Guy Fieri hasn’t gotten the best press for his restaurants lately; his most recent concept, Times Square’s Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is infamous at this point. At the same time, Atlantic City’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit in recent months, with several hotels about to close down. But little did we know, the two are actually perfect for each other; last weekend we visited Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, which opened last month inside Bally’s, and it turns out that once you get past a smattering of “Flavortown” flare, it’s actually one of the most fun and creative steakhouses to open in recent memory.
The sprawling new restaurant took over the space last occupied by The Reserve, and former Scarduzio's chef de cuisine Giancarlo Generosi has come on board as executive chef here. It’s important to note that Fieri actually hasn’t had much to do with this restaurant aside from allowing the owners, Caesars Entertainment, access to his recipes. The Caesars team, under the guidance of Director of Restaurant Operations Lou Dimino, had carte blanche to design the space, menu, branding, and concept. Fieri hasn’t even been to the restaurant in person yet, but he Skyped into development meetings, contributed ideas, and obviously had to sign off on all of Caesars suggestions before they took effect.
The fact of the matter is, Caesars knows how to plan a restaurant, and Fieri was wise to leave the bulk of the decisions in their hands. The space itself is inviting and surprisingly low-key (once you get past the bright neon sign), with a large bar up front, plenty of deep red booths, and walls covered in white subway tiling, with minimal ostentation. Sure, the menu does boast some typical Fieri lingo like “Danger Wings,” “Kick’n Calamari,” and “Steak Bling,” but those wings are fall-apart tender “lollipop-style” wings that have been brined, grilled, and fried (below); the calamari is tender and complemented by creative plays on tartar and marinara sauces; and the “bling” is the option to top your steak with bacon and shrimp scampi, tempura lobster, or barbecued mushrooms and onions — not so different from what Marc Forgione is doing at American Cut further up the boardwalk. Overall, the menu is – dare we say – quite restrained for Fieri.
The 28-day aged steaks include a 14-ounce New York strip served with frizzled leeks, a rib chop rubbed with a flavorful coffee and ancho chile mixture and served with mole butter, and a horseradish-rubbed prime rib served with horseradish cream and au jus that was close to two inches thick and perfectly pink from end to end. All steaks and burgers (including the bacon mac and cheese-topped one that won the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash) are grilled over cherry and oak, giving them a nice char and a deep smoky flavor.
There are also a few more surprisingly upscale offerings that you might not expect at a Guy Fieri restaurant: broiled oysters, for example, topped with garlic confit, bacon, and Parmesan; or a seafood tower brimming with giant shrimp, oysters, and crab claws and legs; a classic onion soup topped with melted Gruyère and Emmentaler; an IPA-poached whole Maine lobster; a maple-Bourbon-glazed pork chop stuffed with spicy Andouille corn bread and roasted pear; or a tableside “potato rig” that lets you choose 8 different toppings, including smoked gouda fondue, roasted green chiles, and crispy garlic chips, for a one-pound 24-hour brined potato.
Intentionally or not, Guy Fieri’s Chophouse represents a major culinary shift for the chef, away from gimmicks and self-aggrandizing and more toward fun, inspired menus conceptualized with the help of truly talented partners whose only goal is to give diners a solid meal grounded in creative recipes and professional execution.
So bravo to Caesars for figuring out the best way to capitalize on Fieri’s brand while not going overboard or losing sight of the fact that it all comes down to the food, and bravo to Fieri for trusting Caesars to build a restaurant for him from scratch that paints his trademark style in the best light possible.