Oklahoma Stories

Best of OKL 2021

January 2021

Oklahoma Living magazine readers voted for their “best of the best” places, businesses and foods in Oklahoma!

lanscape photo with rivers and trees

Best Coffee Shop – Perfect Blend Coffee House

By Laura Araujo

Located on Main Street in Ada, Oklahoma, walking distance from East Central University’s campus, is a cozy hangout for college students and locals alike. OKL readers voted the Perfect Blend Coffee House as best coffee shop in Oklahoma—and for good reason. There’s more to it than the coffee.

Manager Lindsey Leslie, a People’s Electric Cooperative (PEC) member, explains the two-fold meaning behind the Perfect Blend’s motto: “Coffee that takes you places.”

“We have different roasts—Ethiopian, Brazilian, Columbian—so we are able to offer people a taste of those countries, and we also like to send our baristas on mission trips.”

The Perfect Blend runs through a partnership with Trinity Baptist Church, which owns the building. The baristas, often college students, are able to earn “mission bucks” that will help send them on mission trips.

Chris Snowden, college and missions pastor for Trinity Baptist, helps with administration of the coffee shop. He says the Perfect Blend’s goal is to build community. Though they haven’t been able to send students on missions during COVID-19, the baristas have shopped for and packed food bags for those in need locally.

“The heartbeat of our coffee shop is not coffee first, but people first,” Snowden, a PEC member, says. “We want to love our community.”

When it comes down to it, a coffee shop must serve an excellent cup of joe—and that they do. The Perfect Blend crafts their drinks with Elemental Coffee, roasted in Oklahoma City. Their most popular menu item is the “Perfect Blend” a caramel-vanilla coffee that can be served hot, iced or blended. In addition to standard lattes and cappuccinos, they offer unique seasonal specialties along with a variety of locally baked treats.

For more information and current hours, visit the Perfect Blend Coffe House website.

Best Campsite – Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park

By Zoe Petersen

Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park is a place where nature enthusiasts, weary travelers, campers and families alike can find shelter and solace. The serene 310 acres of towering cliffs and red-carpet canyons offer safety and beauty within its walls to all who seek to gaze upon it, and rest within it.

Jordan Mcsperitt, a member of the management team that took over running the grounds in its transition from a state park in 2018, says her favorite thing about the park is the warm family feel. She has also enjoyed watching her son grow up in the canyons.

“I have been going here with my little boy hiking these trails since he was tiny. He’s 6 now, and we are still hiking them,” she says.

The new RRCAP management team has been hard at work coming up with new offerings for Oklahomans looking for an escape from their everyday lives.

“We plan on bringing more activities, attractions and obviously adventure, to western Oklahomans,” Mcsperitt says.

In 2021, visitors can expect new lodging opportunities ranging from “glamping” tents to tiny homes, events such as live music and all-women hiking leagues, and attractions such as inflatables and rappelling. There have also been four new hiking trails added in the last two years, making six trails total for your favorite hiking boots to explore.

Mcsperritt says she is excited to bring more opportunities for families in this part of the state to further enjoy the hidden gem in their own backyard.

“We want to be a place you can go to in western Oklahoma, which is kind of rare.”

Whether you have an RV to park, a rock to climb, or a tent to pitch, Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park has your back. Visit the Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park website to learn more and start exploring today!

Best Nature Trail – Ouachita National Recreation Trail

By Taryn Sanderson Franklin

Oklahoma is home to mesmerizing sunsets, vast prairie plains and now, our reader-voted best nature trail in the state, Ouachita National Recreation Trail.

Known locally as the Ouachita Trail, this 223-mile pathway spans from its start in Talimena State Park in Talihina, Oklahoma, and takes its spectators through the Ouachita Mountains all the way to its end at Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock, Arkansas. It welcomes hikers, backpackers and mountain bikers alike.

Arkansas native Jeremy Woodall recently completed the entire trail—fundraising for a charity—from start to finish in just 15 days in early November. The first 46 miles of the hike are in the state of Oklahoma, and he says it’s the most difficult, yet rewarding, leg of the trek.

“The Oklahoma section is the climb,” Woodall says. “The climb is straight up, but I highly recommend doing this section first and preparing your body before taking on the entire trail. The beauty is unmatched on this trail and the people you meet along the way is one of the best parts of the experience.”

What’s unique about this trail is it includes the Ouachita Mountains, one of the few sets of mountains that runs east to west instead of north to south, and one of the few national backpacking trails in this part of the country. Matthew Friant, park interpreter at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, believes the best features of the trail in the Arkansas section are its terrain and wildlife.

“You’ll see neat little vistas, beautifully aged trees, a blend of animal species and you’ll even see the rare Arkansas twist flower along the way,” Friant says. “There are so many different ecosystems and unique features present on this trail, making it the perfect place for anyone to escape their concrete jungle.”

Best Milkshake – Braum’s Ice Cream & Dairy Store

By Hayley Leatherwood

Not only is your “Best Milkshake” winner a true example of farm-to-table treats, but it is also fast and convenient.

Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store has been an Oklahoma favorite since founders Bill and Mary Braum launched their first store in 1968. Bill Braum loved farming, and the family created the stores with the goal of supporting the farming operations, according to Amanda Beuchaw, Braum’s public relations director.

This philosophy continues to this day on Braum’s farm in Tuttle, Oklahoma, which is served by Oklahoma Electric Cooperative. The farm is now one of the largest dairy operations in the world, and the highest attention is placed even on the smallest details.

“We handle everything, even the feed our cows eat before they produce the milk,” Beuchaw says. “The quality of the product makes it unique.”

More than 100 ice cream flavors can be in production, and you can choose from up to 30 flavors at one time in each restaurant. For Leah Young, Lake Region Electric Cooperative member, the decision to nominate Braum’s for the award was an easy one.

“All of Braum’s products are so delicious. Our kids taste the difference and will only drink Braum’s milk,” Young says. “Our family also needs to stick to sugar-free ice cream and their selection for sugar-free ice cream and milkshakes is phenomenal.”

With almost 300 stores in five states, there is a Braum’s close to you. The company does not franchise, so you can be assured each store is a family-owned business and ready to show you why they have earned the slogan, “Braum’s makes everything better.”

Best Agritourism – P Bar Farms

By Laura Araujo

Since statehood, Kim Liebscher’s family has farmed a plot of land between Hydro and Weatherford, on what is today Route 66. Once covered in waving wheat, P Bar Farms now produces giant sunflowers, sturdy corn stalks, and lots of family fun.

Owners Loren and Kim Liebscher, CKenergy Electric Cooperative members, run the operation OKL readers voted best agritourism in the state. And they attribute their success to an answered prayer.

“We were doing conventional farming and getting tired and frustrated,” Loren says. “We were praying and came across an article about a corn maze in Nashville.”

A few weeks later, they traveled to Utah for the first-ever corn maze convention. That fall they opened their corn maze, one of a handful of mazes in the country at the time; they hoped for 1,000 visitors and were grateful when 6,000 came out to the farm.

The maze’s route and theme change from year to year. In 2020, the Liebschers’ 20th agritourism season, they selected the design “together”—an apt theme in a year that made togetherness difficult. Even with COVID-19 challenges, they hosted 15,000 visitors.

“It’s a family tradition. We’ve seen people who have been there all 20 years. You establish relationships with the people,” Loren says. “That’s what corn mazes do—they connect people.”

Through the years the Liebschers have added to their agritourism offerings—a picturesque sunflower field in July and August and a pumpkin patch, petting zoo and hayrides in the fall. They offer overnight stays in an old, remodeled farmhouse, for rent year-round on Airbnb.

“It has a little front porch where you can sit and enjoy the sounds of the farm,” Loren says. “People love reconnecting with grandma and grandpa’s farm.”

To plan your trip to the farm, visit the P Bar Farms website.

Best Animal Shelter – Ardmore Animal Care

By Hayley Leatherwood

One animal shelter in southern Oklahoma is creating furry families not only in their service area, but also across the United States. Taking in more than 6,000 animals per year and up to 550 per month, Ardmore Animal Care has earned OKL readers’ respect as the “Best Animal Shelter” winner.

“For a small community it’s truly mind blowing how many animals we care for,” Amanda Dinwiddie, shelter supervisor, says. “We are the largest open admission shelter within 150 miles, so we try to be as big of a resource as we can for as many people as we can.”

Dinwiddie has always had a passion for animals. She works full time at the shelter where she supervises all operations and handles rescue transports and social media.

“Some of these animals have never felt a loving hand and we’re able to offer that to them here,” Dinwiddie says. “We are making a difference for a lot of animals and that matters to us.”

“Murphy” was one dog that made a special impact on Dinwiddie. He first showed up at the shelter in August, and she said Murphy “was not a nice dog.” They tried to get him back with his owner, but circumstances did not work out and he returned to the shelter on a cold day in October. He walked into the front door, allowed the staff to feed him, and since then, he has become the “nicest dog” that has since been adopted by a family in Illinois.

“Murphy is now the best dog. I could see in his eyes he had potential, he just needed somebody,” Dinwiddie says. “Seeing him with his family now is an absolute win for our amazing staff.”

The shelter has successfully partnered with several rescues in Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, and New York, which has led to a lot of animal lives saved. The shelter also stresses the importance of having pets spayed or neutered and offers several low-cost programs and incentives for the procedures.

The shelter is open with extra COVID-19 precautions and is always accepting supplies, monetary donations, and foster families. To learn more, follow the shelter on Facebook, call (580) 223-7070 or visit the Ardmore Animal Shelter website.

Best Professor – Dr. Brian Arnall

By Taryn Sanderson Franklin

Oklahoma is no stranger to the many gifted professors who so generously share their wealth of knowledge with students, and it’s a great pleasure to announce our readers chose Dr. Brian Arnall, an Oklahoma State University (OSU) Department of Plant and Soil Sciences professor, as the best professor in the state.

“I’m in complete shock by this,” Arnall says. “I feel very honored to be in the running alone, and it’s rewarding to know what I do doesn’t go unnoticed. I’m very passionate about getting people to think beyond their own perspectives and of course, challenging and educating my students through the work I do.”

Arnall grew up in northeast Oklahoma and received his B.S. in agronomy, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in soil science at OSU in Stillwater; he began his professorship immediately following his Ph.D. at OSU in 2008. Today, he teaches nutrient management and precision ag at the university and believes his teaching style of storytelling and real-life application in his lessons is what takes his classroom experience to the next level.

“Dr. Arnall is an outstanding professor,” Hunter Lovewell, an OSU graduate research assistant says. “He is genuinely passionate about his work in the classroom, and he keeps his students’ attention throughout class because of the real-world experience he has to share with us all.”

In addition to his teachings, Arnall’s research and extension with the university focuses on specific technologies and nutrient management with all of Oklahoma’s cropping systems. He works closely with educators and industry personnel to improve nutrient management practices and increase profits for state producers.

“My work comes full circle as I get to work with the next generation and the farmers, ranchers and people of Oklahoma,” Arnall says. “I feel truly blessed.”

Best Author – Anna Kittrell

By Zoe Petersen

Somewhere between the monkey bars and the metal swings on the playground of an elementary school in small town Oklahoma, Anna Kittrell could be found peddling the makeshift novels of her youth for spare pocket change. Fast forward a few years, and what started as a 10-cent-per-story recess hustle has turned into an award winning 10-times-published career in authorship.

Kittrell still resides in the small town that holds her childhood wonder, with her high school sweetheart and their two children—now adults themselves. When she’s not wordsmithing, she is a secretary at the same Anadarko High School she graduated from in 1989. Though she is not handwriting her tales on spiral-bound notebook paper anymore, the thrill she gets from sharing her work has never left her.

“I still remember staring at my computer screen in disbelief, after receiving an email from the Wild Rose Press, informing me my first book would be published. I was so shocked I was physically shaking,” Kittrell says.

Kittrell has since created a plethora of new characters and carefully woven their lives into storylines that keep readers tuned in and eager to turn the page.

“I now have 10 books in publication, and each instance has been unique and special. However, none match the exhilaration of seeing my name on the cover the very first time,” she says.

Her work has been nationally recognized and awarded by Oklahoma Romance Writers of America and Writers Digest Magazine, and her young adults novel “Soul Shot” was a 2018 National Readers’ Choice Award finalist. Her writing can also be found published in Woman’s World magazine and Southern Writers Magazine. Her current project, a screenplay entitled “Reflection” is under option with Brookwater films.

Kittrell is an icon within her industry, and a treasure in her Oklahoma hometown. Readers can find all of her books on Amazon or on her website, Anna Kittrell.

Category: Oklahoma Stories

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