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Eat, Kick, Blog

Inside Denver kicker Brandon McManus’s second life as a food blogger

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s been a big year for Denver kicker Brandon McManus. He played a major part in the Broncos’ Super Bowl win, connecting on all three of his field goal attempts. He got married. And, crucially, he blogged about the nigiri sushi at a Japanese gastropub in Denver called Izakaya Den, where he enjoyed the kanpachi’s “meaty, pale white flesh with a delicate taste” and the wild tai that was “firm yet flaky.”

For McManus, new to the food-blogging world in particular and to sushi in general, this was a transformative experience. The blogging, featuring the requisite photographs of about-to-be-consumed meals, was making him a bolder eater.

“I could never commit to raw fish,” McManus said in an interview with The Ringer. “But I had two appetizers, then got an entree, and it was one of the best meals of my life. To get to the tenderness of the raw fish was amazing.”

Like many athletes, McManus burns so many calories that he has to eat a lot. In the past, however, he never put that facet of his life to good use. So when he started eating at some of the best restaurants in his city, a sudden urge developed that even he can’t fully explain. “I don’t know what came over me,” he said. “I just decided to blog about it, and we just kind of rolled with it.”

And so McManus, whose five field goals in the Broncos’ January playoff win over the Steelers tied a postseason record, became a football player who doubles as a food blogger, likely the most unusual side hustle in the NFL. If that sounds weird to you, rest assured that it once would have sounded even weirder to McManus, who said he possessed a pretty typical NFL food palate just a few months ago. “If there was filet mignon or sea bass on the menu, that was being ordered.”

Screengrab via <a href="http://www.denverbroncos.com/news-and-blogs/article-diningreview/McManus-Mile-High-Menu-ChoLon/58d9ce50-b7bf-4f4e-b3e4-3b3becb2fb74">McManus’s Mile High Menu</a>/Denver Broncos
Screengrab via McManus’s Mile High Menu/Denver Broncos

The typical NFL road trip, McManus said, consists of excursions to the nicest local steak house. There will be meat; there will be pasta. In his daily life, he’d routinely snack on the unhealthiest of foods: “a bunch of candy, chicken wings, fries, nachos, all that type of stuff.” After his March wedding, he decided to make a lifestyle change, cutting out snacks and opting to tour some of the nicer restaurants in Denver. He and his wife, Nadia, began carving out Friday for date night, during which they would explore their Denver surroundings.

McManus and his wife are both from the Philadelphia area and felt they needed to learn more about their new home of nearly two years, which they could do by expanding their culinary horizons. They’d take turns picking where to eat, and McManus quickly became obsessed with the experience of sampling new food at new places. As the discoveries mounted and his obsession grew, he felt that his newfound passion was worth chronicling. And so the football player decided to become a food blogger.

After some discussions with local outlets and magazines, which he turned down because he wanted to write about food more than once a month, he decided to publish on Denver’s team website. Like everyone else who writes for the site, his job title is listed after his byline: “Brandon McManus, kicker.”

He read food blogs not to study the reviews, but to search for inspiration for a good name for his own blog. He ultimately settled on McManus’ Mile High Menu, and readers ate it up: He said that his first post, about Guard and Grace (try the Bangs Island mussels, the best he’s ever had), netted 40,000 page views in short order.

Weekly offseason blogging led to a series of new revelations, including a newfound love of duck. He’d sampled the meat before in small portions, but when he ordered duck confit as an entree at TAG, he realized it was “so crispy, so tasty and something I never would have ordered before [starting a blog].”

“Now I have no hesitation to order this stuff,” he said. “I was always a picky eater. I’m broadening my horizons.”

He raved about the adventurous dishes at TAG, which brands itself as a “continental social food” eatery. “And don’t even get Nadia started on the duck fat fries, which are covered with multiple spices but one in particular that sets these apart: SUGAR,” he wrote. McManus, though, reserved special admiration for the flash-seared hamachi: “This is a top five favorite dish of all time. This dish is so creative using jalapenos and pop rocks — YES, POP ROCKS CANDY — which makes it nothing short of amazing. If you have been to TAG and haven’t ordered this dish, you are missing out.”

He could barely handle the spiced doughnut with Vietnamese coffee ice cream at ChoLon: “The light fluffiness of these donuts paired with the Vietnamese coffee ice cream had us dreaming of a bakery in France. Order extra spiced donuts to take home for breakfast the following morning. TRUST US!!”

He tried rabbit for the first time at Acorn. At Machete, he was able to dive in and rank the best tacos: pork, halibut, hanger steak, shrimp, tilapia, chicken, beef tongue. Nadia had her own rankings, but wouldn’t try the beef tongue.

McManus said restaurants are now reaching out asking him to come blog about their places. He’s also in advanced talks with a local network broadcaster to do video reviews this fall. As a fan of food in general, he watches plenty of food shows, but as a competitive professional athlete, he’s programmed to prefer shows that feature head-to-head battles, like Chopped. Nadia agrees.

“We want to continue to grow it,” McManus said of his brand. “We’re in talks for a 15- or 20-minute TV segment.” He wants to continue the blog entries as well as he explores more of Denver’s food scene, and said social media has helped bring attention to his reviews. Though McManus wants to keep his focus local for now and explore Denver in full, he said he and Nadia would jump at the opportunity to one day take the food blogging national.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and now that he’s a well-known food blogger in the locker room, McManus said he’ll be under plenty of pressure to recommend places on the road this fall. He’s unsure how adventurous his teammates will be, though: “We’ll see how big of foodies they are.”