The Sizzle

Last Call by | Jul 2007 | Issue #7

Must great taste be at the expense of good taste?

Photo by James Kloiber

The first time I spotted an ad for a fancy six-burner grill with a bottle of wine and two stemmed goblets perched on its shiny stainless steel hood, something clicked inside me like an electronic ignition. “Why wine?” I fumed.

Craft beer flavors really do enhance the caramelized, spicy taste of grilled foods better than any other beverage. If you think I’m waving a freak flag with a culinary campaign for craft beer, think again. The doyenne of French cuisine, Julia Child, recommended a malty continental Pilsner as the beverage of choice to go with burgers and picnic fare.

But here’s the grisly bit of truth: Beer is such a classic partner to grilled and barbecued foods that it is shrugged off as ordinary, ho-hum and so obvious as to be dull. “Yes, beer goes with everything,” wrote Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune in an article about summer barbecue. Can you hear the sigh? Perhaps that’s due to beer’s common image and people’s perceptions.

Many people find mass-market beer advertising to be inane or silly (at best), or offensive and stupid (at worst). And here’s the latest campaign for a restaurant chain that plays into the common image of beer as a frat-boy quaff. At the Tilted Kilt, a franchise operation advertising locations in Texas, Nevada and (soon) Wisconsin, you can get craft beer and food served in a “visually appealing environment.”

Nooo, that doesn’t mean tidy. Judging from their booth at the National Restaurant Association trade show, it’s sort of like Hooters, only with better beer and plenty o’ plaid. Now I can order barbecue and pints of Pyramid Hefeweizen or New Belgium’s Fat Tire from buxom servers decked out in plaid push-up bras, bare midriffs, short kilts and, omigosh, white kneesocks. The look is straight out of Atom Egoyan’s movie Exotica.

In the words of the founder of the Tilted Kilt chain, envisioning the sizzle, “I saw 24 beers on tap, a great simple menu, limited hard liquor selection, and so on. I explained to my friend that the theme would be American, Irish, Scottish, English pub decor, we would have sports on a lot of high-def TVs. We would have really beautiful girl servers, and they would wear little plaid skirts with kneesocks, [and] matching bras with a white shirt tied up to show their midriff. That was about the time that I imagined how the girls would look walking in those outfits, moving that little kilt from side to side, sort of tilting it back and forth. They would obviously be tilting their kilts every time they moved.” Quite the package.

But another independently owned barbecue restaurant with several locations across New York state offers stellar selections of craft beer, without pushing stereotypes (or push-up bras). Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, with its tagline, “if you leave here hungry, it’s your own fault,” brings plenty of sass to the table, along with excellent ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and draft pints from outfits like Middle Ages Brewing, Victory, Magic Hat and Ithaca Beer Co. And when there’s a bare midriff showing, it’s because the server decided to show off her/his latest tats, studded belt or sparkly navel ring—and it’s purely voluntary.

The fiery passion that sells craft beer revolves around flavor and quality ingredients … and the brewer’s ability to bring creativity to the table. Craft beer can stand up to the heat of barbecue and is a versatile companion to foods of all kinds. Is packaged sex appeal really what’s needed to sell better beer in America’s restaurants? I guess it all depends on your appetite.