Last week UPROXX reader and overall internet gadfly Bobby Big Wheel, an attorney based in New York who doubles as SB Nation’s crack legal analyst, emailed us to say that he was planning on visiting Guy Fieri’s new big douchey restaurant in Times Square — Guy’s American Bar And Kitchen — on opening night with a few friends. He asked if we’d like him to review it for us. Well of course we would, silly! What follows is his dispatch from what, to the surprise of no one, sounds like nothing short of culinary hell. (Photo above via Eater’s Greg Morabito)
A few weeks ago one of my co-workers told me about a hidden gem on 37th street; a man serving authentic Dominican food out of a loading dock. A hearty portion of oxtail, rice and beans, red sauce and a Coke runs about $7, and you wait for your food as hulking delivery men bring packages to the freight elevator. It was both cheap and authentic, a rarity for a New York Midtown lunch, which is dominated by chain fast food joints, reheated deli crap and MSG-laden Chinese. I went there for lunch on Monday and it was delicious.
But for dinner I went 7 blocks north of this loading dock to the heart of Times Square, an area shunned by locals because it teems with slow-walking tourists and overpriced kitsch (we prefer fast-walking New Yorkers and overpriced everything else). I was here for the opening night of Guy Fieri’s 500-seat monstrosity of a new restaurant. Guy’s American Bar and Kitchen is flimsy and garish. The menu is a hodgepodge that appears to be designed by focus group, where Steak Diane (a dish made famous by Julia Child) shares room with Tequila Turkey Fettucine and Sashimi Tacos.
I tried Fieri’s food because I always wondered if there was a real person underneath the frosted tip exterior. Fieri grew up the son of hippie parents and burnished his culinary skills in UNLV’s well-regarded hospitality program. Somewhere along the way he became a mascot for the Middle American lowbrow, and the lawsuit against him paints him as a knuckle-dragging dope. Of course, lawsuits have a way of painting people in a negative light; there had to be some happy medium where Guy could show us that he can run a decent restaurant. Maybe he could prove all of the haters wrong with Guy’s American Bar and Kitchen, showing the coastal elites that he was a legitimate cook.
So I took food and drink experts Rob Iracane and Kris Liakos to Guy’s American Bar and Kitchen on its opening night. We knew that there would be some opening night hiccups but we wanted to be the first to see if Guy was ready for his closeup. He isn’t, and I doubt he ever will be. Check out all the stuff we ate and drank.
Morgan’s Red Ale
Guy teamed up with Heartland Brewery (a New York City chain) on the restaurant so you’d expect good beer and this was no exception, hoppy and balanced, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars on Untappd. Still, for $7.50 it’s the least that you could expect.
El Jefe Weizen
I’m not much of a Hefeweizen guy but Iracane is and he said this option was good as well. Still, check out that logo on the glass.
South Beach Mojito
Ideally the mojito balances out the rum taste with mintiness and it ends up tasting like a fresher gin and tonic. Guy’s version doesn’t. Instead it uses “Bacardi Artic” (not sure if the spelling error is on purpose) and a blueberry reduction with mint fizz (read: syrup) and a single sprig of mint. It’s overly sweet, like something an Arizona State sorority girl would make for a Sex and the City viewing party.
Another subpar drink. It’s got too many cilantro bits (who puts cilantro bits in a margarita?) in it and lacks depth. It seemed like something you’d drink while you were on a cleanse.
Big Island Punch
The second worst drink that we had. Rob said it was perfect for a “Missouri hausfrau.” It tasted like Triaminic.
French Roast Martini
Kris and I split on this one, he thought they did a good job but I thought it was a bit watery. Also, they sprinkle white chocolate on it for no good reason. I mean, if you’re going to put chocolate in this, why not use actual chocolate? White chocolate is wuss chocolate.
Jimmy Fallon’s Creamsicle
Kris: “If this is what Jimmy Fallon drinks when he goes out no wonder he’s so bad at comedy.” This syrupy sludge was the worst thing that any of us drank.
Rob didn’t trust raw fish from Guy Fieri, so if Kris and I die of food poisoning you’ll know that these did us in. They’re edible, but when you eat them all that you can think is “why am I eating sashimi in a taco?” Also, take a look at how tiny they are when I hold one in my hand. It’s not like I’m Andre the Giant, and those tacos cost $3 each. For $3 I can get a burrito that’s bigger than my fist at a place near my apartment.
Fries in buffalo sauce sound like a good idea but the execution was poor — they came out limp and soggy. Also we barely got any of the wasabi bleu cheese dipping sauce.
Unyawns Cajun Chicken Ciabatta
Shoutout to our waiter for taking it in stride when I laughed as I said this item in my order. But Guy Fieri doesn’t get a shoutout because this is the standard crap you’d get at any Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag. I only ordered it because of the stupid name and because it came with “donkey sauce.” Whatever “donkey sauce” is, it’s bland. Big Mac special sauce is a step up.
Tequila Turkey Fettucine
One of the most ridiculous menu items was the best thing that we had. The turkey was moist and the tequila added depth to the alfredo sauce. Everything in the item worked well together and it was the only clean plate of the night for us.
Slamma Jamma Chicken Parm
This was a disaster. The chicken parm had the consistency of an old tire and the sauce tasted like burnt Ragu. If you’re going to play in New York then your red sauce Italian game better be strong, Guy. Mr. Iracane might put a Sicilian hex on Guy’s for this misfire.
Rob thought the burnt exterior tasted like the asphalt outside on West 44th Street. Like most of the worst drinks that we had, the sweetness overpowered everything else about the dish.
Salted Whiskey Caramel Fool
Yeah, it looked like a fruit parfait and we wondered where our whiskey caramel fool was. Then we realized, we were the fools for ordering it.
Some of these mistakes can be chalked up to first night restaurant miscues. For example, our entrees came out about one minute after our appetizers and we had to ask them to bring them back in about 10 minutes. That was 10 minutes under the heat lamps, which might have overcooked Rob’s chicken parm. If we had gone another night, maybe the mains would have tasted better.
But other problems were more structural. Our booth was too high; Kris’s and my legs were dangling above the ground and we’re both more than 6 feet tall. Everything had too much sugar in it; an easy way to please tourist palates but horrible for quality control. And Guy’s is overpriced; dinner was $80 a person. Last Saturday night I had dinner at Dumont and it was $50 a person and we didn’t skimp on cocktails then eiether. Yet Dumont is recommended by New York Magazine, an accolade that I suspect will elude Guy’s. Dumont is also less than a 30 minute subway ride from Times Square if you’re a tourist and want to experience something beyond an overpriced Chili’s.
Guy’s problem is this: the restaurant business is low margin. A recent New Yorker article explained the lengths quality-obsessed restaurants go through to cut costs; they’ll get rid of tablecloths to save on laundry bills or not change the menu so they don’t have to pay for printing. And most New York restaurants stay small to keep real estate costs down and allow chefs more control over their product. When I think of my favorite places in New York the biggest is ABC Kitchen, which seats 100 people. Guy’s seats 500. That much real estate so close to Times Square is not inexpensive. So Guy’s needs to jack up the prices and cut corners in order for the restaurant to be profitable. I’m not sure that anyone could make this a good restaurant. It’s like a Transformers movie.
But Transformers at least had decent marketing. Guy Fieri is going to have to do more for his Bar and Kitchen. It’s half a block from Times Square but it’s on a side street with little foot traffic. The garish Times Square restaurants that New Yorkers love to hate stay in business longer than anywhere else in the city because walk-ins are so prevalent. Guy’s was mostly empty on its opening night. Guy Fieri got to where he is because he’s a marketing whiz so he better start selling the crap out of this place. The staff told us that he spent the entire past week putting in 12-hour days trying to prep the restaurant, so it’s not like he has no skin in the game (though I suspect Heartland probably has the most invested in the restaurant). Maybe when it has a more official opening it’ll start doing better business, but there are few compelling reasons to come back.
Good food is supposed to make you happy. I ate at Guy’s 12 hours ago and I feel like I need a colonic to get its grub out of me. So I’m not predicting a long run for Guy’s. You’re better off eating at the loading dock.
Oh, and as I mentioned earlier, there were misspellings on the menu, naturally…
(Lead photo via Greg Morabito at Eater. All others via Bobby Big Wheel)