar and fresh-made sandwiches.
Best Cupcakes Readers’ Pick
When Gigi’s Cupcakes opened its doors at 236 N. Burkhardt Rd. last January, word of its delicious cupcakes spread through the city like wildfire. Opened originally in Nashville, Tenn., by baker Gigi Butler, the cupcake franchise has grown into 60 locations in 23 states. Known for piling on the icing, Gigi’s cupcakes stand nearly four inches tall. The original flavors — midnight magic, hunka chunka banana love, and caramel sugar mama — have tickled taste buds throughout the Tri-State.
Best Show at the Ford Center Readers’ Pick
As Evansville’s only professional hockey team, the IceMen have become a family favorite — especially in the cooler months. The team began playing games at the Ford Center during the 2011-12 season, though they practice at Swonder Ice Rink. With more than 20 luxury suites and loge boxes, the Ford Center can seat 9,400 cheering hockey fans. That’s great news since there’s growing interest and enthusiasm in the IceMen team. Children who are in the Blizzard’s Buddies Kids Club can mingle with IceMen players and can win prizes at every home game.
Best Children’s Boutique Readers’ Pick
You try to look your very best, and you hope your children will, too. That’s why the Lollipop Tree (5625 E. Virginia St.) offers such a wide range of boutique clothing for infant children, boys (4-6X) and girls (4-12). Give that girl with the hot pink obsession the Peaches Hot Pink Coat. The boy who wants to be a fireman? Try the Kidorable Firetruck Raincoat. The Lollipop Tree also offers nursery gifts and diaper bags.
Best Bloody Mary Readers’ Pick
A perennial “Best Of” favorite, this year Bar Louie (7700 Eagle Crest Blvd.) topped the list for its Bloody Marys, which come free with Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. But if you’re looking for a Bloody Mary upgrade, then try the Ultimate Bloody Louie, a triangle of spice, tang, and flavor. It’s made with Absolut Peppar, Guinness Stout, Tabasco, Bloody Mary mix, and the establishment’s signature garnish.
Best Morning Show Host Readers’ Pick
Co-host of 104.1 WIKY’s popular morning show, Diane Douglas began her career in radio as “the weekend girl” for a radio station in Madison, Wis. From there, she moved to Milwaukee, Wis., where she worked for an oldies station for five years before making the move to Evansville in 2000. After working for Hot 96 for several years, Douglas then turned her sights to WIKY (named Best Radio Station) in 2005, and has been charming Evansville listeners with her warm radio personality for more than 12 years.
Lamasco Bar & Grill
Best Bar for Live Music Readers’ Pick
Lamasco Bar & Grill (1331 W. Franklin St.) makes Evansville Living’s Best Of list for the second year in a row. Not that that’s a surprise, because this is the place for live local music. Want to be plied by piano? Then tune in to Andy Fulton, the keyboard player for Namaste. Or if you’re up for some blues, check out Boscoe France, a fixture on the Evansville music scene who was named Guitar Center’s 2012 Battle of the Blues Winner (Evansville Living, November/December 2012). Other bands from around the country rotate through, as well, like Baltimore-based Bonepony and Kinetix from Denver, Colo.
Best Veterinarian Readers’ Pick
“I can’t imagine living without pets,” says Evansville’s favorite veterinarian, Vivian Ramos. A 1991 graduate of the veterinary school at the University of the Philippines, Ramos has dedicated her life to helping our favorite four-legged friends at the Banfield Pet Hospital (215 N. Burkhardt Rd.). Born in Florida and raised in California, Ramos found a new home in the Midwest in 1999 when she moved to Ferdinand, Ind. She joined Banfield in 2009, and she has been hard at work ever since. “It’s always been in me,” she says of her decision to become a veterinarian. She shares that as a child, she dissected goldfish when they died. Lucky for us, she’s taken this passion and honed it to become the best surgeon our furry family members could ask for.
Best Place for Eyewear Readers’ Pick
Even though the wait time for glasses is short at Eye Mart (6614 Logan Dr.), you may want to allow plenty of time to peruse the hundreds of frames offered from Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Nine West, Lacoste, Harley Davidson, and more. Additionally, you need no appointment for an eye exam by an optometrist.
Best Historic Preservationist Readers’ Pick
If you want to know about Evansville’s rich and varied history, then you need to talk to Dennis Au. He’s the historic preservation officer for the city of Evansville, but his interest in history isn’t just a job — it’s a hobby, too. Lately, he’s been focusing on a pictorial history of Evansville’s past, Evansville at Two Hundred: 1812-2012, which is set to release early this year.
Best Catering Readers’ Pick
If you want to make that important office party the best it could possibly be, then give Doug and Marla Rennie a call. From smoked salmon toast points with herb cream cheese, to chicken Dijonnaise, to pecan-laced cookies and coconut pies, Just Rennie’s (100 S.E. Fourth St.) has you covered — whether you want your meal to be held at the Old Post Office, Just Rennie’s Tuscan Wine Room, or clients’ own locations.
First Avenue Car Wash
Best Car Wash Readers’ Pick
When you don’t have time to wash your car, it’s important to find a car wash that will make your ride look as good as you would if you did the work yourself. First Avenue Car Wash (2110 N. First Ave.) takes great pride in its clients’ vehicles and takes little time getting the job done. With a variety of packages for exterior and interior detailing, you can be sure that your car will look great inside and out without leaving a dent in your wallet.
New Harmony Roofless Church
Best Place to Get Married Readers’ Pick
In peaceful New Harmony, Ind., the Roofless Church embodies purity and unity. World-renowned American architect Philip Johnson, whose masterpieces include the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, Calif., designed the Roofless Church, a standout among his other works. Green grass and flowing fountains inside the church’s encompassing tall brick wall lead to a towering and draping sculpture, which to some onlookers has the appearance of an inverted rose.
Cork ‘n Cleaver
Best Romantic Restaurant Readers’ Pick
With 30 years experience, Evansville restaurant Cork ‘n Cleaver (650 S. Hebron Ave.) knows a thing or two about dining out. With great attention to the details — perfectly seared steaks, an award-winning salad bar, and a matchless ambiance meant to fit any occasion, it’s no surprise our readers voted the steakhouse their favorite romantic dining spot in town.
Best Name of Local Bartender Editors’ Pick
“I think my mother should probably get this award, because she’s the one who named me,” says Chardonnay Jurmane, 23, who has worked at Bokeh Lounge (1007 Parrett St.) for a little over a year. Bartending, she says, has helped her grow as a person, and she loves her coworkers and the owners, Mike Millard and Dustin Barrows, whom she says are like family to her. The drink she mixes most often? That would be the Bokeh Breeze, a blend of Oliver Beanblossom hard apple cider, Mike’s Harder Blackberry Lemonade, and a splash of Italian sweet dessert red wine. “It’s quite fun to make, actually,” she says, “mainly because I like how it looks when you mix all the ingredients for it together.”
Best Holiday Décor Store Readers’ Pick
If you’re looking for inspiration on home décor, just stop by Gehlhausen Floral (735 S. Green River Road). This boutique offers unique picture frames, decorative plates, candles, clocks, and pottery, to name just a few of the items on its shelves. Additionally, the experienced staff will work with you to design the perfect floral bouquet for a wedding or to celebrate the birth of a child. (Our editor asked their experts to design her Kentucky Derby hat.) Gehlhausen Floral also offers local delivery for bereavement gifts.
Best Historic Building Readers’ Pick
This iconic structure is the crown jewel of the Evansville skyline. Built over what was once a basin in the Wabash and Erie Canal, the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse was erected in 1890 and housed county government until 1969, when the offices moved to the Civic Center. An architectural masterpiece, the Old Courthouse displays a wealth of Indiana limestone carvings, depicting revered human figures and area vegetation. Though its function has evolved, its 4,500-pound bell remains constant, tolling in time with the four 7.5-foot clock faces circling the tower.
Twin Swamps Nature Preserve
Best Kept Secret Editors’ Pick
About 10 miles southwest of Mount Vernon, Ind., is perhaps the best-kept secret in the Tri-State: the Twin Swamps Nature Preserve. As the name implies, Twin Swamps is a wet, wooded preserve with two swamps. Visitors can follow trails through some of the preserve’s nearly 600 acres, which include rare views of bald cypress, swamp cottonwood, and overcup oak trees, as well as close glimpses of reptilian and amphibious wildlife. Just be sure to bring bug repellant in warmer months.
Best Coffeehouse Readers’ Pick
It’s not just that Penny Lane (600 S.E. Second St.) serves one of the most finely pulled espressos in town. What makes this the best coffeehouse in Evansville are its vegan dishes (organic blueberry muffins, anyone?), live music, the art on the walls, and its eclectic collection of books. Spend an afternoon in warm weather drinking a latte with friends on the coffeehouse patio on the corner of Second and Mulberry streets.
Best Place for Al Fresco Dining Readers’ Pick
Winner of “Best Restaurant Opened in 2010” in our January/February 2011 issue, Café Arazu returns as the “Best Place for Al Fresco Dining.” This Newburgh, Ind., restaurant (17 W. Jennings St.) offers unique Persian, Indian, and Mediterranean dishes, giving hungry customers delicious food as well as diverse cultures. Arazu, which means wish or desire in Persian, is a driving force for restaurant owner Penny Nejad, who strives to offer a space where people of all backgrounds can unite. Along the banks of the Ohio River, the restaurant offers a river overlook too picturesque not to be a crowd favorite. As good food brings people together, so does a nice view from an outdoor patio.
Two-Way Streets Downtown
Best Use of Taxpayer Dollars Editors’ Pick
Though it has taken some time for drivers to adjust, the recent conversion of several one-way streets Downtown into two-way streets has been an excellent use of Evansville’s taxpayer dollars. In September 2011, sections of Sycamore, Vine, Third, and Fifth streets were all converted, and traffic flow on Main Street was reversed between Second Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. For the most part, reactions have been good. “You can maneuver around town a little faster, especially in the Downtown area,” said Tony Kirkland, director of the Metropolitan Evansville Transit System. “It makes the Downtown area better.”
Victoria National Golf Club
Best Golf Course Readers’ Pick
Nestled in 418 sprawling acres of rural Newburgh, Ind., Victoria National has a long list of accolades to match its even longer list of amenities. Ranked 35th in Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses,” this club has been voted best in the Tri-State. From world-class meals to an elegant yet cozy clubhouse to luxurious overnight cottages, the service, staff, and facilities at Victoria provide an unparalleled experience.
E. Erickson Design & Antiques
Best Antique Shop Readers’ Pick
Eddie Erickson is one of the most referenced sources for homeowners whose homes have been featured in Evansville Living. In fact, Erickson’s home in the Riverside Historic District was featured in the January/February 2007 issue of this magazine, where our writer noted: “Erickson is always in the mood to buy, and while he does sell much of what he obtains, he also has numerous acquisitions he would never part with.” Like his home, his showroom at 225 Main St. is filled with treasures. Thankfully for us, he is willing to sell his objects of desire — and to help clients select, then incorporate, unique finds in their own homes.
Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden
Best Family-Friendly Attraction Readers’ Pick
Any day you wish to visit the zoo, they’re ready for you — 365 days a year. With more than 700 animals on 50 beautifully laid-out acres, visitors can always make a new discovery. Ongoing educational programs and conservation projects create an array of opportunities for all ages to be part of the zoo’s mission to “celebrate the rich tapestry of life.” It’s located at 1545 Mesker Park Drive.
Eclipse Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant
Best Place for Small Plates Readers’ Pick
Opened in July 2010, Eclipse remains a unique, tasty addition to Downtown Evansville (113 S.E. Fourth St.). Occupying a dramatically renovated space with brick and faux-painted walls as well as a beautiful tin ceiling, Eclipse is small, but comfortably so, and the same could be said of its small plates. Offering paella, salad, desserts, and, of course, many varieties of tapas, Eclipse is just the place to go when you need a little something to hit the spot.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Best Burger Readers’ Pick
When Five Guys opened on the East Side (5402 E. Indiana St.) in February 2011, it was an instant hit among our readers. Voted the “Best Restaurant Opened in 2011” in our January/February 2012 magazine, the eatery beat out longtime local favorites to win the title of “Best Burger” this year. The franchise, originally opened in Arlington, Va., in 1986, has grown to include more than 1,000 locations nationwide. With grilled-to-perfection burgers and 15 free topping choices, the chain is likely to just keep growing.
Fusion Spa & Boutique
Best Spa Readers’ Pick
With its nine licensed massage therapists, seven licensed cosmetologists, and two estheticians, Fusion Spa & Boutique (7144 E. Virginia St.) is perfect for just you or a day with friends. Had a stressful week? Make an appointment for a deep tissue massage or a body scrub. Looking for jewelry and fashion accessories? Fusion Spa & Boutique sells colorful bracelets and watches. The spa also offers manicures, pedicures, and waxing, as well as haircuts, styling, and coloring.
Smitty’s Little Tavern, Gerst Haus, Winzerwald Winery Evansville Tasting Room, Tin Man
Best Reason to Go to Franklin Street Editors’ Pick
There’s no better place to bar hop than Franklin Street. Then again, if you just want to see some old friends, these four bars/restaurants are a good bet, too. From pizza at the tiny Smitty’s Little Tavern (2109 W. Franklin St.), to a worldwide selection of beer at the much-larger Gerst Haus (2100 W. Franklin St.), Franklin Street is full of variety. Adding to the fun are two new establishments that opened in 2012: the Winzerwald Winery Evansville Tasting Room (2021 W. Franklin St.) and Tin Man Brewing Co. (1430 W. Franklin St.). The Tin Man offers Gunslinger’s BBQ to match its ever-changing selection of brews, while Winzerwald is more than willing to suggest pairings of its Indiana wines with food.
Chad Fetscher and Erinn Jankowski (tie)
Best High School Teachers Readers’ Pick
This year, two teachers from Harrison High School top the list. English teacher Erinn Jankowski, 33, piloted the school’s Center for Family and Community Outreach, which helps students create technical documents and media for area nonprofit groups. She’s taught English at the high school for the last eight years. Meanwhile, Chad Fetscher, 35, is a teacher in the Randall T. Shepard Academy for Law and Social Justice. The two-year program at Harrison High School is for juniors and seniors in the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. who are interested in careers in law, politics, or social services.