A few milestones loom large in the sports world, so rare is the chance of their reoccurring. High on that list is the successful athlete-owned restaurant: Larry Bird, Johnny Unitas, George Brett and Dwyane Wade are among the many, many talented sports stars who couldn't make a go of steak and seafood. Undeterred, a number of former and current Dallas Cowboys have opened restaurants anyhow. Most of them have flopped, but there are still a number of local eateries where fans stand a chance of meeting up with a Cowboy—or at least his favorite wing sauce.
Randy White's Hall of Fame BBQ and Grill
7725 Preston Road, Frisco, 972-377-0540, www.randywhitesbbq.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m, Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday. $
The Cowboy: Partner Randy White,
The Cowboy's non-culinary claim to fame: Pit masters know you can't wander away from a slow-smoking pit without risking a devastating fire. Barbecue's designed for the steadfast, which may be why former right defensive tackle White was drawn to the cuisine. In 14 years, White played in three Super Bowls, six title championships and all but one regular-season game. That adds up to 209 games played, in case you're counting.
The back story: The Hutchins family had been selling barbecue in North Texas since the 1970s, and White was itching to get into the barbecue business. So in 2001, the Hutchinses proposed a re-branding of their Frisco store. "We said, 'Man, let's throw your name on the building,'" partner Tracy Hutchins recalls. "It's been a tremendous help with catering. We're really pleased."
How you know you're in Cowboy territory: On the right day, the television cameras: White occasionally films television appearances and promotions at the restaurant.
Recommended items: Trusted local barbecue blogger Daniel Vaughn found plenty of flaws in White's ham, brisket and ribs, but couldn't quarrel with the black pepper sausage: "medium grind, good snap, good smoke flavor," he wrote in a 2009 review.
More than four dozen locations in the DFW area, www.wingstop.com. $
The Cowboy: National spokesman Troy Aikman, 1989-2000
The Cowboy's non-culinary claim to fame: Aikman won 90 games in the 1990s, making him the winningest starting quarterback of any decade in NFL history.
The back story: Aikman's agent had never heard of Wingstop when the chain invited him to serve as its spokesman back in 2003. "He called Troy and says he got a call from Wingjoint or Wingshack," chief marketing officer Andy Howard recalls. "He said, 'If it's Wingstop, I'm in.' He really wanted us as much as we wanted him." The restaurant's biggest fan now serves on its board of directors and last month inked a deal to stay on as spokesman for the next three years.
How you know you're in Cowboy territory: Wingstop fancies itself a national chain—and has 500 stores in 30 states to back up its claim. So in deference to fans of other teams, the standardized decor doesn't include any Cowboy memorabilia. But if you want to eat like Aikman, order the garlic Parmesan and lemon pepper wings.
Recommended items: If newspapers were written in hieroglyphics, a single Wingstop French fry might represent the American obesity crisis. It's sugary and starchy both, a splinter of creamy Russet potato, fried gold and slathered with a seasoning mix so savory the restaurant's website clarifies there's no MSG in it. Still, it's the hint of sugar that throws newbies. Should a French fry have a note of sweetness? Millions of ketchup dippers must think so.
Six locations in the DFW area, www.smashburger.com. $
The Cowboys: Franchise partners Marc Colombo, 2006-present, and Leonard Davis, 2007-present
The Cowboys' non-culinary claims to fame: Critical contributors to the Cowboys' potent offensive line, Colombo and Davis front a heavy metal band.
The back story: Colombo and Davis had a footballers' taste for red meat and scouted the West Coast for the burger they liked best. After trying the burgers at chain restaurants tincluding Fatburger and In N Out, they settled on Smashburger as their favorite.
How you know you're in Cowboy territory: Customers are most likely to notice the autographed jerseys on the wall, but publicist Kelly Fordham says the team's influence runs deeper: "On the field, they play side-by-side, and the same goes for the restaurants."
Recommended items: The burgers at Smashburger—and there isn't much else at Smashburger—are a hit with City of Ate Dude Food columnist Noah Bailey, who's praised them as "the least greasy burger option" in Uptown.
Walt Garrison's Prime Steak & Seafood
400 Parker Square, Suite 420, Flower Mound, 972-899-9770, www.waltgarrisons.com. Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m, Monday-Friday and 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday. $$$
The Cowboy: Owner Walt Garrison, 1966-74
The Cowboy's non-culinary claim to fame: Few Cowboys are also cowboys, but Garrison rode the professional rodeo circuit. The famously tough running back received a horse trailer as a signing bonus and banged up his knee so badly while wrestling a steer that he was forced to quit professional football.
The back story: Garrison's national reputation was forged on the football field, but around Flower Mound, he's known as a "down-home Lewisville boy," restaurant manager Shannon Johnson explains. So when he had the opportunity to put his famous steak rubs to nightly use near his hometown, "he jumped on it."
How you know you're in Cowboy territory: There are photos from all phases of Garrison's career hanging on the wall, but Cowboy die-hards swoon over the Super Bowl helmets.
Recommended items: Anything with Garrison's super-secret signature rub: "I don't know what's in it," Johnson says with a laugh. "I'm not allowed to know." Johnson's favorite entrée is the bone-in rib-eye.
Hat Tricks Sports Bar & Grill
101 E. Corporate Drive, Suite 300, Lewisville, 972-315-8406, www.hattricksdallas.com. Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Monday-Sunday. $$
The Cowboy: Owner Joe Avezzano, 1990-2002
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The Cowboy's non-culinary claim to fame: Avezzano is the only three-time recipient of the NFL's special teams coach of the year award.
The back story: Hat Tricks is the second food-and-beverage enterprise from Avezzano, who in 2007 opened Coach Joe's Bar & Grill in Frisco alongside Randy White's restaurant.
How you know you're in Cowboy territory: On the fourth Wednesday of every month, Avezzano stages a football tutorial to "teach ladies the rules of football in a fun and entertaining presentation." His website promises participants in the $10 program will "understand all the action of football and take home all the information you need to be a lady in the know."
Recommended items: The sports bar serves the usual array of pub grub, but staffers swear by the hand-tossed pizzas with garlic butter-brushed crusts.