Restaurants with a sporting chance
Once upon a time, a sports star could open a restaurant on name appeal alone, but that was before chefs became celebrities and food became a national pastime.
Today, the star athlete needs signature cooking as well as fame to succeed. At wrestler Hulk Hogan’s Tampa beach bar, for instance, the Hogan is a more than an 8-ounce, all- American burger. This heavyweight comes loaded with smack-down toppings of arugula, fried egg, roasted tomatoes, bacon lardons and a truffle mayo.
Sometimes, food and concept overshadow the sports figure behind a restaurant. The athlete may even go unnamed or be swallowed into a stew of stars under a corporate umbrella like the ESPN Zone and NASCAR Sports Grille in Orlando. More often, however, celebrities and food pros try to tag-team their way to restaurant success.
This causeway-side spit of sand, formerly a rib joint in a George Steinbrenner hotel, now combines tiki thatch, beach volleyball and almost as many championship belts as TV screens. Wrestling goodies and gags abound. Hogan’s tag team partner is chef Robert Uzzillia, who turns out conch fritters, Kobe beef sliders and salmon piccata, as well as those monster burgers.
Lee Roy Selmon’s
Bradenton, Brandon, Fort Myers, Palm Harbor, St. Petersburg, Tampa
The Hall of Fame lineman from Oklahoma and the Tampa Bay Bucs died in 2011, but the restaurant he set up with all-pro Outbacker Chris Sullivan lives on in eight locations along the west coast of Florida. The concept is broadly themed to play all sports, with a menu redolent of Selmon’s mother’s cooking of brisket chili, Cajun gumbo and Southern sides, from fried green tomatoes to cheese grits. On the modern side, there’s flat-bread pizzas and cedar plank salmon. It’s now part of a company run by Bob Basham and Sullivan that includes non-celebrity PDQ chicken chain, which has 20 locations in Florida.
The legendary coach’s steak houses capitalized on the Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season as synonymous with excellence beyond football. They trademarked the “Shula Cut’’ for tenderloin from premium Black Angus beef while filling the walls with nostalgic photos of great moments in football and family. Today, under son Dave Shula, himself a former coach, the Shula brand is on dozens of restaurants in Florida and others in eight more states. There is also Shula’s On the Beach, Shula’s 347, Shula’s 2 and Shula’s Bar & Grill. Newest are five Shula Burgers with upscale burgers and The Don, a cheeseburger and a hot dog on one sandwich.
There are plenty of big TV screens, with Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria as a partner, but the name comes from a smaller sport: Duckpin bowling on the four half-size alleys. Classic sports bar munchies and comfy classics get quirks from the namesake (duck chili and thick strips of candied duck bacon), Longo’s fave (the California kale salad), chef Frankie Midulla’s Tampa dishes (Cuban wrap and deviled crabs) and pure whimsy (pretzel dogs and asparagus fritters).
On Deck: Ava
When this sleek restaurant opens in Tampa in September, diners will see a focus on fancy Italian from chef Joshua Hernandez (Bestia, Los Angeles) with nary a word or picture of a key partner — a wine connoisseur and food devotee named Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. Don’t look for Maddon’s black glasses. Hernandez’s cooking will be the star.
That sleek multimilliondollar place with sharp glass windows off I-95 in Daytona Beach is as sophisticated as the dapper former NBA All Star. Vince Carter gets an assist from mom Michelle Carter-Scott and chef Tom Papa. Inside is the gamut of modern sporting life, a high-tech Highlight Zone with the state-of-the-art screens, posh dining room, an intimate piano lounge and, posher still, the Owner’s Box, with private entry for the limousine crowd. The modestpriced menu starts with flat-bread pizzas and baked brie as well as wings, comfort favorites like shrimp and grits, mac and cheese and pigeon peas and rice, and ultimately steaks, seafood and a wine list of Cakebread and Opus One. The shooting guard’s favorite? Vinsanity pasta tossed with portobellos, kalamata olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, garlic and olive oil.