|Photo by B. A. Nilsson|
The Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery is a thirteen-year-old chain that started in Las Vegas as a sports bar with a Celtic theme – transplanting a Scottish sartorial tradition to Ireland, and further refining it by putting the titular kilt on the female servers in the scantiest of lengths. It distinguishes itself from Hooters, that flagship breastaurant, by not obsessing over heterosexuality. Hooters is a haven for the superannuated fourteen-year-old boy who still thinks sex is an act of random magic and who seeks a safe haven in which he may utter the unamusing double entendre. The Tilted Kilt doesn’t bother to play “let’s pretend it’s all about owls.” Here are the women, here are the TV monitors, here’s the menu. And it’s helped by the welcoming feel of the restaurant’s pub-like look.
Niskayuna’s Tilted Kilt opened a scant month ago, the first in New York’s Capital Region, but one of well over a hundred units nationwide. Susan (my wife) and I visited a few days ago and had the pleasure of chatting with manager Tony Audi, who has helmed several area restaurants and foodservice programs over the years, and who brings a pleasant manner and shrewd sense of business to the job.
“I’ve worked all sides of the house,” he explains, “so I’m lucky enough to have a crazy arsenal of talents.” He jumped at the chance to open a place like this from the ground up, and was hired as kitchen manager. But things can change quickly in this business, and he was almost immediately moved to the general manager position. It’s obvious that he thrives in this environment, and we watched him working with Kaylee, the hostess, to make sure that some upcoming events were being anticipated correctly.
Not surprisingly, beer is a key component of the restaurant’s offerings. Thirty-six taps provide a selection that includes the usual suspects, of course, but also allow Audi to choose twelve of the brews and thus include local selections.
It is assumed (correctly, in my case) that you wish to start off with a flagon of suds, but Susan, to whom beer’s appeal has been a lifelong mystery, appreciated the good Gold Peak iced tea she was served.
The Tilted Kilt’s menu reinforces the fact that it’s offering neither fast food nor fine dining, which is the niche I typically seek these days. They can be forgiven if they seem to aping their owl-faced competitor by boasting of their chicken wings. I ordered the traditional style (as opposed to grilled or, heaven help us, boneless) finished with a mango-habanero sauce ($11) and was pleased to find a satisfying plumpness and texture. If the sauce isn’t hot enough for you – and it was mild enough that even Susan easily indulged – there’s a “kilt burner” coating that I’ll try next visit. Sauce flavors also include garlic parmesan, Guinness BBQ, TK Signature, and “Tilted.”
Other appetizers include Irish nachos ($8), built upon potato chips; soft-baked pretzels with melted cheese ($6); fried calamari ($10.50); drunken clams (steamed in Guinness and served with garlic bread and garlic butter, $11); and that Renaissance-Fair favorite, Scotch eggs ($6). Susan ordered the last-named, which honors its tradition by wrapping a boiled egg in sausage meat, coating it in breadcrumbs (they’re parmesan-enhanced here), and frying it to a delightfully crunchy finish. The horseradish cream sauce it’s served with is versatile enough that you might want to keep it on hand for the rest of your meal.
Beef or chicken feature in most of the sandwiches, each in the $10 neighborhood and including a choice of a side-dish such as fries, broccoli, chips, or coleslaw. Add a buck for a premium side, which can be a salad, mac & cheese, fancier fries, onion rings, or mashed potatoes. Beef is shuttled abroad to become part of a Scottish Philly or an Irish Dip. There’s grilled chicken in a wrap with cheese, spicy chicken on sourdough with habanero salsa, or a more burger-like breaded breast with lettuce, tomato, and onion.
Speaking of burgers, the half-pounders on offer (menu-headed under “Big Arse Burgers,” a callipygian aspect of the comestible I’d never considered) range from the $10 classic to a blackened patty with blue cheese ($10.50), a burger with green chilies and habanero salsa ($11.50), a burger with egg, bacon, and cheese ($11), and the Hot Mess Burger ($11.50), a tower of chili and cheese that begs for fork and knife. And if that’s not enough, the Double D Burger adds another half-pound patty, deep fries ‘em both, and adds bacon, cheddar, mayo, and greens ($16). I stayed with the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger ($11.50), nicely flavored with a Guinness-enriched barbecue sauce and a side of shoestring onions. Good meat, cooked per request to medium-rare, on a sturdy bun that stands up to the components.
Other entrées include fish and chips ($11) and shepherd’s pie ($10.50), grilled salmon ($16), a rack of ribs ($22; half-rack for $15), and char-broiled top sirloin ($18). Not surprisingly, Susan opted for a chicken dish, in this case Sadie’s Stuffed Breasts ($12.50), in which a small amount of stuffing was made up of bacon and cheese, and the meat was served over fresh broccoli with a light mustard-and-cream sauce – an undistinguished entrée compared to the burger.
Although we visited early on a midweek evening, the place has been discovered and the tables around us filled quickly. The servers kept apace with the business while still finding moments for easygoing banter, a key element of a place like this – and an addictive one. Works on me, at any rate.
Desserts here are simple. You succumb to Twisted Guilt, with a choice of a brownie or a cookie of caramel or chocolate chips topped with ice cream and finished with an appropriate sauce – chocolate with chocolate, caramel with the others. They’re $6 each (except for the $5.50 chocolate chip variety) and one sweet serving is more than enough for two.
There remain for me beers to sample and burgers to explore and a view, when I return, of the strip-mall parking lot. Until I turn my back to the window and take in a far better vista.
The Tilted Kilt, 445 Balltown Road, Niskayuna, NY, 518-377-5458, tiltedkilt.com/niskayuna. Serving daily 11 AM-midnight. All major credit cards.