“Who doesn’t love going to a casino? Who balks when someone asks, ‘You want to hit Las Vegas?’ Or Atlantic City, for that matter. I love casinos, man. That’s where the action is.”
That’s Guy Fieri talking, he being the So Cal-raised, Vegas-trained chef, restaurateur, author and Food Network personality (shows such as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and “Guy’s Grocery Games”), who re-opened and revamped the menu of Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen + Bar at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack last week.
If anyone knows where the action is, it’s this adrenaline junkie who, days after rapping, in person, about his Philly-centric Harrah’s menu, was spied on the sidelines of the New England Patriots whooping it up. And if anything is worth whooping about it’s the Chester, PA casino. A mere 27 minute drive from downtown Philly, this Harrah’s is still one of the area’s best-kept secrets, with its own horse racetrack whose action you can witness live from Fieri’s Philly Kitchen’s large windows. “This is what a casino restaurant should always be,” said Fieri, as dusk’s sunlight bounces off a large, chunky silver ring on his finger.
The spiky, blonde chef is no stranger to the casino game as his self-named Pocono Kitchen is located at the Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos, and his eponymous Chophouse is located at Bally’s Atlantic City on the Boardwalk. Then there’s his time learning the chef game — the restaurant floor and the Food Network. “All I wanted was to be my own chef, have my own restaurant with my own menu and my own rules,” he said about coming to the Food Network 13 years ago. “Food television? That was Graham Kerr and Julia Child. How did I fit into that?”
Fieri’s rough-edged “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” brought the full-flavored chef to Philly early on in its run, with a visit to Spring Garden Street’s Silk City. “I fell in love with Philly then,” said Fieri who skateboarded to the Art Museum, ran the steps, and ogled the “Rocky” statue with his son. “To be in a city with so much history and culture was the coolest. So fast-forward to this offer to do Harrah’s, and it’s where do you sign? Because I’m blue-collar guy from a blue collar family, this is a blue collar community, and THAT is what the food here is talking about, that, enthusiasm and playfulness.”
The casino game? Fieri studied hospitality at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas (“my son is in the same program, now”) and the racy allure of that town never left his blood. “You’ll never run into anyone who doesn’t like to be entertained, and that’s the spirit of Vegas,” he said. “Now, I don’t handle the casino side, or the singing, dancing side, but the food is such a crucial part of the casino experience; maybe more so than ever before.”
Guy Fieri gives his menu a Philly flair
Important, and truly individual (despite the similarity in its logos, no Fieri space is like the other in the food department so not to tire his brand), Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen + Bar is based on local flavors. Then twisting them. “When we first came here, the last thing I wanted to serve was a cheesesteak,” said Fieri. “That’s like singing Sinatra songs in front of Sinatra. You have to have the right flavors and the right environment for a traditional cheesesteak: elbow to elbow, standing up, with 50 other people doing the same right next to you.”
What Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen + Bar is doing is a cheesesteak burger, and two versions of a sliced prime rib cheesesteak, one done “Guy’s Way,” with several cheeses and garlic-buttered hoagie rolls. “Since this community identifies, like me, as Italian, we’re doing this big-eats plate, a Chicken Parm-eroni, because you love chicken parm, and I’m sure as hell certain no one wouldn’t love a huge slice of fried pepperoni on it.”
As Fieri stated earlier, this Harrah’s Philadelphia casino restaurant is molding its flavors to wherever the chef is landing and calling home. Some items work in one city that in no way would work in another. “My friend Kid Rock once told me that there are songs you play or sets you tailor to one city that you wouldn’t for another,” said the chef. That’s the real essence of Flavortown, Fieri’s own planet of bold, big tastes. “And there’s no place like Philly or Atlantic City. But you knew that.”