Friday, April 18, 2014 | 2:08 p.m.
Guy Fieri is playing the Strip, and this is all too appropriate. The UNLV graduate (he has a degree in hospitality management) is a spicy figure, to put it mildly. Adorned with a lot of good ink up and down his arms, his blond hair famously spiked and his skin glowing bronze, Fieri looks like he could be fronting a rock band at one of the city’s many music halls. Instead, he’s opening a restaurant at the Quad.
As Fieri talks of his new Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar, which sits on the sidewalk of the Strip on the north end of the Quad and abutting Harrah’s outdoor entertainment enclave Carnaval Court. Fieri is a fast talker, always working the audience. His Vegas underpinnings are evident as he says, “I rushed home from Little League practice last night … Yeah, I am a little old to be in Little League! I was held back a couple of years!” Then he beats the table with his own rimshot and says, “Thank you! I’ll be here all week!”
And a lot longer. A Las Vegas resident whose family makes the city home (the Little Leaguer is actually his 7-year-old son Ryder), Fieri is piloting a 6,500-square-foot restaurant that could not be in a better location for pedestrians hoofing it along the Strip. At Thursday’s opening event, the line leading into the restaurant stretched into the casino floor at the Quad. Hovering at the outdoor patio was another throng of gawkers, their backs facing Carnaval Court. Even before the place opened to the general public, there was already buzz and acute curiosity about the fiery Fieri and his restaurant.
“When I saw this space, I thought, ‘Ooooh, we’re gonna do what here?’ ” Fieri says just an hour before throwing the doors open for the first time. “Where we had a driveway and dirt (the restaurant footprint stretches to the old alleyway between Harrah’s and the former Imperial Palace), we’re going to put up a restaurant?”
Fieri knows his strengths and limits. He is a focused chef and a bona-fide TV star, his personality bubbling over like a simmering marinara on such Food Network shows as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” “The Next Food Network Star and “Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off” with Rachael Ray, which premiered a little more than two years ago. But as a restaurateur, Fieri keeps his eye on the food and customer service.
“I bring in smart people who know how to do the job,” He says. “I’m not a designer, but I can tell you the things I like. I like wood. I like metal. I like leather. I like cool lights. I like media (video screens, in other words). I like to see people, I want windows. I like palm trees! I tell people what I like and let them go to work.”
Fieri actually invited members of his design team to his Las Vegas home to check out the décor.
“I want it to be funky. I don’t want pretentious. I want it to be comfortable,” Fieri says, his eyes darting around the wood-metal-leather surroundings. “I have done four restaurants with this design team and made them come to my house and said, ‘This is the (stuff) I like to work with.' And that’s what we did. I take my kitchen equipment and show it to them, the pots and pans. I bring them to them and say, ‘I want one of these. Please make it or find it.’ ”
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night dining. Fieri’s tweaking in traditional dishes is reflected in such menu items as his Vegas Fries, tossed in buffalo seasoning and wing sauce and sprinkled with shaved blue cheese. Served with celery and carrots, the fries are delivered by blue-sabi dipping sauce. He blends a street taco with a Vietnamese sandwich for the Bahn Mi Tacos dish (baguette taco shells, firecracker pulled pork, cilantro, pickled carrots, shaved jalapenos and sweet chili mayo all used in the dish).
The “why” of it all was forged through an episode from Fieri’s childhood, a story he often tells at great volume while energetically waving his arms. When he was a 10-year-old kid in Santa Rosa, Calif., where his parents operated a country-western clothing and equipment store, he caught a whiff of what his mom was making for dinner.
“I smelled her making chicken Parmesan and I said (claps hands), ‘We’re having chicken Parmesan tonight!’ ” Fieri says. But that was not chicken. “It was eggplant Parmesan. What? We were the family that ate green spaghetti, hippie spinach spaghetti in this little ranch town and nobody was eating that, and I was made fun of, ‘Green Eggs & Ham’ and all that. So now we are eating eggplant.”
Fieri asked his mom, “Why can’t we have chicken Parmesan, like the normal families?’ And she says, ‘If you don’t like the way we cook, then you cook.’ ”
That sent little Guy to a nearby, family-owned grocery store where he met Jim the Butcher and asked for some meat (placing payment on the family’s tab). Then he bought some pasta and Ragu sauce.
“My parents were into macrobiotic cooking at the time, making a lot of steamed things, so I got some steaks and grabbed all this stuff,” Fieri recalls, laughing. “I didn’t know they cooked in separate pots. I just thought they cooked them all together.”
Having observed his parents cooking throughout his childhood, Fieri was more advanced as a cook than most 10-year-olds. But his father was stunned to see his son in the kitchen, making dinner, and Fieri remembers his mother explaining, “I told him he could do it, but I didn’t think he would actually do it.”
At dinner, his dad took a bite, set his fist on the table (which usually meant trouble), and said, “That might be the best steak I have had in my life.”
From that day forward, Fieri’s passion has been cooking and preparing food.
“It was lights out, at 10 years old. My head went off like a cartoon character. Boom!” Fieri says. “All of this happened at one time. If I cook, I get to have meat! If I cook, I make the decisions about what we eat! If I cook, I don’t do the effing dishes! Ah! And I was already so food-centric as a kid, there was no question as to what I wanted to do.”
Moments later, the Strip’s new food star, himself a onetime UNLV Rebel, bolts out of his seat to talk to the front-of-house staff. It’s a series of reminders and directives couched in a classic Guy Fieri revival.
“I just want you to remember one thing tonight, and that is going to the most important person in your life,” he says, caterwauling to be heard over the ruckus just outside the restaurant. “Your boyfriend, your mom, your sister. Those are the people you are serving. We have to be 100 percent, because if it’s not 100 percent, we’re not sending it out. Stick to that foundation, stick to that premise, and we will be fine.”
The group cheers. At Guy Fieri’s restaurant, dinner (and breakfast and lunch) is served.