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It would be 'factory farm to table' and probably have a nacho cheese foie gras
Remember when Brooklyn hipsters were trekking out to Guy Fieri's mecca in Times Square to nosh on his Dragon Chili Fries ironically? Well, Late Night Basement wondered what would happen if Fieri expanded his empire to hipster-ville Williamsburg, and decided to take it to the streets, interviewing Brooklynites on the street about the "news."
The reactions are fairly predictable. There's one bearded guy excited to see the catastrophe ("It's going to be terrible, I can't wait."), another guy who espouses the anti-corporate sentiments expected of the crowd ("I'm not really into the whole [expletive] overcommercialized celebrity chefdom"), and another who threatens bodily harm ("I will single-handedly strangle him if he ever tries to do that in this area.")
Others are a bit more diplomatic, while another girl comes up with a genius business plan: "Take anything that Guy Fieri does, open it at midnight, and have it close at 8 o'clock in the morning, and that's a winner." On the bright side: nacho cheese foie gras? Yeah, we're kind of into that, too.
Who is more annoying: Guy Fieri or hipsters? (video)
Cooking clown Guy Fieri's new restaurant in New York City is attracting hipsters from Brooklyn, who are "ironically" dining at the Times Square tourist attraction.
last fall, Guy's American Kitchen + Bar became
. It also became a destination for hipsters from Brooklyn, who flocked to the restaurant to dine ironically. How precious is that?
But what would happen if Fieri opened a branch of the restaurant in their neck of the woods?
hit the streets of Williamsburg, and it turns out that trendy Brooklynites lose their sense of ironic humor when it comes to the prospect of Fieri opening a place where they live. Some of their responses are downright cringe-worthy.
So who's more annoying: Guy Fieri or Brooklyn hipsters?
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Chicken Guy! opened up a new door for chicken aficionados, and as expected, Guy Fieri expanded the chicken fandom into South Florida with an eatery inside the Aventura Mall.
However, Fieri told the Sun Sentinel: "I learned I should have brought about 4,000 more pieces of chicken . I saw people getting the sandwich and putting it in their purse. I said, 'What are you doing?' And they would say, 'I have got to take this home to my husband. He is going to be out of his mind.'"
Guy Fieri on His Love Affair with America's "Funky Places"
Did Guy Fieri mean to become the head cheerleader for America’s mom-and-pop restaurants? Not according to him. But fifteen years into his runaway hit food and travel show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, he’s learned to wear that hat alongside others that include chef, dad, and car enthusiast. “I just wanted to give funky places some recognition,” he says. “I thought it’d last a season or two.”
Thirty one seasons later, “Triple D,” as Fieri calls it, is the Food Network’s longest-running show and Fieri its most prolific face. The morning we chat, Fieri at his home in Santa Rosa, California, I'm three hours ahead and nearly 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn—and he has a flight to catch. The Fieris are off to Maui for a vacation that was postponed last year, and he's trying to find documents while saying goodbye to his dogs Roxy, Smokey, and Cowboy. At one point I overhear his wife telling him to hurry it up. “How hilarious would it be if you made me miss my flight?” he jokes.
And yet, he pinballs through our conversation with a blaze of energy and focus I know well, after years of virtually riding shotgun in the ‘68 Camaro he drives on the show. He compliments my questions, while going on anecdotal detours about Guns 'n Roses concerts and trips to the Outer Banks. He liberally uses his TV-famous catchphrases—“Oh! My friend!,” he says recalling a roast beef he once ate “It’s money”—which are as much Fieri’s flair as his bright bleached hair, Ed Hardy tees, and Oakley sunglasses. Talking with him is its own kind of ride, and it feels good.
Making people feel good like this is Fieri’s currency. Ostensibly a food show, Triple D has evolved beyond spotlighting the bison burger from a honky tonk in South Dakota or the goat curries of Little Haiti, to celebrate the hard working teams, often immigrants or the children of immigrants, that make these plates worth driving out of your way for. During 30-minute weekly episodes, he trumpets their stories and exalts their food with ecstasy-induced eye rolls, fist bumps, and bear hugs. It could all risk feeling a bit staged if you didn’t see yourself, just a little bit, in his theatrics. When I’m on the road and I stumble upon a little place that turns out to be fantastic, I, too, could hug a stranger. “When you step inside someone else’s universe, and they are telling you all about it, it is the best thing in the world!” he says.
Fieri fell in love with cooking after a year spent in France as a student.
Those small businesses that helped make him the face of quintessentially American dining are the same stock hit hardest by the pandemic. Maybe because this wasn’t lost on him, or maybe because he is just an all around good dude (or, I’d argue, a bit of each), Fieri sprang into action at the start of the pandemic when the government failed to do so.
Just weeks into California’s lockdown last March, he launched his Restaurant Relief Fund, which has raised over $22 million dollars for hard-working hospitality staff. The majority of the 43,000 recipients so far have been female, a demographic that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-induced job loss. On Friday, he’ll host the live-streamed Conscious Collection: A Virtual Fine Wine and Spirits Auction where big ticket items on the block include dinner for ten with Sting and Trudie Styler at their home in Florence and cellar visits to Louis Roederer in Reims, France, with all proceeds going to America’s restaurant workers.
A lifetime exploring the United States is possibly why Fieri is that champion of the places and people you may only happen upon—and why he wants them to be there in the future. He’s been road tripping across all fifty states since he and his sister would pile into his parent’s Ford pickup and tie a camper to it while growing up in Northern California. It’s an annual tradition he’s carried on with his own two kids.
50 States, 50 Cuisines: The Food Worth Traveling For in Every State
“The United States is so ready for discovery,” he says, “it is the most diverse and eclectic place anywhere. And for less money than it costs to go to Europe you can have the trip of a lifetime.” When he talks about the United States, his voice adapts this a sense of amazement it’s as though he can't quite believe that this country he has known for 53 years actually exists.
These days, he’s upgraded from the family pickup truck to a 48-foot motorhome that requires a commercial truck license. “Two hour drives don’t get me going,” says Fieri, a dedicated motorhead, “But 12 hours? Yeah!” That motorhome has taken the Fieris from California to Miami via the Texas panhandle, stopping at camping grounds so that Fieri could cook (chicken parmigiana is a favorite). During the pandemic, they drove through Utah and Nevada, stopping in locations like Area 51. “I felt like I had discovered the moon,” he says. These family road trips are still sometimes the source for finds that’ll end up on Triple D—like the seafood joint Cravens, behind a gas station in North Carolina, where he happened to stop late one night to grab a bite. (“I wasn’t about to waste a meal on a gas station rotisserie hot dog,” he says.) Later this summer, the Fieris will drive the motorhome up the west coast into Canada, borders permitting.
It's expected, then, that his show charts a course that has become a literal road map of American food and storytelling. I’ve found myself scrolling through the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives website when I’ve ended up in those mid-drive, in-between places, like Bradenton, Florida, where Triple D let the world know that ‘real deal’ Cubanos could be found at Jose’s Real Cuban.
As I plan my own summer travels, these are exactly the kinds of businesses I’m excited to get to know again. In part, because the pandemic showed us that even something as iconic as an American roadside diner isn’t guaranteed to be there tomorrow (Jose's Real Cuban, for example, is now permanently closed).
One thing's for sure—Fieri won't ever take them for granted. “Part of Triple D is reminding people that we live in this unbelievable country,” says Fieri. “You just have to get out there and see it.”
Get the inside dish: How did the Food Network go sour?
Last week, I had the pleasure to chat with Allen Salkin, nationally-renowned investigative journalist and food critic whose latest book, “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network” will be featured this week at the TC Jewish Book Series. The book offers a fascinating and exhaustive history of what started as the “Television Food Network” and now flounders as the 24-hour Guy-Fieri-Heart-Attackathon Network.
Many will remember a golden age in programming for the network around the late 90’s/early 00’s: Molto Mario, East Meets West, Good Eats, The Naked Chef, Emeril Live, and the dazzlingly mythic Iron Chef (Japan.)
Now, if you tune in to Food Network starting at 6pm, here’s your lineup for a Wednesday evening: four episodes of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (6-8pm), two episodes of Mystery Diners (8-10), Restaurant: Impossible (10-10:30), then another two hours of “Triple-D” and Mystery Diners to round out your night. That’s a whole lot of Guy Fieri, diner-related content, and reality show nonsense.
“The heart of Food Network,” Salkin told me plainly, “is that there is no heart.”
Salkin’s story is of a network that began, in the early 1990’s, with good intentions: a 24-hour television channel devoted to good food and instructional cooking. Programming from those early days included the revered Frugal Gourmet, archived episodes of Julia Child, and a little-known but charismatic young chef named Emeril Lagasse. As the network grew in popularity, so too emerged the bold personalities of Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Jamie Oliver, Alton Brown and others.
With shows like Good Eats and Iron Chef, Food Network took creative risks that brought unique programming to what could have been the bland, run-of-the-mill “how-to” style content you’d be likely to see in five minute segments on Good Morning America.
But as quickly as ratings grew, so too did the sway of commercial interests.
For me, the shift for the network can be seen in the story of Mario Batali. Molto Mario was launched in 1997 here you had an authentic Italian chef, fat and ebullient, crafting mouth-watering Neapolitan recipes and clearly enjoying every last morsel of the fruits of his labor.
Suddenly, he was gone, and there appeared Giada De Laurentis, with Everyday Italian. Giada was beautiful, thin and elegant. Her cuisine was also Italian and certainly looked delicious. But I didn’t believe she actually ate any of what she cooked. What happened to Mario?
“Mario’s relationship with the network was very hot and cold,” Salkin told me. “The advertising department never liked him because he wasn’t getting female viewers. And that was whom they were selling ads for. TV business is about selling ads.
“He was in Rome and wanted to make a dish featuring tripe (cow intestines.) ‘No, no no,’ the network said. ‘You have to make chicken.’ That was the signal of the end. Giada was ‘everyday Italian’ in the post Rachael Ray era. All they wanted from Mario was to continue to be an Iron Chef.”
And so began the slow decline that has led us to actually wanting to Dive out a window if we have to watch Guy ambush another Diner or Drive-in. Sure, there have been bright spots: the television birth of Anthony Bourdain, the surprisingly fun reality competition Chopped, and a few others.
But the bastardization of Iron Chef America, the buttergasms of Paula Deen, and something called a “Kwanzaa Cake” by Sandra Lee are just a few examples of just how low Food Network has stooped for the purposes of satisfying the appetites of advertisers instead of viewers.
Is Food Network itself to blame? Or is it a victim of the “reality-show-ificiation” of television as a whole? After all, the days of MTV and VH1 playing music have been all but forgotten, the last vestiges swiftly blown away by the Axe Body Spray sea breezes of Jersey Shore.
“From Scratch” author Allen Salkin.
Yet our society’s obsession with the food business has never been stronger. Indeed, “foodie culture” and a strong spirit of experimentation abounds. Crowd sourcing, particularly in the form of restaurant review apps like Yelp and Open Table, have democratized the landscape, and new original programming should be ripe for a network that was once ahead of its time.
“Food Network has simply stopped taking chances,” Salkin lamented. “If someone walked in there now with the modern equivalent of a cross between a dubbed Japanese game show and American Gladiator (i.e. the original Iron Chef), they’d say no.”
With the proliferation of online media content, Food may soon face its day of reckoning. Increasingly, consumers are directly accessing the content they want, and by-passing traditional advertising-supported content from cable providers.
Will this sea-change force Food Network to, quite literally, go with it’s gut?
Will it, to paraphrase Salkin, go down fighting with tripe, or settle being the chicken it thinks the world wants it to be?
The Twin Cities Jewish Book Series presents “Inside Dish: Get Juicy with Allen Salkin and Andrew Zimmern,” Thursday February 26th at 7:30pm at the St. Paul JCC. Tickets are $25 and include a free copy of “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network.” I highly recommend the book not just as a history of the network, but as a document of the evolution of the television industry. Also, how could you miss a chance to see Andrew Zimmern?
This post was written by Max Leibowitz and originally published on TC Jewfolk. Follow TC Jewfolk on Twitter: @tcjewfolk.
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Max is a writer and comedian in Minneapolis, MN. Things he loves: sandwiches, improv, weekdays, and 90’s pop music. Things he hates: unanswered text messages, Twizzlers, unnecessary holidays, and feigned empathy. Things he barely made it out of alive: childhood in New York City, Spider-man 3, and Carleton College. Try and fill up his inbox!
‘Triple D’ is the gift that keeps on giving
For restaurateurs, appearing on Triple-D is like hitting the jackpot. Being featured on the show gives their establishments a level of positive publicity that would be nearly impossible to match with any advertising campaign. It seems just about everyone has the same experience. A few testimonials:
- “We had people calling the restaurant as soon as our segment ended the night it first aired,” Paul Malvone, whose restaurant, Boston Burger Co., was featured on the show in 2012, told Restaurant Hospitality magazine last year. “They were asking ‘Was this the place they just saw? What are our hours? What is our address?’”
- “The day after our episode aired, we were slammed,” Robert Fleming, chef-owner of Magnolia Pancake Haus in San Antonio, also told Restaurant Hospitality.
- “It was crazy,” Fred Guerrero of the Oinkster in Eagle Rock, California, told Grub Street in 2011. “As soon as the episode was over, the phone started ringing off the hook.”
- ”Our business just went crazy, Sarah Sanneh, co-owner of Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Brooklyn, New York, told Thrillist in 2016. “And it brought in so many new people that would have never visited us otherwise.”
- “People were lined up waiting for us to open,” Ann Kim of Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis told Twin Cities Business magazine in 2015. “The first weekend was insane. We were open 11 to 11 and never not full.”
Obviously, if you are a restaurateur and Guy Fieri shows up on your caller ID, you should pick up the phone. While some chefs and owners quoted over the years have lamented the loss of their quiet neighborhood joint and the arrival of tourists from all over, they are pretty quick to admit it would be foolish to complain about having a wildly successful business. The Triple-D effect isn’t a one-time thing, either. Remember: Food Network airs old episodes all the time.
”We can always tell the day after our episode has been re-run,” Sanneh told Thrillist. “Like, all of a sudden we’ll be slammed on some random Tuesday, then we’ll realize, ‘Oh, they just replayed our show . that makes sense.’”
It was finally time to try Fieri's ultimate grilled cheese sandwich
"Now, I want you to take that championship bite, I want you to show me how that bite is really done," Fieri said as I took the grilled cheese in my hands.
"Alright, cheers," I told him before digging in.
"That's a good bite!" he said. "There's that cheese working."
And the cheese was definitely working. Fieri's sandwich is without a doubt one of the creamiest grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had. The mac and cheese explodes in your mouth, and there's so much depth of flavor thanks to the five different types of cheese all working together with the sausage. There's also a nice hint of sweetness from the bread. Add some hot sauce and the entire thing is perfection.
"That's so good," I told Fieri, going for another bite.
"Do we know how to party or what?" Fieri said. "And to the background of the melodic energy and music of the fire alarm!"
"It's been a once-in-a-lifetime experience," I told him.
And it definitely was. But thankfully, I'll still be able to make Fieri's ultimate grilled cheese sandwich as many times as I want.
What restaurants does Gordon Ramsay own in NYC?
It employs more than 700 people in London, where it has a collection of 15 restaurants. Gordon Ramsay Restaurants has over 35 restaurants globally and 7 Michelin stars, with international restaurants from Europe to the US and the Middle East.
- Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill. Las Vegas.
- Gordon Ramsay Burger. Las Vegas.
- Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen. Las Vegas.
- Gordon Ramsay Steak. Las Vegas.
- Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips. Las Vegas.
- Gordon Ramsay Steak. Baltimore.
- Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill. Atlantic City.
- Gordon Ramsay Steak. Atlantic City.
Regarding this, does Gordon Ramsay have a restaurant in Ireland?
&ldquoSilk Restaurant .. formerly Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt&rdquo Review of Sika Restaurant. Description: With an emphasis on local excellence and seasonality, Sika Restaurant at Powerscourt Hotel offers the best of Irish contemporary cooking against a spectacular backdrop of Wicklow's hills and mountains.
Does Gordon Ramsay work in any of his restaurants?
Ramsay is a partner in his restaurants and does none of these things. He doesn't check in with chefs, or help with specials, or sort any types of issues. There's a full management team that does these things everyday. There is simply no possible way Ramsay could, or would want to, do such things.
At James Harden's Thirteen, the Chef Takes Over
Chef Tobias Dorzon is ready for the spotlight at Thirteen.
Recently I went to Thirteen, James Harden's new restaurant at the edge of the Fourth Ward. The restaurant hosted a small, socially distanced tasting. Servers hurried about helpfully, television camera crews set up a remote in a corner of the dining room, and plates of finished food were on a display table and diners' tables. I had a perfectly fine run of elevated Southern-focused bar appetizers, like Thai pineapple chicken wings and a fun egg roll stuffed with crawfish, seafood, and macaroni and cheese.
While all of this happened, the television over the bar was showing—what else—basketball. Oh! The owner himself was on TV! There was Harden, shouting out instructions while wearing a Brooklyn Nets jersey. Nets and Clippers. Good game! Harden had a triple-double and 23 points! But . right.
The tasting wasn't about Harden, though. He wasn't anywhere to be seen—okay, other than on television—and the only other obvious reminder that he exists was that his signature is a light over some of the tables in the dining room. Instead, Thirteen looks to be about the servers clad in all black everything and the chef leading the charge. Tobias Dorzon makes it clear that the spotlight is now on him.
"This gives me a chance to show that this is about the food," says Dorzon. "He brought me here to shine, so that's exactly what I'm gonna do. I live for moments like that."
Dorzon isn't a stranger to spotlights, though. Growing up in his father's West African-focused restaurant in Washington, D.C., Dorzon took an interest in football. He spent two years as a running back at Jackson State University (under his given name Bloi-Dei) and managed to bounce around NFL training camps but never got to play in a game (he did, however, get in some time with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers).
He found his calling in the kitchen, studying in D.C. and traveling to Italy before starting to cook for fellow athletes. Clients included Santana Moss, DeSean Jackson, Trent Williams, and NBA players Jeff Green and Jameer Nelson.
He named his company Victory Chefs, and his success led to a career in restaurants. More recently he took Victory to a brick-and-mortar, fast-casual spot in Bowie, Maryland. Quickly, he had another Victory in Miami and another in Washington, D.C. His style of eye-catching and elevated versions of Southern comfort and upscale staples—seafood macaroni and cheese, seared salmon, fried catfish in grits, and lobster tail—was on full display.
But Dorzon was doing something else on the side. When the NBA had a bubble in Orlando, Florida, during the end of the 2019-20 campaign, the 36-year-old chef took on the role of Harden's personal chef. He cooked every meal for the then-Rockets guard.
"We just built a relationship, and James is a phenomenal guy. He's seen the success I had from my own restaurants, and our styles match with each other so much," says Dorzon. "We just connected in so many different ways. And he said, 'I'm opening a restaurant and I want you to be executive chef I want you to create the concept.'"
So only in the past few months, Dorzon left the Victory brand and moved to Houston. He studied restaurant menus, figuring he'd need to bring out large-format meat dishes (32-ounce dry-aged Hawaiian ribeye, 22-ounce bone-in ribeye, 14-ounce New York strip, 12-ounce strip steak with chimichurri) and fresh seafood (Maine lobster, deep-fried snapper). He also wants to raise the city's glutton game with a deep-fried lasagna served with a hot marinara sauce and, for brunch, deep-fried strawberry French toast.
Deep-fried snapper at Thirteen.
He has plenty of more ideas for the near future of Thirteen. For help he may chat with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who he considers a mentor. Dorzon has competed on (and won) Guy's Grocery Games several times.
He may also chat with the boss, naturally. His goal: Make Thirteen the place to be.
"I don't ever want it to be a miss," says Dorzon. "When me and James talk, it's just like basketball. Like, 'this was a 60-point night.'"
Considering the content created about Thirteen in the wake of Harden leaving Houston for Brooklyn, Dorzon will need to put up those shots. However, it'll be fun to see the new chef in town get to work.
We try not to go all snob on Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse
Guy Fieri has brought his brand to town, and local foodies are all atwitter. The jokes just write themselves, and you can find them all over social media.
I’ve been trying to stay above the fray by ignoring it. I sent regrets on an invitation to a public relations extravaganza at the new Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse in Fourth Street Live. Apparently, if my colleague Michael Powell is to be believed, that soiree attracted a deplorable pack of food writers and bloggers with noses uniformly raised and pinkies delicately extended. I don’t go to those things, no matter if it’s Fieri or Bourdain or, in his prime, Ferran Adria from the late, lamented El Bulli. Well, okay, for Adria maybe I’d go. But not Fieri.
I like to think of myself as particular rather than snobbish. I like authenticity and I like honesty, in my chefs and in my celebrities. I have little tolerance for the fake. Am I saying Fieri is a fake? Well … his resume is legit, running from a childhood lemonade stand to French culinary training, a hospitality management degree from UNLV, and a whole stable of restaurants and television shows that have boosted his net worth to $8.5 million , according to the all-knowing Internet. (gonetworth.com/guy-fieri-net-worth)
But there’s something that just doesn’t quite fit about an $8 million guy from Sonoma County who wears a blue-collar persona while affecting spiky bleached hair and Mephistophelian goatee that would probably get him beaten up by the guys drinking beer behind the Sunoco Station in Santa Rosa.
His style screams “Look at MEEEEEE” in the vernacular of the classic narcissist, and his approach to food strikes many of us as a deplorable dumbing down of a growing American gastronomy that has lifted our national culinary scene since the 1980s – perhaps not coincidentally the age in which the laudatory term “foodie” was born. Perhaps not all the blame goes to Fieri, but he is one of the most visible faces of Food Network, an institution that has visibly dumbed down over two decades, devolving from Sara Moulton and Ming Tsai (and yes, the original Japanese Iron Chef) down past Emeril and Flay. Rachael Ray and, eventually, Fieri and a squadron of pretty faces whose names we don’t remember very long.
Now, to his credit, when I watch Fieri’s D, D & D, I can look past the flamboyant buffoonery and applaud the needed attention that he gives to America’s fascinating family diners, drive-ins and dives in an age that more inclined to celebrate high-end, chef-driven temples of foodiness. But still, I just can’t seem to get past the sense that, like his compatriot and possibly role model Bobby Flay, he’s having us on.
I’m also selectively snobby about corporate restaurant chains run by bean-counters for what it’s worth, Guy’s chain seems to be adding a lot of beans. According to his own webpage, guyfieri.com, he’s running about 50 units across seven Fieri-labeled concepts, counting Louisville’s Smokehouse, which is said to be the first in a series, with another coming to Norfolk, Virginia, soon. Guy’s Burger Joint alone has almost 30 properties, most located in music and show venues nine of them feed the hungry masses on Carnival cruise liners.
In short, while Guy did turn up in town the other night to wow the bloggers and VIPS, I think it’s safe to say that you won’t see his spiky hair bouncing around in the Louisville shop’s open kitchen very often. I’m sure he’ll be in at Derby time, perhaps singing a few verses of Les Miserables’ catchy hit, “Master of the House.” But I figure the over-under on his being in the house the rest of the year is pretty close to zero.
So I guess it goes without saying that when my editor called on Saturday to say, “I want you to go review Fieri’s Smokehouse and I want it right now,” I was all “WTF?”
But I got over it quickly enough. Over many years as a food writer and even more years as a reporter I’ve learned to keep my opinions on the shelf when I get out my reporter’s notebook. Even when I have to express an ass-kicking opinion, I try to keep it fair and balanced, because that’s what reporters do.
So I put on my big-critic’s pants, and off we went to Guy’s with open mind, heart and tummy. As it happened, Mary and I arrived just in time to catch the opening kickoff for U of L’s show in ESPN GameDay. A smallish crowd, all glued to the big screens, got more and more mellow with every touchdown. This created a good vibe and probably helped my positivity.
The venue didn’t turn me off, either. The former Sully’s Restaurant and Saloon has been made over with a comfortable feel only slightly diminished by Fieri trademarks: A giant mural of leaping flames adorns one wall. (I think it’s supposed to represent barbecue, not Hell.) A huge chrome eagle with Guy’s name emblazoned across its neck like a bizarre cravat hangs on a pale wood wall. The cozy gloom of the high ceilings is lighted up with lots of glittering lights that make it look a little bit like a catering hall in New Jersey or Long Island, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Almost 120 surprisingly comfortable leather-look seats are packed around heavy dark wood tables, flanking a large bar. Another 80 seats fill comfortable patios with fire pits, a big steel cage full of hickory chunks, and an oversize stainless-steel smoker.
The multi-page menu offers plenty of smoked meat, of course, not to mention a smoked corn side dish that I couldn’t resist but more about that anon. If you keep up with LEO Weekly’s food conversations, by the way, you’ll be amused to learn that Fieri’s online menu does not list prices. In fact, there’s a pretty good mix of pricing, with “Knife n Fork” main dishes ranging from the high teens up to $35 for a big barbecue platter, which puts just a few bucks below the artisanal lamb rack at Butchertown Grocery, but not by all that much. Snacks, sandwiches and burgers are mostly $10 to $15.
The libations list offers a moderate beer selection and a short wine list, suggesting that vino is not Guy’s thing. There’s plenty of hard likker,, though, with cocktail prices, oddly, not shown on the in-house menu. If you have to ask. … “Julep” is deplorably spelled “Julip,” a sad fail in the Derby City.
Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse’s charred okra and pickles. It is possible that our first dish was the best dish of our meal: Charred okra and pickles ($4.50) might make okra-haters go “eeuuww,” but okra haters should try this dish. About 20 whole pods were char-grilled tender, smoky and totally un-gooey, dressed with crunchy sea salt and served with delicate pink onion and house-made pickle slices.
A Triple Crown grilled-cheese sandwich ($10.95) made a gigantic portion. A three-decker built on thick Texas-style toast, it was filled with a wacky mix of pimento cheese, Cheddar, smoked Gouda, and macaroni-and-cheese – yes, on a sandwich – made with six cheeses. Served with french fries that were nicely hand-cut but limp and only just warm, it was a huge, calorific lunch-on-bread. But it fell short on the flavor symphony that I’d have wished for with that all-star array of cheese, and the elbow macaroni just made it heavy. A side of smoked corn ($3.95) was disappointing, pungently flavored with acrid smoke that reminded me of the time we accidentally got a pine log in the fireplace.
American Royal ribs ($28.95) didn’t have that smoke problem, thankfully. A huge portion of maybe two dozen meaty, dark-crusted pork ribs boasted good smoke flavor and a gentle peppery dry rub an attractive pink ring around the edges bespoke long smoking. They were awfully dry, though, and almost cloyingly sweet, especially with dark-red “JuJu sauce” squirted all over them.
A hearty lunch for two, so lavish that we took two big boxes of leftovers home, came to $50.60. Service was outstanding, calling into serious doubt the talk that Louisville is undergoing a service shortage (although the manager, who stopped by every table, hinted that an A-team from corporate was in to get the engine rolling). In any case, truly exceptional service from our server, Tiara. and everyone on the team, earned a $20 tip.
So, there are my opinions, and there are my facts. But here’s the real question: Coming off that meal, did my feelings about Guy change? Well, maybe a little. If my editor hadn’t sent me in to the game, I probably would never have gone on my own, because chain and because spiky-haired buffoon.
But I put on my critic’s hat and went with an open mind, and if it wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, it certainly wasn’t the worst, not of my life and not even of this year. The okra was outstanding the sandwich heavy and boring, and the smoked corn regrettable. Even the ribs, which ought to be the crown jewel of a self-identified smokehouse, were only just okay. And dammit, I forgot to get any Donkey Sauce.
Despite Fieri’s entrance into the city foodscape, I don’t think the Louisville market is dumbed down at all, not as long as great local places keep coming on and there’s a substantial audience to support them. But I think Fieri’s franchise will get along okay because there was, is now, and always will be a massive audience for competent chain food, and the Food Network dumbing down does not diminish that appeal. As long as Fieri remains popular, his name will be a draw.