Whorebivore: Breast Man

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Hooters of Manhattan
211 W. 56th St. (at 7th Ave.)

Eating at Hooters can be something of a homecoming. After all, breasts and nutrition have been paired for us since our earliest days. (Dear Dr. Freud: Can I also presume to know why today I get so many of my calories from a bottle?) But it’s not a given that there would be passable vegetarian food in this not-suitable-for-vegans mammary mecca where, next to breasts, chicken wings are king. And so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been heading to the shadows of Carnegie Hall to Hooters to investigate.

First off, one might think an establishment catering to unarty, unhip, ungrungy prurience wouldn’t work in this town. Well it does. Hooters’ corporate owners have engineered it to please every id-impulse they’ve identified, and for better or worse, they’ve done fair research: 35 TVs, beer by the pitcher, Christmas lights, T&A (of course), the smell of fried food and hot sauce warming the air and even above-average vegetarian offerings. So if New Yorkers will only ignore the silly logo and the “Support Our Troops” tableside advertisements guaranteeing GI Joe his 2008 Hooters Calendar by the holidays, then they can enjoy some surprisingly good vegetarian bar food here.

For example, the heaping plate of fried pickles ($4.99) was not oily a bit. Each slice of tangy cuke was protected by clusters of fried flour that provide excellent crunching. Few places do fried pickles—and fewer do them this well.

With both the pickles and the onion rings ($6.49), which are coated in a darker batter with more fluff and less texture, comes a creamy, horse-radishy dipping sauce that’s cool and zingy at once. Sure beats ketchup.

Cheese sticks ($7.29) are long, bread-crumbed and pretty standard, served with marinara that has been heavily snowed on by grated Parmesan—which added up to excessive cultured dairy for any one item.

In case you’re tempted, the Mexicurley Fries are not vegetarian (though the menu doesn’t say so much, that chili would be con carne). But frankly they look like a mess. (How can a small fry properly mount a whole slice of jalapeno?)
As an oversized toasted flour tortilla with mild white and orange cheeses inside, the Quesadilla ($9.99) was—not surprisingly—not very Mexican. But it was absolutely better than the average bar versions found in the city. It came with one cup each of sour cream, guacamole, salsa and jalapeños. All were mild but fresh.

Whereas hot wings may be comfort food to meat-eaters, for many vegetarians that spot is reserved for a well-made grilled cheese sandwich. Hooters’ Grilled Cheese Platter ($8.99) isn’t bad at all. The bread is an inch-thick and has an almost challah-like sweetness and lightness. It is well browned in butter and inside is the requisite gooey stuff. They even toss some curly fries around the plate. It’s certainly enough to keep a vegetarian satisfied between gulps of beer and sneak peaks of cleavage.  

I have a media-type friend who’s worked in Midtown for the last five years and has made Saturdays Hooters night. He’s 6-foot-4, built like a string bean, and he talks like Carol Burnett playing Scarlet O’Hara. He’s such a mainstay on his stool that when he joined me at a table in the back recently, the bartender stomped over and yelled “Traitor!” in his ear.

For him, a good deal of the allure is the irony of a Hooters in Manhattan. (He rather shrewdly, I thought, pointed out the potential phenomenon if Hooters had moved Downtown where hipsters could co-opt the imagery and take the place over.)
But my friend also explained that ironic juxtaposition only gets you in the door once. When he first began his weekly forays into hetero headquarters, he used to often see an “old screamer” who also stuck out. From a quick chat with him, he knew this man had no interest in the women wearing little orange shorts that reveal the crease where buttock meets leg. This was the closest bar to his house and friendlier than most, and so he would stop in most every night.

That’s dining promiscuously, I thought (slightly different than vegetarians seeking eats in unexpected places, but commendable).

My friend told this story while pinching a “911” drumstick between forefinger and thumb. We neither shared his chicken wings nor his eyeing of the lad across the way. But we dipped our celery stalks in the same white dressing, and I felt a connection profoundly human and Whorebivorous.

Read more reviews of vegetarian eats at Whorebivore.com.

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