NEW YORK – The idea: With Food Network star Guy Fieri and comedian Judy Gold as my guides, find the best spots for Super Bowl-style grub in Manhattan.
The reality: Fire up "When Harry Met Sally" and loop it on the diner scene (yes, the moaning). Now blast a laugh track, then add a profanity-spewing rabbi, enough X-rated commentary to render much of the evening's dialogue unquotable, and such gluttonous portions of high-fat food that by the end at least one of us would be vomiting.
You have a sense of the evening. Which is to say, pairing up with Fieri and Gold was more amusing, but less helpful, than hoped.
With the Super Bowl coming to the New York area next month, I wanted to know where to go for the over-the-top fare we've come to associate with the big game. So last month I got a tour from Fieri, a master of too-much-is-not-enough eating. He's pimping the new season of his show, "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off," so he brought along Gold, one of his co-stars.
A little predictably, we started the evening at Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, Fieri's Times Square restaurant made as famous by a scathing New York Times review as by the celebrity himself. This was my first visit and — true to the hype — this is not the place to go for great food. It was, however, an excellent place for great grub.
As Fieri regaled us with his Super Bowl party food philosophy — "You can't just order 10 pizzas! That's a throwaway! That's an insult to the game. You've got to put some time into it." — the onslaught began.
Something called Mongolian chicken wings bathed in a sticky honey-soy sauce had Gold moaning loudly. "MMMMM! MMMMMM! Oh my God, it's so good! AHRRRRRRR!" And except to occasionally ask waitresses about gynecological procedures (just roll with it), this pretty much became her soundtrack for the evening.
We were all smitten with Round 2, a rack of sashimi tacos (crispy wontons filled with ahi tuna, mango jicama salsa and a soy glaze). Knowing we had three more meals to come, we could and should have stopped there. We didn't. General Tso's pork shank — a massive hunk of tender, sweet meat — landed with a thud on the table and in our guts. It was followed closely by a colossal French dip sandwich.
"I don't think everyone will subscribe to this, but I put in as much time and attention when I'm putting together a Super Bowl spread as I do Thanksgiving," Fieri said. "This is the greatest day of the greatest game."
Still it came. A burger topped with mac and cheese, bacon and six varieties of cheese. Bowls of beef, sausage and bacon chili. Tiramisu. Bread pudding doused with Jack Daniels.
And then we piled into a car. Up next, Ben's, a kosher deli on 38th Street. Gold: "Ben's?" she yelled. "We're gonna have some pastrami!"
We did. And matzo ball soup. And stuffed cabbage. And latkes. And a knish. And kreplach (a dumpling). And a rabbi so excited to stop by our booth he dropped F-bombs while telling Fieri what a fan he is.
But a Jewish deli for Super Bowl grub? Not your conventional accompaniment to spreads usually populated with guacamole and nachos. But Fieri and Gold agreed — whether it's classics like chicken soup or bagels and cream cheese, Jewish food is comfort food. It's rich and easy. It's right.
"Especially this time of year, if you're getting ready to go to the Super Bowl or you're going tailgating, man, I want somebody to bust out matzo ball soup," Fieri said.
Gold was getting concerned with being only halfway through our culinary agenda. "How are we going to eat anywhere else today? I'm going to puke!" So we compromised. Instead of going into Defonte's of Brooklyn — the Midtown outpost of the nearly 100-year-old Italian sandwich shop in Brooklyn — we pulled up outside and got takeout to eat in the car. We ate it as we headed to our fourth stop.
Four massive subs and a pile of much-needed napkins came through the window — a Nicky special (ham, salami, fried eggplant, provolone cheese, and marinated mushrooms, among other things); a hot roast beef (roast beef, fresh mozzarella, fried eggplant and jus); a Sinatra special (steak pizzaiola and fresh mozzarella); and a firehouse special (roast pork, fried eggplant, broccoli raab and provolone cheese).
"Oh my God, you've got to try this,'" Gold said, shoving a hunk of the firehouse special at Fieri.
"You're like a Jewish drug dealer! 'I've got a sandwich! Try it! Eat it,'" he said.
Yes, we were getting sick. Yet, slopping and dropping food all over ourselves, we passed hunks of the massive, crazy good hero sandwiches back and forth through the car. These are sandwiches that need no translation. You order up a dozen or so of these, slice them and line them up, and you have an incredible Super Bowl feed. If the food is this good, there is no shame in takeout for a Super Bowl party.
By the time we reached Gold's contribution to our agenda — Fred's, a restaurant with a sports bar feel and walls plastered with photos of customers' dogs — the car reeked of grinders. The only thing less appealing than getting out to eat another meal was staying in and smelling it longer. "Do you have any place I can lay down?" Gold asked the hostess.
Our table quickly filled with food and wine. A rich Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese that had you not already consumed three dinners you wouldn't be able to stop eating. A Super Bowl salad (that's its real name) of beets, goat cheese, oranges, walnuts and pineapple. A bacon and mushroom cheeseburger. "I'm sweating," Fieri complained as he kept eating. "I've got the shakes."
And then we were done. We kind of stared at each other. Our mission accomplished, we were all thinking the same thing. Gold put words to it.
"If I throw up, I'm texting you."
The next day, at 2:07 p.m. my phone beeped.
"Puked all night. So sick today. Not kidding," Gold's text read. "I'm going to KILL you the next time I see you!!"
I'd say we're ready for some football.
If You Go:
— Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, 220 West 44th Street, New York, N.Y., 10036. (646) 532-4897. http://guysamerican.com/
— Ben's of Manhattan, 209 West 38th Street, New York, N.Y., 10018. (212) 398-2367. http://www.bensdeli.net/
— Defonte's of Brookl, 261 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10010. (212) 614-1500. http://www.defontesofbrooklyn.com/
— Fred's, 476 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10024. (212) 579-3076. http://fredsnyc.com/
AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch tweets as @JM_Hirsch