Historic Downtown Jefferson

Eat and antique your way along the brick-paved streets of this charming East Texas town.
Historic Downtown Jefferson
Jefferson General Store
Photograph by Allison Smith

1. Fred’s Books on the Bayou

Even though proprietor Fred McKenzie passed away in January at ninety, the local historian’s passion for literature lives on in his used-book store, where volumes of varying age and condition are squeezed into every available space. Among the selections are several dozen vintage titles, like Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkie and a 1921 copy of Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche. A sign on the wall could have been McKenzie’s personal motto: “Buy good books even if you never read them.” 210 W. Austin, 903-665-9549

2. River City Mercantile

Some antiques shops are just cluttered mazes of junk, but Bob Haynes’s is so orderly—and so discerningly edited— that you’re in grave danger of actually finding what you’re looking for: rare china, a needlepoint sampler stitched by a nineteenth-century schoolgirl, a long-faced West African ritual statue. And it’s frighteningly easy to rationalize impulse buys. Your living room needs that Victorian finger-carved walnut chair. Your grandmother would die happy if she had this gold-leaf teacup and saucer. 111 W. Austin, 903-665-8270

3. Auntie Skinner’s Riverboat Club

The Mardi Gras beads hanging haphazardly on the sign in front of this casual eatery portend the good times to be had inside. As out-of-towners scarf down muffulettas and catfish po’boys and take in the particularly Southern decor (immense photographs of steamboats, portraits of Confederate patriots), locals congregate in the back to gossip, smoke, shoot pool, and take turns singing karaoke on the neon-lit stage. 107 W. Austin, 903-665-7121, auntie-skinners.com

4. Jefferson General Store

If you have a sweet tooth—or a small child—prepare to spend the better part of an hour wandering this candy-and-novelties-filled emporium. You don’t really need a whoopee cushion, microwave popcorn on the cob, or Dr Pepper–marinated beef jerky, but they’ll end up in your basket anyway. At the eight-stool soda counter, you can wash down just-made pecan pralines with a satisfyingly syrupy cherry-vanilla Coke or—for a mere 5 cents—a cup of coffee. 113 E. Austin, 903-665-8481, jeffersongeneralstore.com

5. Austin Street Bistro

Locals flock to this cozy spot for the mostly organic, always fresh fare whipped up by chef-owner Gena McCormick. The veggie-packed lasagna (made with spinach, mushrooms, roasted bell peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash) and the inventive sandwiches served on homemade oatmeal-molasses bread (opt for the Pilgrim: turkey breast, cranberry sauce, and cream cheese) have become instant classics. The “healthy indulgent” desserts—hazelnut pear tartlets, a six-layer chocolate truffle cake—contain minimal sugar but still taste divine. 117 E. Austin, 903-665-9700, austinstreetbistro.com

6. Rives Landing Kitchen Store

At this culinary boutique, seasoned chefs will drool over the seven-quart Viking stand mixers and kiln-fired Emile Henry bakeware. Cooking neophytes will be drawn to useful basics (collapsible mixing bowls, cookie cutters in every imaginable shape) and handy gadgets (glass boiling discs, piecrust shields). Even blasé browsers will get a kick out of the “Bubba room,” where they can snag kitschy aprons (“Will grill for sex”) and party lights made from shotgun shells. 120 N. Polk, 903-665-3704

7. Gold Leaf Antique Mall

Ladies with large handbags should maneuver with caution as they troll the booths of this treasure-hunter’s paradise. The two-level store is chockablock with fragile glassware and pottery (Imperial Cape Cod stemware, vintage Fiesta) and delicate tchotchkes (Hummel figurines from the thirties). Curio cabinets are stocked with keepsakes older than your great-granny, like wallet-size tintypes and the largest selection of handcrafted W. R. Case knives in northeast Texas. 122 N. Polk, 903-665-2882, goldleaf-antiques.com

8. Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar

The best thing since sliced bread may be the sliced corn-bread sandwiches at this corner cafe. From the Sicilian (pastrami and provolone) to the Redneck (fried bologna and American cheese), each creation is served on plain, jalapeño, or broccoli cornbread. The creamy chicken and dumplings and the homemade coconut buttermilk pie (one of fifteen varieties) round out a decadent trifecta of comfort food. 125 N. Polk, 903-665-0505, kittskornbread.com

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