When my editor found out I was heading to NYC for the Macy’s parade over Thanksgiving, she thought it would be a perfect chance to see if the Guy Fieri Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar was the tasteless disaster that the New York Times proclaimed it to be. With the Pete Wells scathing review in hand, my partner and I arrived at the Guy Fieri restaurant in Times Square with the mindset that this may be a true low point on our trip. We entered the restaurant and waited a short time for the hostess who then proceeded to lead us to a booth on the back side of the bar on the second floor. It is 2pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the place was maybe 50% full. The atmosphere was casual, nostalgic Americana, with pictures of vintage muscle cars and signs, with a hipped-up feel, and a mix of music from The Stones to Gotye.
Our plan was to order some of the same items that Wells had ripped on just to see if they were as awful as he made them out to be. Our waiter, Ricki, stopped by and introduced himself and asked for our drink order. After sending him away as we gathered our notes about what to order, and feverishly snapped photos of the menu like some undercover agent, we came up with our comparative mix. Unable to locate the watermelon margarita that Wells compared to radiator fluid and formaldehyde, I settled for the Guy’s Margarita de la Casa and my partner a beer. We also ordered the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders that Wells described as “chewy air,” the Big Bite Burger with Donkey Sauce that Wells felt the sauce was something out of the back side of the donkey, and the Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, which was one of the few items Wells recommended.
Drinks arrived shortly. With pierced lips, I brought the glass to my mouth to take that first awful sip, and … it was good! Actually, really good. Not too strong and a nice mix of flavors. My partner’s beer was a beer. Not too much to go wrong there. Next the chicken tenders arrived. They actually looked and smelled really good as he set them down. Not the “shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease” that Wells made us believe we would be getting. I touched one thinking they would be ice cold, and to my amazement, they were hot. Really hot. OK, the moment of truth about the chicken and … damn, they were good. Piping hot, crispy, non-greasy coating, and the honey-mustard dipping sauce with an awesome kick of horseradish, wasabi or something rocked!
Now the main course arrived, which we split each in half so we could both have our viewpoints. We each took a bite of the burger with the donkey sauce and reached the same conclusion: the best burger we have had in a long time. My partner said it, as I was thinking it, as we were part way through each of our halves. Just the right mix of ingredients between the lettuce, tomato, cheese and sauce. And the donkey sauce was definitely not from the wrong end of the animal. We also tried the pork sandwich, which was one of Wells’ suggestions. We both took a bite and continued eating without saying too much. It was good, but after the burger, it seemed to pale in comparison. The pickled veggies and house mayo gave a nice tang to the sandwich, but that is all. Sorry Wells.
So you may argue that we were not seasoned food critics with palates as discerning as Wells, nor as high brow in our expectations — but we were the target audience in which the restaurant was intended: average day NYC tourists. And for us Midwesterners, it was a damn good meal.
Photos courtesy Tom Czisny