Michael Roos, tackle for the Tennessee Titans, has been protecting quarterbacks in the NFL since 2005. He’s also the first Estonian-born player in the league, as well as one of its most adventurous eaters. As we find out here, Roos frequents Nashville’s finest restaurants, including the acclaimed Catbird Seat. He and his wife Katherine are also consummate travelers, and even had a four-year run as owners of a European-style coffee shop. The 30-year-old, who clocks in at a whopping 6-feet, 7-inches, 315 pounds, is playing like a star for the 3-4 Titans. But if things don’t work out for him, we’d make room for him on the editorial team at Food Republic.
You were born in Estonia. What is Estonian cuisine?
Estonian cuisine is kind of Scandinavian, so there’s a mix of Swedish, some Finnish, some Russian, some German. Potatoes are a huge part of it. Sauerkraut is always a part of it, borscht and sausages are involved – all kinds of meat.
Do you have a favorite Estonian dish?
My favorite used to be any way you’d want to cook the potatoes with meat and sauerkraut.
What is it about good food that appeals to you?
I just like it when a restaurant, or even my wife, cooks with simple ingredients, but it’s not simple cuisine. You can take something as simple as mac ‘n cheese – it can be boxed mac ‘n cheese or elbow macaroni and cheddar or make it with pepper jack or any other kind of cheese, but put prosciutto in it. You just made a simple dish. It’s still simple in essence, but the flavors and taste become totally different.
Do you have any pet peeves when you eat at fine dining restaurants?
My wife and I usually are pretty good since we didn’t come from a fine dining kind of background, so we just want to enjoy the food. For us, the less stuffy, the less “fine” it is, the better. We usually try to get an understanding of the place before we go so we have expectations whether they should be a certain way. You know if you expect to have your water glass filled after every sip, you know it’s not going to happen.
What has been a memorable fine dining experience?
There’s one place we’ve been to twice in Munich, Germany called Schuhbeck’s that has a 9– or 10-course chef tasting menu that takes three to four hours. Everything is just amazingly prepared and unique. The chef comes out to every table and makes sure they’re enjoying dinner. Another place that was similar to Schuhbeck’s, in Vienna, Austria, is Steirereck. We actually ate there after walking around all day in cargo shorts and a polo shirt and we did not know how fancy it was. We walked in, there were six of us, and we sat and we were still dressed OK, but not suit and tie like every other patron in there, but they didn’t look at us any different and they still served us and were very polite. We made sure not to be rude because we were underdressed.
How about in Nashville?
There’s a place here in Nashville called the Catbird Seat. It’s multiple courses and there’s no menu for this place. It can be different every single day. You come in, sit down and what’s on the menu that day is what you’re being fed. It’s seven courses, and a set price [of $100] and the seating is in a bar-style around the kitchen, in a U-shape, so the chefs are in front of you making every dish and you can talk to them and ask them questions. They’re the ones who are presenting the dishes to you and put it on the table for you.
Is there one memorable dish from Catbird Seat?
The first time we went, they served pigeon. It came with one breast and one leg with the little claw still attached to it. Most people look at it and get put off by it because it’s pigeon, but it was amazing. It was cooked perfectly and was tasty. No restaurant is going to serve you anything bad like that. I told a lot of people about that and they assume it’s the pigeon from the city park.
Are there other places in Nashville you enjoy eating?
I enjoy Merchants, which is downtown, and they do a bistro style in their bar area. Everything is simple food, but done differently. They have tater tots, which a lot of places have, but Merchants cooks their tater tots in duck fat. It classes it up a bit and the flavors are totally different.
What NFL cities do you enjoy traveling to for their food?
One place we went to last year that everybody loved a lot was in Pittsburgh called Meat & Potatoes. The ribeyes are served on a giant butcher block instead of a plate. It’s all very hearty and you can order bone marrow.
You’re a travel enthusiast. What countries have you traveled to that have excellent food?
For the food, we look for a mix of local fare and fine dining. We enjoy good food in Sweden, Prague, Venice. Actually Iceland has good food. There they have horse filets.
How was the horse?
It was good! It’s a little gamey. In Stockholm, which is sort of the same thing, we had reindeer filets. It’s gamier, but if you like that kind of flavor all of those meats are really good.
You and your wife Katherine opened up the coffee house Drinkhaus in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, then closed it this past September. Do you plan on reopening?
We don’t have a 100 percent decision on it yet. We had it open for four years and with everything else going on we closed it down. Right now it’s up in the air, but it may still open back up. It was fun to have while we were doing it and the neighborhood definitely needed one and we tried to make it as close to a European-style coffee shop as we could.
You used a lot of local products on your menu at Drinkhaus. How important is it to use local and sustainable products?
It’s very important. When everything starts getting mass produced the quality goes down. Anywhere you live there’s stuff local, especially in Nashville. There are farms only 30 minutes to an hour outside of the city and you can get anything you can imagine, from eggs to beef to pork. All of the farms are small and want the business, so it’s a matter of finding them and making a deal with them.
Like a lot of NFL players, you’re interested in getting more into the restaurant industry after your playing days.
We’re slowly looking into opening a restaurant at some point, but do not know when. It’s something we’ve been talking about for awhile. To have the different kinds of foods, which will be our goal, whether it be reindeer filet or pigeon or rabbit, but if you do it in a simple dish that everybody knows, then they’ll try it and they become fans.
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