Nothing shakes off the winter blues better than getting in the car and exploring.

Nothing shakes off the winter blues better than getting in the car and exploring. Before the dog days of summer kick in and all your free time is spent on the Lake, take an afternoon off or spend a Saturday on a road trip. Stopping at mom-and-pop stores, eating at local diners and browsing for antiques are all great ways to find out what’s out there in your own backyard.

Day 1: Tunus/Lead Mine 

Over the course of two days I went on a drive to the “outskirts” of the Lake. Some of these places I’d been before but wanted to take a few extra hours visiting other businesses close by, asking questions and discovering new places. I only wish I had more time. In all, I hit about a dozen places, but there are dozens more that offer unique merchandise and hand-made products at prices that are hard to believe. 

It also surprised me how busy each store was. It’s clear that locals are well aware of what they offer and shop there often. People from all walks of life look for everyday items and others just shop for the thrill of it. 

My first stop was Tunus, a small town just outside of Macks Creek, and about a 40 minute drive from my starting point in Osage Beach. The first thing that caught my attention was a sign for T&J's U-Pick Strawberries, where you can pick strawberries by the pound for $2.50. I took a mental note to revisit them when they open for the season. My destination was the Lead Mine area where over 20 merchants are located within a short drive of one another. From Tunus, you’ll turn down THE Road, a narrow highway, where you’ll start to see signs for local businesses. I stopped at Meadowview Dutch Market, known for discount groceries, deli sandwiches made to order, and bulk spices, candy and other Mennonite-made goods. Rows upon rows of Missouri honey, every kind of fruit jam imaginable, locally raised and processed meats, and bags of dried fruit and nuts, cheeses, an entire wall of dried spices and others . 

I took home a basket of summer sausage, deli meats, gooseberry jam, apple sauce, locally-processed pork sausage, bags of dried fruit and a few other items. 

Just down the road from Meadowview is the Ozarks Country Furniture store with a 4,000 square feet showroom with bedroom sets, dining room tables, rocking chairs, end tables and other high-end furniture for sale. I wasn’t in the market for any new furniture but it was nice to see the craftsmanship that went into each piece. Definitely a stop if you are into handmade wooden furniture. 

If you don’t plan out where you are going, it’s easy to drive around and find a few places, but don’t rely on Mapquest to get you there. This is about the spot where I lost all contact with the world. 

A few miles later (follow EE until it ends, turn right on HighwayTT, left on Highway YY) I made it to my next stop, The Lead Mine Country Store & Restaurant. As I pulled in I saw my first of many horses and buggies parked outside indicating I had arrived in Mennonite country. There were a lot more household items and clothing in this store. Cookware, cast iron pans, kids’ toys, shoes, fabric, lions, essential oils and lots of books all make great gifts or unique items for your home. There was still a large selection of dried goods and canned items. My purchases included handmade soaps, salsa, loose leaf teas and a few other odds and ends. 

While the restaurant wasn’t open for the season the day I was there, the owner said he makes something every day to feed shoppers and locals. On this particular day it was homemade pot pie and cobbler. I told him to box it up for me to take home — turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. If you are planning a trip this spring, the restaurant opens March 13 serving lunch until 2:30 p.m. The huge menu of sandwiches (on homemade bread), salads, soups and specialties like the roast beef and noodles, Wienerschnitzel, and old-fashioned sodas are worth the trip in and of itself. 

The owner had plenty of recommendations for me, including the Ozark Winds Bakery located nearby, which opens in April. I promised a return visit and to bring a few friends along with an empty stomach. 

On my way back home I passed by the Lead Mine Produce Auction, a great spot for local in-season produce — you just might end up buying a lot more than you need.

Day 2: Barnett/Versailles 

Coming from the Osage Beach side of the Lake once again, I headed in the opposite direction (toward Eldon), to a cluster of locally-owned businesses in between Eldon and Versailles. From Highway 52, you’ll turn onto Route AA to access Highway C (take a left) which is the main thoroughfare to access the shops and will eventually end up in Versailles. 

A friend had told me of a surplus outlet in the area she had visited and found tons of items for her home so it was high on my list of places to visit. Hoover’s Surplus Outlet didn’t disappoint. Anything and everything for the home at discounted prices was there. Toys, wooden signs, workout equipment, appliances, dishes, lamps, bedding, and luggage were just some of the items that stood out to me. I even found a Fitbit Inspire on sale but decided to put it back on the shelf. You’ll have fun just looking around. 

On the way out I picked up a Mennonite Community Map which was a great resource for finding out what my next stop would be. 

I found my favorite bakery at Sunshine Foods. Behind the counter, Mennonite workers were busy bagging fresh loaves of bread and pastries. There were different kinds of breads (oatmeal, white, wheat, honey wheat), sticky buns, cookies (even a few sugar free options) pies, cookies, donuts (from regular to raspberry filled), sweet breads (banana, pumpkin nut, banana chocolate chip), and danish. It was hard not to fill the cart up with one of each. 

The grocery store also had everything else you would need but I was impressed with the variety of organic and natural items like the castile soap, Quinoa spaghetti and Almond milk. If you love to bake, the number of ingredients you can buy in bulk is sure to impress. Be sure to check labels and expiration dates. 

Further down the road is another popular spot, Dutch Country Store which has many of the same items you can find at other spots. If you take the gravel road a little farther down, Morgan County Seeds is a planter’s paradise. Browse the isles of vegetable seeds and start planting for the garden for the season. I left with packets of herbs, baby carrot, onion and tomato seeds. We will see what happens to grow this spring! I asked about fruit trees/seeds but was told they have a green house where you can purchase plants in-season. There are a couple of other seed stores in the area, including Shirk’s Produce & Greenhouse which I’ve heard is THE place to go for gardeners. They open in April, so I’ll have to make another trip. 

It was time to eat and I already had a place in mind — Lehman’s Family Restaurant in Versailles. I made it just in time, I escaped the lunch rush but it was a little later in the day and they closed at 3 p.m. The family restaurant has been serving country home cooking since 1985. The small menu has plenty of options but it is the buffet that brings in hungry customers. For about $11 you have access to the salad bar (and on this particular day) fish, fried chicken, vegetables, stuffing, gravy, zucchini quiche, and a dessert bar with over 10 different items. All homemade. 

Mark your calendar for the community open house, a two-day event held in the spring and winter each year when various businesses offer free refreshments, discounts, door prizes and samples. Held the last Friday in April and first Friday in December.