Though The Tilted Kilt is not homegrown, it occupies a key spot downtown as the closest restaurant to the front door of Cleveland's newest and largest tourist attraction, the Horseshoe Casino. So it's worth a look to see what kind of culinary impression it will leave on visitors, and whether the chain pub and restaurant lives up to its reputation as an Irish Hooter's.
The Tilted Kilt has been labeled a "breastaurant," but looks will only go so far. It takes more than a good-looking staff with partially exposed assets to survive.
Located in the former Fat Fish Blue space, the Kilt is sporting an entirely new face. The storefront has been turned into one large, collapsible glass door, which is left open in good weather. Inside, the warm pub-style colors, along with the rich woods, create an inviting atmosphere. The ubiquitous television monitors and big sound system ooze a killer sports pub vibe.
We had to wait to be seated, while the manager at the host stand appeared to show some pictures on her cell phone to the staff. Finally the hostess noticed us, smiled, welcomed us and showed us to a table.
The clientele was a virtual Ellis Island of diners. To our right, a family of four with two teenagers dined. Sprinkled around the rest of the bar and seating area were business people in suits, a group of women celebrating an occasion, some families, and groups of guys watching the game. They all seemed to be comfortable and enjoying the sports bar atmosphere.
A kilt-wearing server arrived quickly, and showing professional training, identified herself, asked if we had ever eaten there before, and walked us through the menu. She told us that the staff is encouraged to sit with guests and strike up a conversation, which is exactly what she did, talking with us about everything from the Browns to the casino and Cleveland in general. Even the manager redeemed herself with a visit to our table.
Unfortunately, the high level of service is not matched by food. Willing to give the Kilt the benefit of the doubt, we ordered only items marked with a "TK," which indicates the restaurant's signature dishes.
We started off with the Irish nachos. Replacing the usual tortilla chips with house-made potato chips is a unique take on this perennial favorite. The Kilt wisely uses "old school" liquid cheese sauce, and as a bonus, the sauce is a blend of cheeses, giving it a slightly elevated taste. The ground beef on the nachos was uneventful and under-seasoned, calling to mind Taco Bell's Nachos Bell Grande.
The Kilt has apparently caught on to the national trend of grilling chicken wings. If not done right, this cooking technique can dry the wing out pretty fast. However, the Kilt's have a fantastic smokey taste, and they are large and meaty. The medium sauce, made with Frank's Red Hot, has a proper amount of the buttery heat taste that Frank's is famous for. But if you like hot, I would suggest the Kilt Burner sauce.
What visit to a pub would be complete without trying the Shepherd's Pie? The Danny Boy's Shepherd's Pie is the Kilt's version of this late-1800s English and Scottish classic. At first glance, it looked delightful. But after one bite, I started to hum to myself, "O Danny Boy, the meat, the meat needs salt!" On the bright side, the mashed potatoes were tasty, though the gravy had all the salt that should have been in the beef. The best thing on the plate was the garlic bread, which seemed an odd choice to accompany a Celtic dish.
Next up: the TK Slider Basket, which was a nice change of pace. This seemed to be in the culinary wheelhouse of the Kilt. The three sliders had a high-quality burger patty that looked and tasted hand-formed, and fit perfectly on the slider bun. The burger was perfectly griddled, creating a nice caramelization on the meat. This also ensured that all the juicy goodness stayed inside, while the cheese melted perfectly outside. Each slider held its flavor and quality to the very last bite. The condiments and cheese added a tasty balance.
Even though we were stuffed to the gills, I pleasantly coerced myself into a dessert. The server recommended Tilted Guilt, a baked chocolate chip cookie served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. The cookie is large enough to share, with the proper balance of chocolate chips, And it ar rived as it should, with the ice cream still frozen and not melted. This is a critical element in a warm versus cold dessert.
Which is exactly how the Kilt left me feeling — mostly warm, and slightly cold. Overall, the food was marred by too many misses. On the other hand, no one goes to The Tilted Kilt anticipating cuisine that won James Beard Awards. If you're looking for nothing more than good bar food, then for the most part, you won't be disappointed.
The creative style of service, the high-energy vibe, the sports atmosphere and, of course, the eye candy, complement the casino experience perfectly. In fact, the odds of having a satisfying experience are probably better at The Tilted Kilt than they are at the roulette wheel.