Tailgating has been the only part of football that Owen Daniels didn’t experience.
The former Texans tight end started his career as a high school quarterback nearly 20 years ago. And when you’re winning Super Bowls — as Daniels and the Denver Broncos did in 2015 — there’s not much time for pregaming.
Now that Daniels is happily on the sidelines, he’s got some catching up to do.
Enter Jax Grill owner Paul Miller, whose gospel of tailgating follows a three-tier system.
“There’s just throwing drinks in a cooler. And then you’ve got your fold-out grills,” he says. “But a pro-level tailgate rolls out the smoker and the fryer — the works.”
He and wife Doris Miller definitely qualify as professional-grade. They’ve been Texans season suite holders from the beginning, ever since NRG Stadium opened in 2002.
And though the couple cheers on all of Houston’s sports teams, organizing the pre-party before the Texans take the field is more than just tradition, it’s part of their profession.
“Everyone meets up in the suites’ parking lot,” Paul Miller says. “Last week, I saw a trailer with a huge deck, cornhole, Mega Jenga and that new jumbo flip cup game they sell at Dick’s Sporting Goods.”
Like Daniels, Miller was a student athlete. He doubled up on both the wrestling and football teams at Purdue University. That’s where he gleaned the name for one of his restaurants, The Union Kitchen.
“In Purdue’s basement, the bottom level was the (Union) food hall and we always called that ‘the kitchen,’” he says.
When Miller moved to Houston in 2005, he earned his restaurant chops at McCormick & Schmick’s and Grand Lux Café. He and and his wife opened The Union Kitchen in 2010. In 2015, their company, Gr8 Plate Hospitality, bought the two Jax Grill locations, and they’ve been hauling their trailer between Texas A&M University and NRG Stadium to cater tailgates ever since.
“It’s the largest cocktail party in the world,” Miller says. “I’m amazed at the culture in Texas. People just leave all their stuff out in the parking lot, and when they come back after the game, it’s still there.”
Southern hospitality is the foundation of the Millers’ tailgating strategy. And if you ask them, the cardinal rule of entertaining is never running out.
Naturally, Paul Miller’s solution is a surplus of everything. “People never want to take the last of something. So if you’re going to do it, do it right.”
And because no one wants to work too hard on game day — it’s a party, after all — the Millers recommend pre-batched cocktails that can be poured directly into glasses. That, and ice-cold wine and beer — it’s fail-safe.
Where grub is concerned, heat-and-serve dishes are key. Seasoned hosts prep in advance so they’re not slaving away over a hot stove (er, coals) once guests arrive, which explains why bacon-wrapped sausage, aka voodoo balls, stuffed mushrooms, and Frito Pie macaroni and cheese (winner of Taste of the Texans coveted People’s Choice award) are some of Jax Grill’s most-requested tailgate items. No day-of slicing or dicing required.
Daniels awards the extra point to fare that can be eaten sans utensils.
“Right now, people are into steak and lobster, but you’ve got to have tables and chairs for all of that. It takes away from the actual experience,” he said. “When someone comes up to me with a beer in one hand and food without a plate in the other, that’s goals.”
For Doris Miller, it’s not a proper tailgate without a little sparkle. She purchases the bulk of her Texans décor from Amazon and the Dollar Store, then adds a personal, blinged-out touch with loose stones and a hot-glue gun.
“Everything has to match, from outfit to tabletop,” she says, pointing to her red Kendra Scott earrings, bedazzled football jersey and rhinestone sneakers.
Daniels values atmosphere over aesthetic. “If a stranger can be walking through the parking lot and is handed a cold drink, that’s the kind of tailgate I want to be around — one that’s inclusive.”
But Paul Miller thinks his wife might be right. Details are what separate good tailgates from the great.
“Shade,” he says of his No. 1 tip for a first-class game day. “Always have shade.”
Source: Houston Chronicle