FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ Guy Fieri, the self-appointed mayor of Flavortown, is expanding that fandom into South Florida with the opening of Chicken Guy restaurant, which has been assembling inside of Aventura Mall since spring.
The fast-casual eatery now open inside the mall's Treats Food Hall is a partnership between the tattooed and spike-haired host of five shows on the Food Network _ including the mega-popular "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" _ and restaurateur Robert Earl, the man behind Planet Hollywood.
"South Florida is awesome," Fieri says. "I love Florida. And it's a great place to do it. I love Miami. I love the (Food Network South Beach Wine and) Food Festival. I love DJ Irie Weekend. You name it. I'm always finding an excuse to say, 'I got to go to work in Miami.' My wife thinks it's a bit of a coincidence that I always have to work down there. But what it is (about South Florida) is you have people who love food and people who appreciate other cultures. Our menu has 22 sauces, all different from South African Peri-Peri to curry to all-American things like barbecue to sweet and sour. And it kicks ass."
The first Chicken Guy opened last August in Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort, and plans are to expand throughout the region. Fieri has his name on 10 restaurant brands.
SOUTH FLORIDA'S SNEAK PEEK AT CHICKEN GUY
Local foodies may already have an idea of what Chicken Guy will be serving up in Aventura. Back in February, at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Fieri decided to debut a little taste of the eatery's fare at his hot-ticket beachside barbecue.
"It was out of control," Fieri recalls. "We're holding this barbecue event and I'm the host, so how can we not have the barbecue fried chicken sandwich, which is one of the great menu items? Like I said, it was out of control. We were trying to get our heads wrapped around it _ the lines, the people, the volume of food."
So what did he learn?
"I learned I should have brought about 4,000 more pieces of chicken," Fieri says. "I saw people getting the sandwich and putting it in their purse. I said, 'What are you doing?' And they would say, 'I have got to take this home to my husband. He is going to be out of his mind.' Even though it's only fried chicken, not all fried chicken is equal. It's great to see that people are as excited about it as we are."
SPEAKING OF CHICKEN SANDWICHES ...
The big cluck-up between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A over which fast-food chain has the best chicken sandwich has not gone unnoticed by Fieri.
"I think we will be a contender, no pun intended," Fieri says. "You know, I've seen all the concepts that are out there. I know what people are doing. I think that we are not as well-known, yet, but I think the citizens of Flavortown will make a pretty big statement. And they already have with what we are finding out with Chicken Guy in Orlando."
WHAT WILL MAKE CHICKEN GUY STAND OUT?
"It really comes down to every culture has a fried chicken, in one way, shape or form," Fieri answers. "And fried chicken is a lot like pizza, when it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad, people still eat it. "
Fieri says people settle for inferior fried chicken because they don't know the options.
"I think we're bringing more of a culinary sense to our chicken brine, the way we make our sauces, the frying, the breading we use. We spent two years really breaking this down with the chefs I worked with for tastings and adding to the flavor profiles. That's the real deal. It's crispy, not soggy. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of chicken."