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Reality Bites: Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Like most people, I've eaten at restaurants. As luck would have it, I've also been to several of the eateries featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I recall meeting the owner of one of them (not in Houston) who loudly and profanely cursed host Guy Fieri for selecting his restaurant, then loudly (and profanely) complained about the "new clientele" the show had drawn in. I hadn't gotten my food yet, so I didn't ask a) why he agreed to do the show in the first place, and b) if he was returning the new customers' money.

But this appears to be an uncommon response, judging by the fact the majority of the restaurants featured on the show prominently display links to the show. Like it or not, Fieri is one of Food Network's biggest stars, and arguably its most recognizable (provided Giada De Laurentiis isn't standing nearby in a bikini). A visit from His Goatee-ness can boost significantly boost a restaurant's business.

On the other hand, you can kind of see the irate owner's point. Fieri looks like the picture NASA put on Voyager I to illustrate the term "douche canoe" to extraterrestrials (or so I assume). Every one of his books contains multiple references to the mystical "Flavortown" (not the second sequel to the 1974 Roman Polanski classic, in case you were wondering), he was a spokesman for T.G.I. Friday's, which should have instantly negated any culinary credibility, and he considers Kid Rock a close, personal friend.

Anthony Bourdain may be an asshole, but at least his taste in music is above reproach.

In the Episode I Watched ("Time Tested Treasures," whatever the hell that means), Fieri travels to Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Portsmouth (Virginia) to introduce everyone to the "Triple D Crew" and his particular brand of, uh, expertise. And here's where the show's genius comes into play: just about every restaurant that doesn't require you to wear a collared shirt can be lumped into the diner/drive-in/dive category. Kenny & Ziggy's Deli? Sure. Tocabe American Indian Eatery? Yep. Forte European Tapas Bar and Restaurant? Why the hell not.

As you may have surmised, Fieri's TV persona is -- not to sugarcoat it -- fucking insufferable. The frosted hair is bad enough, but I understand the need to maintain your trademark (Jennifer Aniston's career hit the skids when she abandoned "The Rachel," after all). But add to that the Ed Hardy shirts, sunglasses perpetually perched on the back of his head, and the -- I'm hearing this in John Cusack's voice from High Fidelity -- "rings on his fingers," and the result is a bouillabaisse of bad taste.

Still, I must admit the actual gig is pretty sweet. When not describing the establishment in the most bro-tastic way possible, he stands around the chef/cook's kitchen and watches them prepare their signature dishes, occasionally offering nuggets of wisdom like, "The enzyme of the pineapple helps the marinating process." Surely this is knowledge only a winner of The Next Food Network Star could possess.

After that, he mingles with the customers, most of whom appear happy to converse. Then again, if you were accosted at your table by a guy who looked like a make-up free Violent J from Insane Clown Posse, you'd probably smile politely as well. If only in the hopes the dude would leave you the hell alone.

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The Baltimore location is the R&R Taqueria, a surprisingly decent Mexican joint situated in a gas station, and such a phenomenon is hardly unheard of. Fieri's guest is former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. It's a good thing levels of "smug asshole" can't be measured like radiation, or this episode would've pegged every Geiger counter in a ten block radius.

Next up: Nye's Polonaise Room (warning: embedded audio) in Minneapolis features the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band (stick with Fargo). The chef is a big fan of the how (he mimics Fieri's facial hair and dressed as him for Halloween), which doesn't always happen. More than a few times you can catch the kitchen staff looking slightly perturbed at having to explain their process to the alpha dudebro.

Finally, Moseberth's Fried Chicken. The Virginia establishment has been around for 71 years, and at this point you're bound to experiece pronounced discomfort after watching Fieri stuff his face for what feels like the 20th time in the last half hour.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is currently enjoying its 19th season, having aired 233 episodes (and counting). Guy Fieri is permitted to roam freely around the nation, while Nigella Lawson is forbidden from even entering. That's justice for you.

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