Gus & Gabriel 222 W. 79th St, 212-362-7470
Price range: $17-$28 Rating:3L's
It's difficult to replicate the atmosphere of a local Midwestern pub, but that's just what Michael Psilakis has managed to do with his new restaurant, Gus and Gabriel. The tiny joint, an ode to deep fried, chili-covered comfort food, occupies Kefi's original space, though it's foregone the blue walls of its Greek predecessor in favor of something decidedly more Wisconsin-esque. Tiffany-style lamps and playful trinkets, like an old-timey high-wheel bicycle, make the room feel more like a toy store than an upscale restaurant. Which is kind of the point, when you consider the menu.
Gus and Gabriel is not for the faint of heart or the health-conscious. It takes guts and childlike determination to order fries, onion rings, mac and cheese, chili and a bacon cheeseburger in one sitting. But there's not much else you can do in the face of Psilakis' upscale T.G.I. Friday's-like menu, complete with flasks of liquor.
I tried to go to Gus and Gabriel on opening night, but the kitchen was closed when I got there, even though I called ahead. By 8pm the next night, I realized why. The exhaust fan in the kitchen was broken and the small dining room filled with smoke. But least the food was good. We tried pickled fries ($4), which showed up instead of the BBQ pork, cheddar, and jalapeño tater tots ($4) we'd ordered. Both were delicious takes on traditional bar snacks, but they didn't compare to the paper-thin hot potato chips ($4) which came with a caramelized onion and sour cream dip.
The staff hurried around nervously, and although our waitress was confused and overwhelmed, she made some great suggestions. The buttered sweet corn and jalapeño soup ($6) was a creamy blend of essential summer flavors, and the nachos ($10) were loaded with beans, sour cream, and chunky guacamole.
Psilakis makes a fine hot dog ($12), which we ordered slathered in chili. Served on a brioche bun with pickles, it's almost as good as a Chicago red hot. Same goes for the brisket French Dip ($12), which was rich and tender, with sweet, roasted garlic cloves under melted gruyere. "Batter-less" fried chicken ($14) still manages to have a crispy outer skin, while staying juicy inside.
Though everything at Gus and Gabriel was satisfying, simple and, surprisingly, reasonably priced, the menu just wasn't unique enough to justify a trip to the Upper West Side. It's definitely wise to stay away for another couple weeks while the staff smoothes out some technical issues. But if I'm ever nearby, I will stop in for the chocolate chipwich ($6) with homemade caramel ice cream. Sometimes you just need to feel like a kid again.