September 23, 2012 | BITE: My Journal
Go Big or Go Home: Guy’s American Kitchen
Guy Fieri fans will be hoping to see their idol loping about at his Times Square fief.
I imagine I can imagine what you’re thinking? Why would a fussy uptown gourmand like me – a certifiably obsessed foodie before there was such a word – be rushing to check out Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar?
I hope it’s not because I had nothing better to do this week than wallow in irony. It’s definitely not because I’m a Guy Fieri fan. I’ve caught him playing poor white trash troll on the telly now and then and quickly flipped away. He makes Mario Batali look like Cary Grant.
It’s a fine house Margarita. Two would make everything taste better.
But here we are, five of us, in a big, round, elevated corner booth near the bar of this apparently much loved, much hated entertainment icon’s rustic triplex eatery, a partnership with the Heartland Brewery. It’s up a flight of stairs to a series of rooms decked out with catalogue décor: animal heads, framed American flags, portraits of big red cars, frying pans and letters proclaiming Love, Peace, Tacos and Grease. The eternal verities. We are arguing about what snobs like us are doing in the shlock of Times Square.
No audition is required to sit in the guitar room.
Surely I’m not here not because I expect to love Unyans Cajun Chicken Ciabatta or Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders or even Bacon Chicken Mac N Cheese with three cheeses and cheese crackers. Although that last sounds dangerously fabulous.
Gotta give the guy credit for thinking lean, as in buffalo meat loaf. Did I say gotta?
The truth is, I thought checking out pop food would be fun. I actually liked Planet Hollywood when it arrived on 57th Street in l991. My friend. I’ll call her Polly (which isn’t her real name) instantly agreed but now it’s her husband Phil who is complaining.
“I don’t get it,” he says. “Don’t we know it can’t be good?” He comforts himself sipping his outsize glass of Sangria – it’s got two inches of fruit salad at the bottom. “But it’s not marinated fruit,” he points out.
My big everyday house Margarita is fine too, once our waitress takes away the salt encrusted version and brings back the salt-free one I ordered. It tastes particularly boozy as if the bartender poured the tequila on top and didn’t shake it up.
History would be rewritten if Jack Ruby and Lee HarveyOswald had packed guitars.
Of course the Guy-Talian nachos are cold. We carried them from the bar where a busboy dropped them off, instead of the Pepperoni Mozzarella Stix we ordered and some of us were so hungry, we just started eating. But the Stix, ordered again, come cold and stiff in a panko crumb girdle. Like an egg roll warmed earlier in the day and reheated once or twice, then cooled by the winds of the stairway as they emerge from the subterranean kitchen.
Some of us are up for a junk food thrill. Some wonder why they’re here?
No one even wants to order. Since this was my idea, I’m supposed to choose. It’s a challenge to get past California egg rolls with avocado. Sashimi Tacos, Motley Q Ribs or General Tso’s Crispy Pork Shank. Pulled Pork Slyders “from our righteous rotisserie.” Is this how America spells? Is this how America will spell? Can anyone read?
Oops. At $2 a wing these went so fast I didn’t get a “before” photo.
The wings came three ways. “Not spicy,” Polly commands. “Not sweet,” our friend Perry instructs. Bourbon brown sugar? Buffalo bleu sabi? I’m picking up the lingo now. That would be a mix of bleu cheese and wasabi. Should we taste it? Would it be a discovery? I order the Sweet and Sticky Fire Cracker wings, a compromise. Not very hot and at $13.50, not enough joints for 5. No, this fast food concept is not fast and definitely not cheap. Entrée salads are $17.50, pastas $17.95 to $22.50 for turkey fettucine with Tequila Alfredo sauce. Why turkey? Will turkey be the new bacon? Entrees top out at $31.50 for Steak Diane Filet.
Then the Dragon Breath Chili arrives. Surprise. It’s not only properly hot but it’s delicious -- a stew of beef, pork sausage and bacon, with a trio of chiles (jalapenos, poblanos and anaheims), grated sharp cheddar and sour cream on top. A bargain at $8.95.
Cuter even than young Sal Mineo – his name is Jerry Garcia and he’s from the Bronx.
Meanwhile, with so much time on our hands between smart remarks, we have fallen in love with the young and adorable kitchen runner. “From Mexico?” one of us asks.
“No, from the Bronx,” he says proudly. His name is Jerry Garcia.
No need to rush here for the rotisserie chicken but it’s not bad at all.
“Winner Winner Chicken Dinner,” is the menu headline. So of course, we’ll have a bird off the rotisserie. “Huli Huli,” lacquered with sweet Hawaiian BBQ glaze is Guy’s signature favorite, but I figure garlic-rosemary chicken with lemon sauce and mushrooms is safer for this critical crew. The chicken is juicy enough and almost hot. Having descended to check out the kitchen and found five chefs filling plates from bins of ready-prepped staples, my friend – a former chef turned restaurant consultant – assures us the “roasted garlic mash” can only come out of a box.
I’m sure someone thought this was a nice compromise for a Caesar.
Me, I only know Robuchon never came near these mashed potatoes. The meatloaf turns out to be edible too. Though the Ceasar salad tastes like Mom’s underdressed iceberg lettuce, I could make do with Guy’s Big Bite burger – a Pat LeFrieda custom blend with LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle), SMC (that stands for super melty cheese, you moron) and a slathering of Donkey sauce in garlic buttered brioche. Fans will know that Donkey sauce mixes jarred mayo with regular yellow mustard and Worcestershire -- Fieri’s formula for saucing Donkey or anything else.
I actually like the citric tang of this $12 baked Alaska. It quickly disappears.
My posse shifts in their seats as a tag team clears our table. I interpret this to mean they don’t have the stomach for dessert. The waitress, worn down a notch by our jeers, brings dessert menus anyway. There is a discussion of fried ice cream. Is it an obligation? Or shall we try for some final pleasure? Phil orders Baked Alaska. It tastes boldly lemony. I like it. And the chocolate sundae is better than the Salted Whiskey Caramel Fool, with layers of pound cake and strawberries in a modest parfait glass, small for a $12 sweet. But then our sulky waitress –alternately a dominant and then a submissive – had warned us.
I like what the guy from the NYPost wrote. “You can decide if Guy’s American Kitchen is the most exciting culinary invention since the gas stove or a reason to have your stomach stapled and move to Philadelphia.” Let’s just say I went there so you don’t have to.
Does anyone remember Schraffts? If you’re not feeling loved enough, chocolate helps.
And no, we didn’t see any exuberant leather-wrapped biker with dark glasses and a bleached blonde thatch above. And there were no server sightings either since opening day. We asked. But it seems Guy toured the place before it opened and threatened to come back. Meanwhile fans can linger in the gift shop, caressing the official t-shirt and signed plates and heeding his command: Go Big or Go Home.
244 West 44th Street. 212 555 1212. Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am till midnight. Thursday through Saturday 11:30 to 1 am. Accepts reservations.