When he isn’t on the field getting hella sacks, Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus is a connoisseur of Houston’s food scene. A self-described “foodie,” Mercilus also dipped his toe into the business for the first time this year when he invested in Chris Shepherd’s ambitious One Fifth restaurant.
Now a newly-minted restaurateur and awaiting football season, Mercilus sat down with Eater to share his picks for the city’s best spots for brunch, barbecue, crawfish, and cocktails. He also dished on his involvement with One Fifth, and the super-special “baller board” that he orders every time he goes in the restaurant.
Eater Houston: Talk about the experience of opening One Fifth. How did you decide that you wanted to get involved in the restaurant business?
Whitney Mercilus: I was looking for a different type of investment and this was a fun thing to get into. I’ve been a really longtime friend with Chris and last year, sometime around last Spring, we had a little private meeting and talked about it and he wanted to open up a new restaurant with five different concepts over five years.
He said it was a stupid idea, but as soon as he broke it down for me, I wanted in. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else but him. I honestly believe he’s the only person who could have pulled this off. With everyone he has on board, who really know how he thinks and exactly what he looks for, they’re the perfect fit for this concept.
What do you eat when you go to One Fifth?
The cooks will tell you that any time I’m in the building, there’s what’s called a “baller board,” and it’s just one big long wooden board. If you order it, it comes with just about everything - two cuts of beef, the longbone or the ribeye, then with two or so sides, everything you can fit on that board. Another one of my go-tos is the “Bigger” seafood platter. It has uni panna cotta, which goes great with the bread.
What kind of steak do you order, and how do you have it cooked?
I get the longbone or the ribeye every time. Of course, I just love steak and the cooks do a damn fine job cooking up the steaks however you want it, and I want mine medium-rare.
Where’s your favorite spot for brunch or breakfast?
Grace’s, their brunch is my favorite. I could go there just about every day and eat all their brunch. I love biscuits and gravy, and they have some of the best in town. I’m a breakfast food kind of guy, so I can just go and drink a mimosa and after I’m done with that, I just need to go home because I know I’m just going to go to sleep.
Now that crawfish season is starting up, where do you eat mudbugs?
LA Crawfish, man. it’s maybe 20-30 minutes from my home. That’s the one spot where I will go grab my crawfish, but I haven’t been to all the good spots yet.
What’s your favorite sushi restaurant?
That’s an easy one — Kata Robata. It’s so good. The chef there knows his stuff, and I can see it in his dishes that he’s a perfectionist. Each dish that comes out just blows your taste buds out there. If you don’t like sushi, that spot will turn you into a lover. The ingredients are so fresh, it’s like it just jumped out of the water.
What is your drink of choice, and where do you like to drink?
I just went to Poison Girl for my first time, and they have any and every bourbon that you can think of. It’s really low key, and you can just chill and drink some of the best and rarest whiskeys out there.
For wine, I would go to 13 Celsius to try different things that I’ve never seen before. They have a lot of low-key wines, not just the typical commercialized stuff you see all the time like Robert Mondavi. They do a great job of explaining the types of grapes they use and are very knowledgeable about different wines. For cocktails, One Fifth has some of the best drinks I’ve ever tasted if I’m being honest. The mixologists and they’re really, really great at their jobs.
Right now, you’re in the offseason. Is that when you do most of your dining out? What do you eat during football season?
I do get a chance to dine out more in the off-season and explore. During the season I don’t really get a chance to. The majority of my time is taken up with practice and team obligations, but when I’m eating during the season I get my food from Underbelly and we’ve been doing this since 2014.
He does all my meal prep over at Underbelly. Mostly chicken and fish dishes, sometimes with rice. It’s Korean-inspired, everything under the sun that you could think about in terms of culture and cuisine, but the basis is chicken or fish, a grain, vegetables, and he’ll always add in fruit and stuff like that. I have red meat, goat or flank steak, one day a week.
What’s your favorite spot for barbecue in Houston?
Killen’s is really the only barbecue I’ve really had. I’m very selective. I know exactly what barbecue is going to be. As soon as I eat that barbecue, I’m going to go to sleep. I know, it just happens instantly. That food coma is real.