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2016 has come & gone, and people in general have this sense of relief that it is finally over. I get it, 2016 was an unusual year, with many twists & turns that have gotten peoples nerves bad. However, 2016 also brought great joy to people everywhere, especially in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. The music industry continues to put out some incredibly talented artists, chefs are taking their culinary skills to new heights, and folks like myself are out there soaking it all in. Its the year that Cleveland finally got that long awaited championship title. While I live in Texas & travel from state to state, my love & passion for Ohio & being a native Clevelander will never die. Thank you LeBron James for providing a championship parade to 1.3 million Cleveland fans that made the pilgrimage to Cleveland to celebrate. Now in terms of 2016, the Cavs title was the greatest thing that happened during the year, as I was fortunate to have driven 1300 miles from Texas to Cleveland to watch it with my son, my brother, my nieces, and about 20 of my oldest friends. The aftermath from game 7 was 4 days of straight up celebrating & partying like I was 21.
Now, looking at 2016 from the eyes of the Hungry Outlaw, it was a year that introduced me to the incredible breakfasts in Denver, Colorado and some of the best burgers on earth in Amarillo, Texas. It was the year I finally made it to the legendary Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ & Gus's Fried Chicken in Memphis, Tennessee. Those are just a few places that stood out, and I will take a deeper dive into my list of favorites. Musically it was the year that I was introduced to some incredible artists like Miss Margo Price, John Fullbright, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and so many more that made my Spotify playlist. And most of all, 2016 was the first year that I finally took the step to create the Hungry Outlaw. In this first year, I have taken my vision to new heights, and have seen tremendous growth, while establishing my reputation as a trusted source for where people can learn about some of this countries best places to grab a bite to eat & to catch a live show. Nothing makes me more excited than when I see I have new followers & subscribers that want to share in my passion.
In starting out my best of list, I will break down my favorites by grouping them in 3 areas. First up is my favorite meal of the day, breakfast:
This place was one of my biggest surprises of the year. While in the midst of helping out with a move, we wanted a good breakfast, and kept seeing things about this cozy little spot in Centennial. The food we ordered had us so blown away that we actually missed a turn when we got back on the road. We missed it because we were still reeling from the deliciousness that we just encountered. For me it was really two items that won me over, the pork & green chile stew smothered breakfast burrito, and the savory veggie pancake. That pancake was the reason for the missed turn, I mean seriously, this thing was simply insane. Its essentially a pancake poured over a griddle covered in cheddar cheese. The melting cheddar works its way in the the roasted savory veggie stuffed pancake batter. Its served with fresh housemade pico and sour cream. The browned and crisped cheese forms a crust making this similar to how a quesadilla would be eaten. This is a must hit spot if you are in the Denver area.
Snooze, an AM Eatery
Several locations throughout Colorado, Arizona, California, and have now expanded into Texas
Before my first trip to Denver, we had many people tell us that we needed to get here. So, after touching down, the first mission in Colorado was to find a Snooze. It lived up to its billing. To my biggest surprise of the year, Snooze decided to grow and open up in both Houston & Austin. Thank you Snooze, because Texas needed you. I even host work meetings there from time to time, just so others can learn about this treasure. My go to breakfast is the breakfast pot pie made with a flaky filo shell, filled with housemade sausage gravy, potatoes, and topped with 2 over easy eggs. Savory, tender, with just the right amount of spice (especially after you drizzle sriracha). For the table, I highly recommend you order a flight of pancakes, and sample three different cakes, none of which will be served with maple syrup. They simply do not need it. I go with a pineapple upside down pancake, a blueberry danish pancake, & whatever their pancake of the day is (like maybe a peach cobbler or cinnamon roll pancake). This place will leave your belly full, and your taste buds tantalized.
In Columbus, Ohio's Short North neighborhood located at 680 North Pearl Street
As I began my drive back to Texas from 4 days of celebrating the Cavs championship title, I was rolling through Columbus at around 7am. I wanted breakfast, pulled up Yelp, and found this quaint hidden spot in Short North. From the reviews I read, I knew I had to find it. And boy, was I glad I did. Between a delicious breakfast and the company of a friendly staff (now also proud supporters of Hungry Outlaw), I left ready to drive on through to Nashville for a late lunch. The winner for me was the poached eggs over black bean cakes, topped with a creamy hollandaise sauce. Add in a side serving of their popular biscuits & sausage gravy, and you have the perfect Ohio breakfast. This spot is hidden, but always has a crowd due to the word on the street. People in Columbus know this gem, its time for everyone else to as well.
The Down House
In Houston's Heights neighborhood at 1801 Yale Street
This is one of my favorite go to joints when I am at home in Houston. Its a place that I will often start my work day because its in the heart of central Houston, and an easy access point for me to embark on my daily work life. What makes this place so special is their pork hash with eggs. They let you choose from your standard chicken eggs, to duck eggs, and even goose eggs. Since I like runny yolk all over my skillet, the goose eggs are my favorite. The pork hash consists of slow roasted savory pork shoulder chunks mixed with perfectly seasoned breakfast potatoes. Honestly, this breakfast is so good, that I really don't order anything else. It all looks great, and peoples reactions are always fun to watch, but when you find something this good, you stick with it.
That's enough breakfast talk, now lets talk burgers & BBQ. For my best of 2016, I am going to send you to Amarillo, Texas. I spent a week there for work, and this town blew my mind, all because of two incredible joints.
Coyote Bluff Cafe
Located at 2417 South Grand Street out near the Amarillo Airport
This may be the most unassuming place I have ever been to, but ask anyone in Amarillo who has the best burger in Texas, and this is that spot. Its so well known that even Man vs Food included them when they were in town for the 72oz steak challenge at the Big Texan Steakhouse. This rustic gem has a burger that blows all other burgers out of the water. From a pile of melted cheddar and mozzarella cheese, to the grilled onions and thick texas cut bacon, this burger had my mouth watering and wanting more. Add in a side of their half green chile stew, and half Texas chili, along with some onion rings and an ice cold Shiner Bock, you will never want to leave Amarillo.
And just when I thought Amarillo should be known for their burger, I found myself enjoying some of the best BBQ I have had in Texas at Tylers. This was also a place that people told me I had to hit while in town. As I walked in and waited in the typically long line of eager diners, I was greeted at the counter by owner Tyler Frazer. He treats every customer as if they are family, and loves nothing more than to see their faces light up with joy from digging into some award winning BBQ, and delicious sides. He is also a Pitmaster that promotes all of Texas's great BBQ joints, and often travels to other iconic BBQ spots around the state to further his education on being one badass pitmaster. I had a sandwich with moist brisket, and his famous jalapeno sausage, topped with his house pickled jalapenos and cole slaw. I added in a side of his famous Thursday Mac & Cheese, and found myself wanting more. Please support Tyler and use the hashtag #supporttexasbbq. Even if you are just passing through Amarillo, spend enough time to get here.
It seems that the best of 2016 lead me down a path to amazing comfort foods. So with any comfort foods, I have to talk about fried chicken. In this section, I pay homage to a Cleveland favorite, as well as Memphis, Tennessee.
I left Houston in route for Cleveland at around midnight. This was because I knew it would take about 11 hours to get to Memphis, and I had to get to Gus's Fried Chicken for lunch. I was driving on adrenaline to go watch my Cavs play for game 7, and I need to establish driving goals when I am on the road for that long. My goals are always the spots I want to eat at along the way. Gus's was a great stop for some of the most perfect fried chicken I have ever had. It has a spicy and crunchy coating, but not overly breaded. Its the right amount of breading and spice to highlight the perfectly fried chicken. Add in sides of mac & cheese, and mashed potatoes, and you will leave happy. It was the perfect roadside stop on my journey to Ohio.
Hot Sauce Williams
7815 Carnegie Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio
No website, because they don't need one. Everybody in Cleveland knows about this spot.
I have been a fan of Hot Sauce Williams since the mid 90's when I first discovered this Cleveland hot spot. What I love about this place is their fried chicken, smothered in their famous BBQ sauce, with a side of my favorite mac & cheese. This mac & cheese is so good that I order it by the tray to bring to tailgate parties when I attend a Browns or Buckeyes game. This spot has been recognized by several TV guys, like Cleveland's Michael Symon, and the Traveler Channel icon Anthony Bourdain. This spot is conveniently located just over a mile away from the Case Western Reserve campus, where my son attends school. Every trip to visit my son, always includes a trip to Hot Sauce Williams.
Well, that was all about my favorite foods throughout the year, but 2016 was a year in which I was able to catch some great live music performances.
My best of the best list of great performances are as follows & detailed through photos:
1 - Margo Price @ Gruene Hall in New Braunfels
2 - Patrick Sweany & Uncle Lucius @ SXSW Nine Mile Records Showcase
3 - John Fullbright & Aaron Lee Tasjan @ the Luck Reunion
4 - Reverend Horton Heat & The Delta Bombers @ Sam's Burger Joint in San Antonio
5 - Samantha Fish @ Dosey Doe in the Woodlands
6 - Andra Day, Leon Bridges, & Kendrick Lamar @ the Essence Festival in New Orleans