Best Deer Season Eats on the Great Outdoors Road
Outdoor Channel celebs share their favorite on-the-road cafés and diners from one end of the country to the other
For many Outdoor Channel TV hosts, barbecue is a favored post-hunt meal. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Going on a fall hunt for game including white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope, ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite quail, mourning dove or green-headed mallard ducks is a great way for an outdoorsman to spend a gorgeous autumn afternoon.
But doing so works up a pretty good appetite, especially when an Outdoor Channel television camera is involved with all of the gathering of video content, B-roll footage and the special clips that make up a great television show displaying a good hunt.
For Boerne, Texas, resident Jordan Shipley, co-host of The Bucks of Tecomate on Outdoor Channel, his native Lone Star State is a pretty tough place to beat when it comes to post-hunt grub.
This is especially true when it comes to sliding into a well-worn booth seat at a favored small town diner or cafe, the kind of mom-and-pop places that dot the various stops across the map of the vast state.
"My favorite diner is in Brownwood, Texas," said Shipley. "It's a pretty good drive out of the way to get there, but Underwood's in Brownwood is worth it."
For Shipley, the meal of choice after a day of hunting – or playing a game of football – is a beef steak.
But not necessarily the mesquite-grilled version of the dish that most people think of when they think of the state of Texas.
"What Underwood's is famous for is their beef steak," said Shipley, who was the most prolific pass catcher in Texas high school football history after a record-smashing career at Burnet High School. "It might sound crazy, but it is steamed and is super moist. I guess the steam sears the steak and keeps the juices in. I don't know how to explain it, but it's really, really good."
Given his roots on the gridiron, it's not surprising that Shipley was introduced to the good eats at Underwood's by way of high school football. Shipley's dad, Bob, was the head football coach at Brownwood for several years during a career that has also seen the elder Shipley make stops at such places as Belton, Burnet, Coppell and Rotan.
"I never lived in Brownwood, but my younger brother Jaxon played high school football there when my dad coached there," said Shipley, who along with his brother made the #8 jersey famous at the University of Texas in Austin. "It's all pretty good there, including their country side dishes, their homemade barbecue sauce, their incredible hot rolls and their cobbler. My favorite one is the cherry cobbler."
If Shipley's favorite spot is known for its beef steak, it's also known for its barbecue and chicken fried steak, two Lone Star State delicacies that have filled the bellies of many residents and visitors to the Big Country region near Brownwood.
Shipley is familiar with the region, both from family football exploits and from hunting near Abilene with his late grandfather and his grandmother.
"One of the best things about Texas high school football games is eating a good chicken fried steak after the game," smiled Shipley as he described one of the state's signature dishes.
While many people – myself included – think that Mary's Cafe in nearby Strawn, Texas, has the best chicken fried steak in the Lone Star State, the former UT Longhorn Shipley believes that a spot in Baylor Bears country is the place to go.
"In my mind, George's in Waco is tough to beat," he said.
While beef barbecue and a chicken fried steak smothered in gravy are two meals that Shipley will drive out of the way for, he admits that at least one chain restaurant also ranks highly on his list for good post-hunt grub.
"I think one of the best places to go after a Texas dove hunt is Cracker Barrel, believe it or not," he laughed. "That's what pops into my head when I think about dove hunting. My old Texas Longhorns teammates Colt McCoy and Casey Studdard used to go dove hunting (with me) near Buda, Texas, when we had Monday afternoons off from practice. What I remember most about those dove hunting trips was going to Cracker Barrel and wiping them out of their fresh rolls."
Of course, good food – whether it's after a hunt or a fall football game – isn't limited to Texas. Just ask Major League Fishing pro Brent Chapman.
"My favorite place is Guy & Mae's Tavern in Williamsburg, Kansas," said Chapman, who deer hunts in the region. "It's kind of unique in that it's the way that things used to be back in the day. It's a family owned business since 1973 and it's well known for its Kansas City style barbecue, which I love."
When visiting Guy & Mae’s Tavern, the Chapman family likes to order ribs and the polish sausage sandwich. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Known as one of the "Eight Wonders of Kansas Cuisine," Chapman said that he and his family have been going there for a number of years.
"I grew up fishing on Melvern Lake, which is just to the southwest of Williamsburg," said Chapman. "And now that we deer hunt and turkey hunt in the region, it's one of our favorite places to go as a family."
Apparently it's a favorite place of plenty of other people too since the small barbecue establishment – known for their ribs, beef, turkey and sausage – often has a line that is out the door and down the block in the small eastern Kansas community.
"They're not a chain, they don't advertise and they are off the beaten path a little ways from I-35," said Chapman, who treated myself and OutdoorChannel.com editor Jeff Phillips to a meal there last December during a live deer hunt conducted with Chapman and his daughter Maykayla. "It's not like it's in a tourist area or anything, (but it's often crowded)."
While Chapman loves the ribs, he's especially loves the polish sausage sandwich that the eatery is known for.
"Their sausage sandwiches are second to none, especially when you put their sauce on them," said Chapman. "The sandwich is kind of unique in that it's your typical polish style sausage that is grilled, sliced into thin strips and put on a bun. It's the perfect meal after a hunt or a fishing trip."
For Iowa resident David Holder and the rest of his Raised Hunting crew, barbecue isn't the preferred grub after a hunt.
"It's the best place in the world but it's going to sound weird," laughed the former Montana-based firefighter turned bowhunting enthusiast and television show host. "We are obsessed with the Great American Bagel shop in Billings, Montana"
After a morning spent chasing elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope or whitetails in the Big Sky State, Holder said there have been many times that the pickup truck has found its way towards the bagel shop, even now when himself, wife Karin and boys, Warren and Easton, have returned to Montana.
"The boys and I have driven for extra hours or stopped short on a trip out that way to make sure that we go through Billings when the bagel place is open," said Holder.
Gregg Ritz, host of Hunt Masters, has done his own share of big game hunting across the American West. And when he's in that part of the country, there's one post-hunt dish that readily comes to mind.
"I really enjoy the authentic Mexican cafes," said Ritz. "There is nothing like a sizzling hot plate of fajitas that always seems to hit the spot. A great barbecue joint is always a good find too."
In the big whitetail country of the Midwest, Outdoor Channel television personality Mark Drury has his own favored eatery for post-hunt grub.
"My favorite on the road cafe would have to be the Red Dome (Inn) in Pittsfield, Illinois," said the co-host of Drury’s THIRTEEN. "Terry and I have so many fond memories from our days in Pike County, Illinois, and eating at the Red Dome. I absolutely love that place."
Having done my own share of hunting in Pike County at Rick Wombles' Hopewell Views Hunting Club, I can attest to the Red Dome Inn's worthiness as a must-stop place to eat after a whitetail bow hunt.
And not just for their steaks and pork chops either, since it's always fun to see the array of wrapped trucks parked out front, many of them belonging to hunting personalities filming deer hunts for various Outdoor Channel television shows.
For Michael Hunsucker and Shawn Luchtel of Heartland Bowhunter fame, a good spot to eat in the Midwest is Lambert's Cafe, known as the Missouri home of the "Throwed Rolls."
"It's a pretty entertaining place to go and they have great food too," said Hunsucker. "Another place that we just had to stop in and try on our way home from New Mexico last year was the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, home of the free 72-ounce steak."
Free if you can clean your plate within one hour of the huge steak, a pre-dinner shrimp cocktail and a baked potato, salad and rolls that is!
"Unfortunately, neither Shawn or I had the ambition to attempt that challenge," laughed Hunsucker.
While there are obviously numerous places to stop and grab a good bite to eat while on the great outdoors road this fall, sometimes, the best eateries are a little closer to home.
"We don't travel much, something that has to do with our crew having so many tags in Iowa," said Kandi Kisky of Whitetail Freaks. "So food wise, in our minds, it's tough to beat home cooking for chicken and dumplings or venison loins that are fried."
Especially after a cold evening of filming a late-season muzzleloader hunt for a big whitetail looking for groceries on the snow-covered landscape.
Down the road, fellow Iowa resident Tiffany Lakosky agreed.
"When we're on the road, we love little hole-in-the-wall kind of places since they always seem to have the best food!," said Tiffany. "(But) when you're gone for a (good) length of time, there's nothing like a little home cooking!"
Especially when Outdoor Channel cameras have gathered plenty of good footage of another “Big Buck Down” moment, something that almost always seems to build up a good Deer Season appetite.