Right now, somewhere in the American sports landscape, a retired athlete is opening a steakhouse.
When it comes to famous pro athletes and restaurants bearing their names, there’s nothing more common than a tried and true American steakhouse. Depending on what city you’re in, chances are good that the local icon is offering you the choicest cut of porterhouse available.
It’s Elway’s in Denver, Vince Young’s in Austin, Shula’s all around the country, and loads more. Some are great, some are easy cash grabs for famous jocks, but for the sports fan with a discerning palate, there’s more than just red meat when it comes to athlete-owned restaurant experiences.
We’ve assembled five of our firsthand picks, each offering a unique menu and a quality dining experience while still giving fans a chance to eat like their favorite athletes — sort of.
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Famous Name: Ray Borque, NHL Hall of Famer and Boston Bruins legend
City: Boston, Mass.
Who better to open an Italian place on Boston’s North End than the city’s most favorite French Canadian import? If that doesn’t make sense to you, you don’t know Boston’s love for its pro athletes. After 21 seasons with the Bruins and one Stanley Cup run in Colorado, Borque returned to Beantown to work in the Bruins’ front office and open this traditional Italian dining experience.
What To Order: Tresca’s house favorite is a tasting menu broken up by courses, with each dish representing a different region of Italy.
Best-Named Menu Item: The “North End Classic,” which pays inadvertent homage to the delicate, light palate of the local Boston sports fan (yeah, right) by taking a traditional cannoli and filling it with chocolate, pistachio and ricotta cheese.
Restaurant: Manning’s Eat-Drink-Cheer
Famous Name: The Manning Football Family
City: New Orleans, La.
If you’ve ever experienced top-flight New Orleans cuisine but pined for the luxury of a big sports bar experience — and a recliner — Manning’s has you covered. Its menu is a hybrid of NOLA and Mississippi favorites in a traditional sports bar atmosphere that even features lounge chairs arranged in stadium seating. Lie down, enjoy the game, and eat gumbo. Trust us, it works. Plus, Manning’s operates as part of the Harrah’s Casino in downtown New Orleans, so gambling’s on the menu, too! (Not technically, but you can walk next door.)
What To Order: Alligator is a seasonal special (when fresh, of course), as is a variety of traditional NOLA cuisine, but Manning’s menu is strongest in the bar food category. Try a tasting plate of meat pies and fried eggplant.
Best-Named Menu Item: “Archie’s Burger,” coined after the paterfamilias, and featuring a tomato jam with caramelized onions.
Restaurant: Cheli’s Chili Bar
Famous Name: Chris Chelios, former Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman and NHL Hall of Famer
City: Detroit, Mich. (formerly Chicago, Ill.)
No ex-athlete is better suited to get into the restaurant business than Chelios, whose father owned and operated a chain of Greek restaurants in Chicago, where the future All-Star grew up. And his name sort of sounds like a food! Cheli’s Chili first opened in Chicago in ’03, but when the lifelong Windy City native signed with the rival Red Wings, the chili business headed East, too.
What To Order: Don’t look for a Michelin star — just order Cheli’s Chili. This is a bar-grub menu at its finest, specializing in chili first, with bar food staples like wings, nachos and burgers rounding out the menu.
Best-Named Menu Item: Not too hard to guess this one. You can order Cheli’s Chili on its own or on a Cheli’s Chili Coney Dog, on nachos, or a plate of fries. And we’re guessing that if you ask, they’ll throw some on your salad, too. And for discerning dieters and meat-free sports fans (if they in fact exist), Cheli’s offers chicken and vegetarian chili, too.
Famous Name: Yao Ming, former All-Star center for the Houston Rockets
City: Houston, Texas
There’s long been a disconnect between what Americans and Chinese think real Chinese food actually is (hint: no fortune cookies). Enter the world’s tallest ambassador for Asian relations, Yao Ming. His Houston restaurant features well-known staples of the U.S. palate (General Tso’s Chicken, Mu Shu Pork) prepared using traditional Chinese methods and ingredients.
What To Order: The Peking Duck Dinner. It’s prepared tableside in an elaborate presentation that features a large, open flame.
Best-Named Menu Item: A glass of Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet, the latest addition to the YAO menu as of September. Ming became interested in wine after many steakhouse pairings with teammates, and the explosion of fine wine’s popularity in China.
Restaurant: Annie Laura’s Kitchen
Famous Name: Five-time heavyweight champion boxer Evander Holyfield
City: Riverdale, Ga.
Info: No website available
Not every athlete dining experience is about onion rings and big-screen TVs. Sometimes you just need momma’s cooking, which you’re gonna get at this soul food establishment named in honor of Holyfield’s mother, Annie Laura. There’s no flashy big-city address, but if you head south on Highway 85 out of Atlanta, you’ll catch it on the side of the road. Just look for a line out the door.
What To Order: All of it. Go in for a daily lunch special, and hopefully you’ll get some of the fried chicken with sides of yams, collard greens and the house-made mac ’n’ cheese. Also, prepare to stand in line for a while, but it’s worth it.
Best-Named Menu Item: There’s nothing specific to Holyfield’s long and successful boxing career (not even a pig’s ear to commemorate his work against Mike Tyson), but any menu that has more than one kind of greens — designated by what kind of fat they were cooked in — is fine by us.
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