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XOJET’S Super Bowl Guide to Houston

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Here at XOJET we have to hand it to Houston. From Sam to Whitney to Tom (“Houston, we have a problem”), the city has cemented its place in American culture despite sharing the stage with other great performers: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, and New Orleans.

This year it steals the stage as the host of Super Bowl 51, actually the 50th anniversary of the original Super Bowl. The city knows its Super Bowl stuff, having hosted the game in 1974 and 2004.

Whichever team wins, you win by chartering XOJET—which flies you in and out with ease, style, and comfort. Here is your playbook for the days in-between.

GETTING THERE

Houston offers a host of airports within close proximity to NRG Stadium and your weekend accommodations. Our suggestions:

William Hobby International

HOU is your closest touchdown from NRG Stadium (a 20-minute drive) and is operated by Atlantic Aviation, a 24-hour full-service FBO. It will be under a temporary flight restriction on Super Bowl Sunday, starting in the afternoon and lasting through midnight (in years past it has ended earlier, about an hour after the game ends).

Sugar Land Regional

SGR, a 30-minute drive from NRG Stadium, is the only close-by airport not charging a non-refundable reservation fee. It is operated by Global Select, which offers an executive lounge and extended hours during Super Bowl week.

Houston Executive

TME is a 40-minute drive from NRG Stadium and becomes a popular option when slots at closer airports begin filling up. Henriksen Jet Center is open 24 hours and features the largest arrival canopy in the world—to protect passengers from the elements upon arrival and departure.

George Bush Intercontinental

IAH, a 30-minute drive from NRG Stadium, has one of the highest arrival/departure rates allowed by ATC. It is operated by Atlantic Aviation, a 24-hour, full-service FBO with exclusive lounge access.

Contact one of our personal Aviation Advisors (877-599-6538) or book online to reserve your private charter into the airport of your choice.

WHERE TO STAY

By Gary Walther, Former Editor-in-Chief of Departures Magazine

Main Lobby at Hotel Icon in Houston, TX

Photo credit: Hotel ICON

The best hotels are an Uber or limo ride from NRG Stadium. Your options are aplenty but locals say that the Autograph Collection’s Hotel ICON, created from the 1911 Union National Bank Building, is best located for pre- and post-game activities. Also in the game is the 468-room Four Seasons Houston—which offers the brand’s reliable style and service, including a resort-style pool—and the JW Marriott Houston Downtown.

WHAT TO EAT, DRINK, & DO

By Gary Walther, Former Editor-in-Chief of Departures Magazine

Hungry for international fare or good ol’ Texas BBQ, try these eateries to supersize your trip:

The New Hot Ticket

One Fifth’s name refers to the lease, which expires in five years, and to the concept: changing the menu every year. This year the church-turned-eatery debuts as a steakhouse—and consequently, Houston’s hottest new destination restaurant.

The Big Three

Wood Grilled Chicken at Houston's ColtivareColtivare; Photo credit: Julie Soefer Photography

The Pass is a minimalist space—where every seat feels like you’re dining at the chef’s table—with set-course menus. Pax Americana is simply Houston’s premier showcase of modern American cuisine. Coltivare is Italian and its reputation is such that it doesn’t take reservations, but there’s a 3,000-sq.-ft. garden out back where you can tee up a bottle of wine while you wait.

Best Burger

No one is quite sure where the expression ‘Hunky Dory‘ came from, but in Houston everyone knows that it means Chef Richard Knight’s twin-patty stack made of ground chuck, brisket, and tongue.

A Taste of Asia

Les Ba’get Vietnamese Café serves Bánh mì, a baguette sandwich. But here it’s refined: seasoned with from-scratch truffled garlic aioli and housemade patè.

Most Interesting Wine List

Underbelly is a nod to chef Chris Shepherd’s passion for local ingredients—he buys directly from local farmers, including the 20-month-old prosciutto. The wine list reflects the same outlook: “The wines we put on our list must be family-owned and operated. Period.” according to the website.

A view of the Underbelly dining room from the wine cellar in Houston, TX. Photo: Julie Soefer Photography
Underbelly; Photo credit: Julie Soefer Photography

Pappas Bros Steakhouse is known for its succulent, dry-aged steaks, but don’t miss the 3,900-label wine list—managed by a full team of sommeliers and winner of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award.

Post-Game Stretch

The Briar Shoppe offers 100 different cigar labels and a lounge to enjoy them. It’s the best smoke-filled room in Houston to rejoice or regret.

Pre- or Post-Game Bar Crawl

You have three downs here (fourth and long is up to you). Chef Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s) was the first person in Texas to serve small-batch Del Maguey mezcal, which he highlights in the Burnt by the Sun cocktail. Poison Girl is about 15 minutes from NRG Stadium and has a giant whiskey selection (including Pappy Van Winkle bourbon). Anvil Bar & Refuge is the only Houston bar nominated for a James Beard Award, and it has a long cocktail list.

The Morning After

Blacksmith is the consensus choice for the city’s best coffee. The owner, David Buehrer, also roasts the beans.

Culture

The Menil Collection is the one museum to see: a great collection of modern art in an equally inspired building by Renzo Piano.

Shopping

River Oaks and the Galleria are the city’s two major luxury shopping spots, home to all the usual suspects. Tootsies is a 30-year-old, Houston original featuring new clothes in the style of Neiman Marcus. Kuhl-Linscomb is the city’s ultimate home furnishings store, with everything from Baccarat chandeliers to luxe mattresses (we don’t recommend the latter as a thought-of-you gift).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

By Ron Kroichick, Sports Columnist/Feature Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle

Tom Brady vs Matt Ryan
Photo left: Flickr; Photo right: Flickr

Mostly, watch for quarterbacks filling the air with pinpoint passes.

New England’s Tom Brady and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan offer the potential for a classic duel at football’s premier position. Here’s numerical evidence of how much Brady and Ryan tormented defenses this season: They have combined for 78 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions, including the playoffs.

That’s just ridiculous.

These quarterbacks also provide a striking contrast to contemplate in the days leading to Super Bowl Sunday. Brady is the savvy big-game veteran, with four championships in hand and needing one more to reach uncharted territory. If he and the Patriots win on Feb. 5, then Brady will pass childhood hero Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw to become the only quarterback with five Super Bowl victories.

Ryan, meantime, is preparing for his first dance across the NFL’s grandest stage. He’s always posted sparkling numbers in the regular season, leading Atlanta to an 85-57 record in his career, but he and the Falcons were merely 1-4 in the postseason before this year.

Then they dismissed Seattle and impressively rolled past Green Bay, to make it seem like Ryan finally had found the key to the Elite Quarterback Club.

In one notable way, he faces a stiffer challenge than Brady does in Super Bowl LI. That’s because Ryan and the Falcons must cope with a stout, underappreciated Patriots defense, which allowed an NFL-low 15.6 points per game in the regular season. Atlanta’s defense looks profoundly ordinary by comparison. The Falcons ranked 27th in the league in scoring defense (out of 32 teams), relinquishing an average of 25.4 points.

Another subplot is the matchup of head coaches. New England’s Bill Belichick, like Brady, is seeking a slice of sporting history: He could pass Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll and become the only coach to win five Super Bowls. Atlanta’s Dan Quinn is in just his second season as a head coach. And while obviously capable, he’s not even the most famous coach on his staff; offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan landed in more headlines the past few weeks, because he’s all but certain to take over as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers after the Super Bowl.

Still, for all the hulking linemen in the trenches, and the dynamic skills of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and his slippery Patriots counterpart Julian Edelman, this inevitably comes back to Brady and Ryan. One future Hall of Famer, in the twilight of his career at age 39, determined to snag another piece of glory. The other quarterback in the prime of his career at 31, with the coolest nickname around (“Matty Ice”), savoring his first chance at a Super Bowl ring.

This has all the makings of a mighty fine show.


About the Contributors

Gary Walther has been a travel journalist for 40 years. He has been editor-in-chief of Departures, Expedia Travels, Luxury SpaFinder, and Forbes Life magazines, and for the past five years a freelancer with a column on Forbes.com called The Hotel Detective. He has passport stamps from 61 countries and is a million-miler on American Airlines. He writes for the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Departures Europe among other publications.

Ron Kroichick has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle since 1995, when he came from the Sacramento Bee. He is the paper’s golf writer/columnist, writing a weekly column and covering the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and other Northern California events. He also writes features on the Golden State Warriors during the NBA season, and on various other topics – ranging from major-league baseball and the NFL to college football and basketball – the rest of the year.

Kroichick is a five-time honoree in the Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, placing first in daily news and third in daily features in 2010; earning honorable mention in daily news and daily features in 2011; and again earning honorable mention in daily features in 2013.

He also has been recognized five times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, including second place in best game story and best news story, third place in best feature, fifth place in best investigative reporting, and honorable mention in explanatory reporting (all in the over-250,000-circulation category).

His work can be found online at www.sfchronicle.com/sports and www.sfgate.com/sports.