How Hooters earned the ire of women's rights groups while Tilted Kilt escaped their notice is a mystery. Perhaps Tilted Kilt is too young a brand, too small potatoes a franchise to spark the kind of national outrage a crusading feminist organization requires. But if you're judging solely on the amount of cleavage bared, Tilted Kilt's "cast members" make Hooters' girls seem like they're Sisters of Charity. The nubile women strut with microscopic plaid skirts, bare midriffs and bras that propel already-ample bosoms upward and outward. But that's the whole point, isn't it? Sex sells food, drinks and picture calendars.
That Tilted Kilt originated in Las Vegas makes sense, and not just because of the half-naked bit. Only the city that gave us a fake Eiffel Tower, a fake Egyptian pyramid and a fake Venice can produce a corporate-themed eatery that boils down the distinct cultures of Ireland and Scotland to a caricature of themselves. The eatery mashes the unique identities to form a bastardized representation of Celtic heritage—P.F. Chang's is more representative of China than Tilted Kilt is of its purported mother cultures. Only Taco Bell's faux-mexicanidad is more culturally inaccurate.
Haggis and corned beef are absent here. The food consists of mostly proven American standards, repackaged and retitled with Irish and Scottish-sounding names. A decent burger with a thick, well-charred patty is dubbed "Big Arse," a French dip is renamed an Irish Dip, and there's a meatloaf sandwich called "The Fat Bastard" à la the Scottish character featured by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers series. The menu reads, "Get in my belly!" right below its name. The Scotsman who takes issue with this probably hasn't noticed that Braveheart only has a wimpy salad named after it. A salad!
Tilted Kilt, www.tiltedkilt.com. Open daily, 11 a.m.-midnight. Dinner for two, $20-40. Full bar.
In truth, the irreverence is harmless. At the new Long Beach Tilted Kilt, which opened a few months ago, an orgy of plaid knickknacks and random bagpipery decorates the walls of three distinct rooms: a main dining hall, a relatively sedate fireplace area, and a corner room with a pool table and a punching-bag arcade game on which males can demonstrate their machismo. If you strip it down, Tilted Kilt is not so much an Irish or Scottish pub as it is another restaurant that proudly peddles male-oriented distractions of booze, boobs and ballgames. Every wall or smooth vertical surface has an oversized flat-screen TV mounted on it. All the visual stimuli may cause you to miss how positively polished the whole place looks, like a PG-13-rated Chili's or Olive Garden. The same people you'd expect to see are here: young couples, retirees, a good mix of the tattooed-up and the buttoned-down who, like you, don't mind a little sexism as long as the bar pours a good pint.
Some actual authenticity does sneak onto the menu. The Irish stew actually has Guinness in it. It's a pot roast chipped to morsels, then stirred up with carrots, peas and celery in a brown, Guinness-based gravy carrying the brew's bitter sweetness. Creamy potatoes float at the center of the plate, reinforcing the dish's gloppy, comforting warmness. In the shepherd's pie, more mashed spuds (forever associated with Ireland, but originally from the Americas) form the thick top layer in an actual pot, insulating a ground-beef-flecked concoction not unlike the Irish stew, except without the Guinness. There is also, of course, fish and chips, even though the dish is English in origin, the historical tormentors of Ireland and Scotland—but remember, we're not paying attention to political subtleties here. The cod comes in puffy squares as bulbous as beignets, enveloped in a golden shimmer of crust that needs only a few shakes of malt vinegar to compete with the best of them.
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When you don't think too hard, some of the food actually works. For the Irish nachos wisely, thick and crispy house-made potato chips are used instead of the limp fries; they're doused with a Velveeta-like cheese sauce, rough-cut tomatoes and seasoned beef more real than Taco Bell's—an appetizer that almost makes up for the ordinariness of the fried Five Quid Squid and the strange sliminess of the beer-steamed Drunken Clams. But food criticism seems beside the point. It's all good enough fodder for the black and tans, the black and blues, or anything alcoholic in general.
And before you bemoan how Tilted Kilt exploits the sexuality of women, know it's the men for whom you should feel sorry—these ladies are masters of the art of the upsell. Ask for the Skinny Arse burger, and she'll nudge you toward the Big Arse. Ask for the Big Arse, and she'll ask if you want to make it a double. Like Hooters, Tilted Kilt waitresses know the weaknesses of the male of the species. They are aware that, as creatures, we are a persuadable lot. Distract us with a little skin and laugh at our jokes, and we'll say yes to anything. If you have an empty seat next to you, waitresses will sit down to chat or flirt, breaking the fourth wall to guarantee a larger-than-normal tip. We men never stood a chance.
This review appeared in print as "Blarney Boobage: Tilted Kilt follows the Hooters model of booze, breasts and burgers."