By Arthur Bovino
Whether on the gridiron, hardwood, diamond, or ice, athletes raise our hopes, and in crucial moments, dash and fulfill our dreams. Some cement fame and glory by following through on guarantees. Others fall, get backpage bullied, and live accepting they never won a ring. Whatever their success in the record books, many gridiron heroes and ballpark messiahs have splashed their names on a dining establishment that also serves as a shrine to their athletic glory. But there's not necessarily a correlation between winning and ability to open a great restaurant.
|Slideshow: Best Athlete-Owned Restaurants|
Last year, The Daily Meal evaluated the 10 best athlete-owned restaurants in America, looking at restaurants owned or invested in by boxers, golfers, skateboarders, hockey players, quarterbacks and basketball legends. For most, the formula is pretty standard: Generic pub food, lots of TVs, even more memorabilia covering the walls, and always, always, spinach artichoke dip. The only thing usually missing is the athlete.
Don't expect to spot Brett Favre greeting guests at his steakhouse in Green Bay. And what about say, for instance, Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C.? The web site may claim that the restaurant was "designed to reflect Michael's sense of taste and style," but the way its representatives respond to the most innocent of questions about His Airness' basic involvement lead you to the conclusion that the only connection to him is a name licensing one.
But the reality is that whether or not the athlete is there, or even regularly involved, there are athlete-owned restaurants that put out popular food -- and some of it's even good. On the West Coast, skateboarder Tony Hawk has invested in a restaurant that's kitchen is run by a James Beard Foundation "California Chef of the Year." Meanwhile NFL quarterback Vince Young not only has a steakhouse in Austin, but also supplies his own brand of smoked meat to area grocery stores.
Last year's list of the 10 best athlete-owned restaurants brought many comments and suggestions about other great places owned by sports stars (including nominations like Rusty's, Johnny Unitas' Golden Arm Restaurant, and Jared Allen's Sport Arena and Grill, that, unfortunately, are no longer open). So it's time to take another look, a longer look -- to reevaluate the rankings and see which jock-invested joints should be included on an expanded list of the country's best athlete-owned restaurants.
To determine this year's champs we investigated reader suggestions, evaluated local reviews, tallied popular rating sites, and scoured menus for more than 35 athlete-owned restaurants across the country to narrow the list to just the 20 best. This year's list includes steakhouses, Southern specialists, barbecue joints, sports grills, high-end dining, and Chinese restaurants that are owned, or partially owned, by athletes. Check out the slideshow for all the details.
Though he now plays in the NFL, quarterback Vince Young remains king in Austin for leading the Texas to the national championship in 2005. Two years ago, he returned to his college stomping grounds to open his first restaurant downtown. The menu specializes in beef, from bacon and blue cheese bison sliders to locally sourced Texas prime grade steaks and a rich wagyu brisket burger balanced out by briny house-made pickles.
After retiring from professional football, defensive lineman Al "Bubba" Baker and his wife Sabrina opened a catering business featuring "Southern-style barbecue cuisine." Bubba's Q has since done pretty well, at least according to the accolades they list (among them Cleveland Magazine and Silver Spoon Awards for "Best Ribs" and "Best Barbecue Restaurant" from 2009 to 2011).
Yao Restaurant & Bar was good enough to be featured at number 19 on The Daily Meal's list of 25 Best Celebrity-Owned Restaurants. Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming and his wife joined with friends and local restaurant owners to create a large space serving Chinese and Chinese-American food. Lettuce wraps, Peking dumplings, Kung Pao beef -- it's all there.
While playing for the Seattle Supersonics in the late 1990s, former NBA point guard Gary Payton became a co-owner of this authentic Southern spot. The menu is as fun to read as the food is to eat: ShoNuff Fried Green Tomatoes, Hoppin John Griddlejacks, and Down Home Mac and Cheese. Save room for dessert the red velvet cake layered with cream cheese frosting is a winner.
-- Click here to see America’s Best Buffalo Wings
Though he kicked clutch field goals for the San Diego Chargers, Nate Kaeding has maintained a connection to his hometown of Iowa City, Iowa, by buying a stake in this bare-knuckle burger and beer joint. The corn-fed beef comes from Ed Smith's Farm, just 26 miles down the road, and the craft beer comes from breweries around the state, like Old Man River. If you ever find yourself in Iowa, stop here for the Popejoy, a messy medley of patty meat, capicola, provolone and muffaletta sauce.
"Taste the good life" is the tagline of Arnold Palmer's Restaurant in La Quinta, Calif. Makes sense. If anyone's living the good life, you'd think it would have to be Palmer. He won 92 national and international championships (61 of them on the regular PGA Tour) he's designed golf courses, and hey, he even invented a famous drink. Some of chef Brett Maddock's menu highlights include pear salad, honey-soy glazed halibut, braised beef short ribs, and pan-seared sea scallops. But there are a variety of broiler selections and a considerable number of "Arnie's favorite comfort foods," from traditional meatloaf and beef stroganoff to chicken pot pie.
Twenty-one seasons with the Bruins made Ray Bourque a legend in Boston. Even though it wasn't until joining the Colorado Avalanche that he won the Stanley Cup, Bourque chose Boston as the place to open his Italian restaurant, Tresca. There's a four-course tasting menu to help you navigate choosing between crespelle, vongoline, cioppino, osso bucco, maiale Abbruzzese, and other promising dishes.
In Denver, John Elway is God. The former Bronco quarterback did what few legends have done won his second Super Bowl in 1999, retired on top, and then stayed retired. His foray into fine dining has been equally successful. He co-owns two eponymous restaurants, one in the Ritz-Carlton downtown, the other in Cherry Creek (and a third in Vail, Colo.). The steakhouse menu will please carnivores with a cavemans appetite, but skirt the standards to find the creative apps and sides, like lamb chops dipped in green chile fondue, crunchy calamari tossed with stuffed olives and cherry peppers.
-- Click here to see 2011’s Over-the-Top Fast Food
Michael Jordan's sleek neighborhood place offers a seasonal menu, and maybe the best deal in town. On Wednesdays, the bar features a fried chicken and champagne dinner. Sounds like an odd pairing, but the bird comes with Asian pear slaw, a seasonally spiced waffle, and potato wedges, and the bubbly is Moncuit Blanc de Blanc. At $16, it's a steal.
Skateboarding icon Tony Hawk is a self-proclaimed foodie and investor in the Del Mar hot spot, Market. Chef Carl Schroeder, a Michael Mina and Bradley Odgen protégé, turns out fresh California fare such as a blue cheese soufflé with Santa Rosa plums, peach preserves, butter lettuce, and candied almonds. Book reservations in advance -- this place fills up fast.
Click here for TheDailyMeal.com's complete slideshow of Best Athlete-Owned Restaurants.
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