STUPOR BOWL

Hooters is another sports-themed establishment that targets the downtown crowd. But I don't believe football is the pastime uppermost in most patrons' minds. That's because Hooters isn't your typical sports bar. It's a breastaurant. The folks behind Buddy Ryan's are really selling subliminal access to Buddy. Eat and drink here, is the message, and you, too, can be a part of the Cardinals. Hooters has a different subtext, and you don't need a Ph.D. in deconstructionist theory from Yale to figure it out, either. Eat and drink here, Hooters' message coos, and dream about having access to the good-looking waitresses. The message isn't very subtle. The waitresses (I saw no waiters) are outfitted in bright, tight and skimpy orange shorts, with white halter tops. None looks old enough to remember the days when airlines tried to get stewardesses to dress this way. Management has put a lot of thought into the nonhuman design, too. The music system pipes out high-decibel, endless hits of the Sixties and early Seventies--Stones, Motown, Beatles, Eagles. And why not? The eyes of the baby-boomer male clientele enjoy focusing on young female servers. Simultaneously bombarding the ears with the sounds of the guys' own oat-sowing youth helps make fantasies that much more plausible. Customers who fall out of the 30-to-49 demographic get no aural encouragement: If you want to watch football and ogle while listening to Glenn Miller or Gin Blossoms, you'll have to go elsewhere. How do I know that this place is more breastaurant than restaurant? I closed my eyes and imagined confronting the food served under different circumstances by, say, a New York City waiter. ("The clam chowder's not hot? Let me tell you something--the rest of the food ain't so hot, either.") Would Hooters draw the same kind of crowds? I doubt it. The waitress distraction, however, does have the salutary effect of keeping your mind off the less-than-sensational chow. It so happens that the clam chowder isn't hot, at least not throughout the bowl. The intermittent warm and cool patches indicated insufficient microwaving. But even a steaming, bubbling crock couldn't have made up for the lack of briny flavor. At about 40 cents each, the chicken wings are no bargain. They're meaty, but too thickly battered, with a distinctly out-of-the-drum air. A growing Florida chain, Hooters emphasizes seafood. This makes great sense when you operate in Clearwater. It's a bit more problematical in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. But the bowlful of a dozen reasonably tender steamed clams made for good munching. So did the crab legs. But I longed for something more, some crust of bread, maybe, to help fill the gaping appetite hole, big enough for a fullback to run through, that I still had. The fish sandwich did the trick. It's a huge, grilled slab of who-knows-what (the menu calls it "grouper's cousin") that sticks out a good six inches around the too-small hamburger bun it comes on. It's better than those horrifying, fried McFish sandwiches, but apart from its size, it's pretty innocuous. I liked the ham and cheese, served on a French roll. Thick strips of tasty ham and gobs of cheese combine flavor with substance. The half-pound hamburger is also serviceable, but a pricey $5.45, especially when you consider it doesn't even come with fries. On the other hand, when I think about the side dish of fries I ordered, that may be a blessing in disguise. Avoid the steak sandwich. A few weeks ago at Goldie's Sports Cafe, a north Scottsdale bar, I had a mouth-watering steak sandwich marinated in balsamic vinegar and served on fresh focaccia. The Hooters version indicates that the proprietors take more interest in the help's outfits than in the food. It's a fatty piece of untrimmed, oversalted and inedible rib eye. Even Las Vegas, the ogling capital of America, seems less crass than Hooters. After all, in the 1994 casino, it's not at all out of the ordinary to be served by cocktail waitresses old enough to be, well, my older sister. Maybe it's all just a matter of taste, about which reasonable people can disagree. But in both food and concept, there doesn't seem to be much hoot in Hooters.

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