Some restaurants are hard to figure out. They present themselves as one thing and turn out to be another, or else they're in a continuing state of figuring themselves out.
The cool thing about Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar is how plainly it wears its big beefy heart on its distressed-denim sleeve.
You'd have to go out of your way to not know what you're getting into at Guy Fieri's, one of three restaurants at the new Horseshoe Casino Baltimore. And you'd have to have a heart made of stone not to respond, on some level, to its basic good cheer and basic American enthusiasm.
If the idea of a hamburger topped with, say, a full serving of macaroni and cheese or a whole sandwich's worth of sliced pastrami leaves you cold, by all means stay away. Likewise, if you have a low threshold of tolerance for friendly and sympathetic service, or a casual and unpretentious dining atmosphere, Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar might not be your place.
Otherwise, I say knock yourself out. If you're not already at the casino, drive on down. The parking's free.
Guy's Fieri's Kitchen + Bar, which looks exactly like a fairly nice casual restaurant at a regional casino, occupies a prime piece of real estate on the Horseshoe's lower level.
It's not overdone; there are no animatronic Guy Fieris shouting "That is off the hook" or one of the chef's other catch phrases from the long-running "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."
I enjoyed the mixed-industrial view from the dining room's big, north-facing windows. The stadiums are visible, but closer in, there are warehouses and a jumble of light industrial buildings. I like how the casino's designers kept that view honest and open.
Try, though, to move as far from the bar as you can. For one thing, the bar is too close to the pulsating casino floor. And the service at the bar, when we visited, was confused, as though everyone were changing shifts forever.
Service at the table was much better. In fact it was excellent. We always felt like the staff was on our side and wanted us to be happy. Our waitress loved that we asked her advice and took it. Usually, she was right.
The menu has a few dishes not available at similar establishments in New York and Las Vegas — namely, a crab cake sandwich, Maryland crab soup, Old Bay wings and B-More fries. We passed on those and focused on the Guy Fieri classics — a lineup of mammoth sandwiches, shareable snacks and comfort food-style entrees — think Cajun chicken Alfredo and barbecue meatloaf.
Guy Fieri's prides itself on people-pleasing strokes such as making sure every chip in the serving of Los Nachos del Jefe is covered with the topping of black beans, chorizo, jalapenos and shredded cheeses. The menu says as much, and our waitress mentioned it. And I love that they make a big deal out of such a small but touching gesture. Because it really is annoying when you get a plate of misaligned nachos.
I like that the kitchen toasts the buns for its burgers, and that the burgers are seasoned liberally, and that the sandwiches are assembled and presented with apparent care and pride. And I love, love, love that every burger comes with a side of seasoned fries, which at Guy Fieri's are always a combination of waffle-style, curly and shoestring styles. The fries on a plate of Vegas fries are different still: a "sidewinder cut" that's like a cross between a chip and a wedge, which makes them perfect for layering with big crumbles of blue cheese.
If I were granted a wish at Guy Fieri's, it would be to get rid of sugary sweetness, which shows up in the rotisserie-style Hawaiian chicken, in the bourbon brown-sugar barbecue sauce on the Motley Que ribs platter and Motley Que pulled pork sandwich, and in the apricot-jalapeno sauce on a fillet of cedar-plank salmon.
The only surprises we had were positive ones. Desserts like the S'mores Monte Cristo, deep-fried brioche stuffed with graham cracker butter, marshmallow and chocolate, and the Triple Doublemint Pie, a mint and chocolate chip ice cream pie topped with hot fudge, are rich, tasty and very satisfying. They're wonderfully absurd, over-the-top desserts that the restaurant takes seriously.
We couldn't stop eating them, even though we were very full, but not in the awful way you're full after you eat bad, poorly made food.
When all is said and done, there are good versions of curly fries, burgers topped with mac and cheese, deep-fried brioche desserts — and there are bad versions. Guy Fieri's serves the good kind.
Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar
Rating: 3 stars
Where: Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, 1525 Russell St.
Contact: 443-931-4387, caesars.com/baltimore
Open: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Prices: Appetizers: $9-$15; entrees and sandwiches: $18-$28
Food: Big American food for big appetites.
Service: Friendly, sympathetic and vigilant.
Parking: Free parking in the adjacent garage lot except on days when there are events at M&T; Bank Stadium.
Outdoor seating: A covered outdoor patio seats 80.
Children: No one under age 21 is permitted in the casino or its restaurants.
Noise level/televisions: Normal conversation is manageable. There are 17 televisions total in the bar and dining area, all of which are muted.
[Star key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good: 2; Promising: 1]