Babes, boobs and hot wings

Hooters and Ker's thrive on the breast intentions.

click to enlarge KER-PLOWIE: Ker's wings, breaded and tossed with its patented "hot" sauce, just spicy enough to tickle your tongue. - Jonathan Maziarz
Jonathan Maziarz
KER-PLOWIE: Ker's wings, breaded and tossed with its patented "hot" sauce, just spicy enough to tickle your tongue.

This may not come as news to you, but there's a bit of a strip-club aura at places like Hooters and Ker's WingHouse. That might seem a given, considering how these wing-and-breast joints market themselves, but I'm not talking about actual flesh on display. There's precious little of that once you figure in flesh-colored panty hose, short shorts and skin-tight halter-tops. And there are no back rooms where a Benjamin can get you a little extra affection from the waitresses. The draw here is a little more subtle but still rings similar bells.

Hooters and Ker's sell an idea that the good-lookin' gal next door might spend a little quality time with you, even after you stain your shirt with wing sauce and get a little sloppy from Bud drafts. A regular woman who's sexy, helpful and willing to show a meager amount of interest in you and your friends can be a dream come true for some men. Yeah, we're that starved for pressure-free attention.

And the servers know it, pushing classic buttons to play upon our desires. They engage — OK, flirt — instead of just taking orders and delivering plates. If anything needs to be written down, the lovely ladies lean across your table to do so, making their charms a little more noticeable. Along with your credit card receipt comes a nonchalant touch on the shoulder. It's obvious but effective. And don't think that I blame these women — for some guys this is a valuable public service.

There's also food, which opens another stress-relieving path for the modern male. Both Ker's and Hooters resoundingly ignore dietary and health concerns — salad list be damned. Wings coated in butter and hot sauce, burgers loaded with three different kinds of cheese, mounds of curly fries bigger than your head — by the time you taste the food, quality is a distant consideration in the patrons' minds.

That's good for both places, since neither manages to put out fare that can compete with other casual restaurants.

Hooters began in Clearwater in 1983 and has grown to over 400 locations worldwide. Most have the same feel as the original, duplicating a vaguely beachy environment heavy on wood, televisions tuned to sports and buxom ladies.

Ker's is newer to the wings-and-breasts theme; it was started in 1994 by Dunedin High graduate and former Dallas Cowboy offensive lineman Crawford Ker. He's had a slower rise to success, with only a couple dozen locations, all in Florida and Texas. It can be a tad difficult to tell the two wing meccas apart, but if there are more televisions, more pictures of girls lining the walls and the nylon shorts are black instead of orange, you're probably at a Ker's.

You won't be able to tell the difference when it comes to the wings, though. Both joints offer breaded and "naked" (wink) varieties with sauces that run from mild to variations on exxxtreme!!!! It's all marketing, folks. Order plain old "hot," and you'll get enough spice to qualify for medium down at your local bar, while the hottest is not all that exxxtreme!!!!

Fundamentally, buffalo wing sauce is a mix of butter and vinegar-based hot sauce. Both Hooters and Ker's seem to rely more on the butter than the kick of cayenne, and neither seems to be able to get wings to the table that are coated from end to end in the holy juice. Oily puddles on faux wood plates don't make for appetizing dipping, but that's what you'll have to do to soak up a little flavor.

Ker's offers a slightly more varied menu at prices lower than Hooters, but beware the add-ons. After every item you order, waitresses offer a slew of choices: Want ranch or blue cheese? How about celery? Cheese sauce with the fries? What kind of cheese on the burger, or do you want all three? Sautéed onions or mushrooms? Choice is great, but each one comes with an extra line on the bill. My meal for three at Ker's came with eight additional charges ranging from $.39 for a few celery stalks to $1.18 for two little tubs of dressing.

Ker's burgers are typical; shrimp are uniformly fried and doused in sauce; and the bland fish sandwich is made from a grouper "cousin" that should have been left in the bottom of a chum bucket at whatever Southeast Asian fish farm it likely came from.

Hooters can boast a little more success with fish than Ker's, their choice of grouper substitute moist and reminiscent of a dinner-worthy species. And the burger is better than most I tried during CL's Tournament of Burger's earlier this year — it's cooked to the right temp, seasoned well and has just the right loose but coherent texture.

But like I said, most people don't walk in to either of these places for the food. Even for a restaurant critic like me, it's difficult to pay attention to the plates with all those waitresses flocking about. Not because of their looks, mind you. I'm just fascinated by the horrendous uniforms.

Sneakers, socks, panty hose, nylon shorts and a halter-top. Every single one of the women working these joints would be happier, and look sexier, in something a little more modern. Maybe the granny-panty shorts activate deep-seated Oedipal complexes in customers, while the tight shirts just amp the sex quotient? And the pantyhose, that's the most ridiculous of all. The only reason I can think why these restaurants would want to cover up a woman's legs is that the hose guarantees a certain level of uniformity, negating cellulite and stretch marks. Or maybe it's just become tradition. No matter the reason, all I can say is "ugh."

Then again, that "ugh" might be coming from the beating my gut took from a week eating Ker's and Hooters food.

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