All-star athletes from the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB are turning their talents to bear on one of the fiercest competitions in the world: the restaurant industry. They are scoring big-time with concepts that range from steakhouses and seafood spots to artisanal pizzerias and Italian trattorias. If you’re a dedicated fan, grab your like-minded friends or the family who taught you to cheer for these aces and dine like Mike (and other pros) at these restaurants owned by athletes — and feel the thrill of the game. Not near any of these spots? Find a restaurant in your city on OpenTable.
Vince Young Steakhouse, Austin, Texas
Quarterback Vince Young lead the Texas Longhorns to an NCAA national championship in 2005 and then went on to spend six seasons in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and the Philadelphia Eagles. His legacy lives on at his eponymous steakhouse dressed up with orange accents as a nod to his college team. Start off with deep-fried Texas quail, smoked brisket sliders, or pork belly, then move on to a salad, if you must, before slicing into a steak (we like ours topped with crab Oscar or a pair of scallops). By the time you’re done, you’ll want to spike the ball in the end zone. Make a reservation at Vince Young Steakhouse.
Michael Jordan’s Steak House, Chicago, Illinois
His Airness slam-dunks with his stellar steakhouse. Come ready to indulge. The menu features elevated classics. Think smoked carpaccio, Wagyu meatballs, maple-glazed bacon to start, primo steaks (served naked or with top toppers, such as king crab or lobster tail), and decadent sides, like duck fat rice, bacon mac ‘n’ cheese, and beef fat fries. You can even sit at MJ’s favorite table, #23 – but the special menu will set you back $300 for two guests and $600 for four. Make a reservation at Michael Jordan’s Steak House.
The Balcony, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Former Miami Dolphins linebacker and defensive end Kim Bokamper, who also had a cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, co-owns the bi-level restaurant. There are TVs on both floors, so sports fans can cheer their teams no matter where they’re sitting. New Orleans inspired the menu, which is packed with dishes such as smoked gumbo, alligator and shrimp jambalaya, chicken and biscuits, bananas Foster, and beignets. Make a reservation at The Balcony.
Rare Tavern, Washington, D.C.
Pucking awesome! This Wisconsin-inspired tavern (and the steakhouse concept upstairs) is co-owned by former pro hockey legend Adam Burish, who won the Stanley Cup while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and had further stints with the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks. Enjoy Badger State-style bites – including deep fried cheese curds, garlic rolls, and a cannibal sandwich packed with beef tartare – as well as traditional pub fare, such as sandwiches, steaks, and steampots. Make a reservation at Rare Tavern.
800° Degrees Woodfired Kitchen, Miami, Florida
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are the powerhouse duo behind this upscale pizzeria. Of course, there are unique ‘zas galore, including the Honey Badger (soppressata, Calabrian chilies, honey), Black Tie (Iberico ham and caviar), and Tartufo (mozzarella, wild mushrooms, truffle pecorino, roasted garlic, arugula). But you can also indulge in a signature dish from each player: Haslem’s wood-fired wings accompanied by Gorgonzola dip and Wade’s burger topped with truffle cheese, tomato, and roasted garlic aioli. Make a reservation at 800° Degrees Woodfired Kitchen.
The Salt Line, Washington, D.C.
Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman is a bigtime investor in this New England- style fish house located a baseball’s throw away from the stadium where he plays. The menu from executive chef Kyle Bailey is both creative (seafood charcuterie, rockfish tartare, and johnny cakes topped with smoked whitefish salad and marinated salmon roe) and deeply comforting (a bi-level burger smothered in American cheese, bucatini tossed with Maryland crab and elote fixings, and soft shell crab done in the style of Nashville hot chicken) – perfect for indulging in before or after a game. Make a reservation at The Salt Line.
Elway’s, Denver, Colorado
Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway may have retired from football with two Super Bowl rings in his collection, but he’s not sitting still. He owns four locations of his eponymous steakhouse, which does surf and turf with equal dexterity. In the latter category, guests can dine on Dungeness crab cakes, tuna tartare, and Elway’s salmon with roasted baby shrimp and lump crab. For those seeking more terrestrial delights, there are steaks galore, lamb chops with green chile cheese fondue, and a beet-mozzarella salad tossed with truffled vinaigrette. Make a reservation at Elway’s.
Tresca, Boston, Massachusetts
NHL legend Ray Bourque played for the Boston Bruins for 21 years before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche, where he finally won the Stanley Cup in 2001. Now he’s helming this successful Italian-Mediterranean restaurant featuring executive chef/co-owner Richard Ansara in the kitchen. Ansara mostly sticks to the classics – arancini, traditionally dressed burrata, pizzas, and creative pastas – but keep an eye out for more playful bites, such as chicken parm egg rolls and nachos Bolognese. Make a reservation at Tresca.
Fred & Steve’s Steakhouse, Lincoln, Rhode Island
A pair of NFL greats – Fred Smerlas (Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, and New England Patriots) and Steve DeOssie (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and New England Patriots) – are the brawns behind this operation. Their steakhouse serves up linebacker-sized dishes, especially the “trophy case” options, such as a 33-ounce tomahawk beef rib eye with a pair of stuffed jumbo shrimp imperial and a 48-ounce porterhouse. If you can finish either on your own, feel free to stand up in the middle of the restaurant and triumphantly scream, “Touchdown!” Make a reservation at Fred & Steve’s Steakhouse.
Island Way Grill, Clearwater, Florida
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike “A-Train” Alstott and tight end Dave Moore (who also played for the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills) power this oceanside seafood spot. There’s a primal sensibility to the concept. Fresh catches come in daily on the restaurant’s fleet of dayboats, while much of the cooking is done over a wood-fired open pit. House specialties include Florida Keys roasted lobster tails, kung pao-style calamari, and Szechuan seared tuna. Make a reservation at Island Way Grill.
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Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Ruben Cabrera (800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen); Greg Powers (The Salt Line).