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‘This is me’: Steelers’ Ward gives back with restaurant, wine bar

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Tribune-Review
Hines Ward sits at the bar of his restaurant, Table 86, in this August 2015 file photo.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
The menu at Hines Ward's new restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Hines Ward's new restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
A seating area around a fire pit at Hines Ward's new restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Inside of Hines Ward's Vines Wine Bar that is opening along with his restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Inside of Hines Ward's Vines Wine Bar that is opening along with his restaurant, Table 86, in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
A specialty 'Butcher Block Burger' the MVP, a burger topped with pulled pork, aged cheddar, bacon and Asian slaw, at Hines Ward's new restaurant Table 86 in Seven Fields on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015.

A lot of athletes have no idea what to do with themselves after their playing careers are over.

Hines Ward, obviously, isn’t one of them.

He won a season of “Dancing With the Stars,” appeared as a zombie on “The Walking Dead,” played a Gotham Rogue footballer in “The Dark Knight Rises,” worked as a football color analyst, swapped wives on “Celebrity Wife Swap” and runs the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation to support children of mixed-race in South Korea, where he was born.

He also competed on the Food Network’s “Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-off,” which perhaps hinted at his next endeavor — his new restaurant, Table 86 and Vines Wine Bar in Seven Fields.

Ward will host a private celebration and fundraiser for the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation on Aug. 18.

Table 86 is in the former space of SiBA Cucina restaurant, with Vines Wine Bar next door in the former Bohem Bistro & Bar space.

Co-owner Howard Shiller invested more than $1 million in renovations.

“This is me,” said Ward early Aug. 17 at Table 86. “From the decor to the ambience to the music. This is how my house would be.”

Ward has been planning this endeavor for a long time.

“I’ve always been trying to get into the restaurant business,” he said. “I had a bar on the South Side during my playing days, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into.

“I went to Napa and fell in love with wine. It’s also kind of just growing up.”

The decor is contemporary, with lots of dark wood, earth tones and subtle lighting.

Vines, next door, is styled after a Napa Valley winery, with stone walls, exposed wooden beams and dangling vintage light bulbs. Between them is a shaded outdoor patio, festooned with tiny lights.

There is a notable lack of black and gold.

“It’s not really a sports bar but has some televisions,” Ward said of Vines. “You can come here for date night or after work and still look up at the game once in awhile. A lot of guys (former players and teammates) live up here and don’t want to have to go all the way into the city.”

It’s in the northern suburbs because he wanted to give another ex-Steeler’s restaurant some space.

“I didn’t want to step on Jerome’s toes,” said Ward, referring to Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 on the North Shore. “There’s a lot going on here. If it’s good enough for Mario,” referring to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which just opened nearby.

The menu, Ward said, is strictly “food made from scratch.”

The menu features steaks, salads, seafood and sandwiches, including the Butcher Block 12 Pound Steak Burgers. There are some distinctive touches, if you know much about Ward. His signature dishes all end in “86.”

There are some nods to his mother’s cooking, too.

“Asian-style, Korean barbecue things my mom has taught me over the years,” Ward said. “I love the Korean ribs.”

Though he lives in his hometown of Atlanta, Ward is often on the road and comes to Pittsburgh quite a bit, especially during football season.

He worked closely with veteran restaurateur Howard Shiller, Ward’s business partner who is also a partner in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based G.R.E.A.T. Grille Group, which launched Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36.

“I was grateful Howard listened to my vision,” Ward said. “He was the mastermind of putting it all together.”

Ward said he wants to give something back to Pittsburgh, especially for all those fans who wore his jersey. The restaurant will employ about 75 people.

He plans on being in the restaurant as much as he possibly can.

“When I’m in Pittsburgh, you’ll find me here,” Ward said. “Who knows? You might find me doing some guest bartending, and shake the fans’ hands.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7901.

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