Editor’s note: This is real.
"Welcome to Flavortown," the server says. She delivers Guy Fieri's signature phrase in rote, employee-handbook fashion, a mild disappointment at first, but I later reflect that, yes, there's almost a note of self-aware but not totally serious funereal finality to it, like a mock-grim farewell before a rite of initiation that entails barely controlled crisis. But that wasn't until dessert.
1. Appetizer: Guy-talian fondue dippers
For this light starter, six foot-long crispy breadsticks are wrapped in pepperoni and served with a bowl of sausage-infused provolone cheese sauce. The best way to eat them is to take one from the bundle, attempt to break it in half, but then stop, because I feel like I'm being unduly fastidious and fey in the presence of such unapologetically bro-tastic food — and besides, I also realize I can't break the dipper without the carefully constructed pepperoni sleeve awkwardly coming off, ruining the almost touchingly childish and offhand aesthetic impact of the dish — imagine the emotional-culinary equivalent of a cardboard castle in an elementary-school play — and my nunnish pragmatism revealing itself would just sort of violate the spirit of the place, and I'm not a killjoy, am I? I'm not. So instead, I take an entire breadstick in my hand like a javelin, jab one end in the cheese lagoon and try with as much aplomb as possible to nibble-drink the salty fondue concoction off the tip. "Guilty pleasure" doesn't properly reflect the instantaneous, multisensory pummel of the meat-cheese-bread nexus. It's something more akin to a juvenile crime spree taking place in my mouth. It proposes a pivotal, Goofus-or-Gallant gateway moment: Do you nip this bad behavior in the bud, or do you wash it down with a Crazy Hagar? I choose the path of the Crazy Hagar, a mojito infused, apparently, with devil horns and guitar solos.
2. Entree: Mac-N-Cheese Bacon Burger
Before I even consider the burger itself, the first thing I actually notice is the straining tendon in the crook of the server's elbow as he brings the burger to the table on its cutting board — an indirect but unmistakable suggestion of grave, consequential weight. The Mac-N-Cheese Bacon Burger is less a burger than a sort of weaponized, self-sustaining meal biosphere, with six-cheese mac, applewood bacon, a bale of shredded lettuce and a muscular raft of meat held together in a toasted brioche chassis. It is the first burger I've ever eaten in which I first have to spend several moments considering angles of attack, the possibilities of entry amid the burger's various exhaust ports and infrastructure trenches — developing an inchoate respect for the burger as a rival, conscious entity, almost. The burger's so tall — and some hidden hydraulic system resists my attempts to accordion it down in my hands to conventionally edible dimensions — that I end up plowing into its protective topshell with my frontal incisors, and, in response, the Mac-N-Cheese Bacon Burger executes some sort of defensive self-destruct code sequence, exploding itself into a hamburger salad debris field that is, gotta say, pretty tasty.
3. Dessert: Guy's Cheesecake Challenge
I've heard dining critics talk about certain dishes being so insistently, so uniquely themselves that you can sense the personality of the chef behind them, as though the food wasn't so much food as a preverbal, nutritive medium of communication — at once primal and sophisticated, sensuous yet spiritual. Never quite got what they were talking about. Until the Cheesecake Challenge arrived. It is half a cheesecake studded with pretzels and potato chips, then zigzagged with a drizzle of hot fudge. But the telling, crucial detail is how the half-cheesecake is presented. Instead of sitting flat — commonsense, quotidian, even jejune — the cheesecake is set on its edge like a wheel, so it presents itself as a sort of runaway half of a dirty and broken Thundarr the Barbarian moon that's been ripped out of orbit by cosmic forces beyond our reckoning. And, by now calorie-drunk, swooning with surfeit, I imagined Guy Fieri straddling that ragged crescent cake-moon like a motorcycle, riding into a cold and inscrutable universe, crying for an answer, a connection, somebody, anybody, with his painted flames and chocolate-sauced potato chips, his pepperoni armor and outsized burgers: Is anybody out there? I've got cheesecaaaaake!