The idea of reviewing the food at Twin Peaks, the nearly year-old sports bar and restaurant in Sacramento’s Arden Arcade neighborhood, evokes that old sawhorse question: “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
There is a strongly beside-the-point quality to the menu at Twin Peaks, where one is inundated by non-culinary stimuli like the 84 televisions showing sports, a sound system blasting rock music and wood-paneled walls displaying taxidermied animals, including raccoons in a canoe.
The raccoons wear sunglasses, which means they nearly have as much on as the servers at this Twin Peaks, the first California outpost of a successful Texas chain.
These young women, known as “Twin Peaks girls,” wear a slip of plaid – is there such thing as a quarter-shirt, or an eighth-shirt? – up top and tiny, tiny shorts below, with the display of bare skin involved rivaling the Lone Star State in terms of sheer expanse. Though their upper bodies no doubt would catch a chill in 70-degree weather, the women’s feet are clad in Ugg-style or hiking boots and thick socks, in honor of the restaurant’s wintry mountain-lodge theme.
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They exude youth, health, and well, skin, while hoisting plates laden with pot roast and chicken-fried steak to a mostly male clientele. The chain’s double-entendre name derives from these female servers and bartenders, as does its slogan: “Eats. Drinks. Scenic views.”
My first response upon seeing them was akin to my reaction to seeing young women in skimpy clothing at the mall, or on the street – a wish they would not demean themselves by dressing for the male gaze. Then I remember that how young women dress, in a restaurant or at the mall, is none of my business, since each person should have autonomy to dress in any way desired.
Besides, observing the goings-on at this 9,000-square-foot former Fresh Choice without judgment yields more sociological insight than simply dismissing the place as hopelessly sexist. For example, it would be easy, without actual study, to assume the literal male gazes of patrons toward the servers to be leering. But most of the looks we witnessed were not that at all. They were subtle, or even shy. Or perhaps shy is the wrong word. More like furtive, despite an implied invitation to stare openly.
More fascinating were the differences in how the women came across, despite wearing essentially the same outfit. Why did some get-ups look borderline obscene but others merely provocative? The difference, it seemed, came down more to attitude than to the odd millimeter of added or subtracted fabric.
A bartender who served us on a lunch visit was friendly, but also about as no-nonsense as a person can be in hot pants. Our favorite server, from a dinner visit, joked around with us while also being highly efficient – qualities to be admired in any server, regardless of gender or outfit. She also was expert in décolletage diversion: The fringe of her Cleopatra-style necklace covered much of her cleavage, so all we noticed were her smile and the dishes she brought to the table.
And the play, Mrs. Lincoln? Not bad at all. Twin Peaks’ food, as a whole, is better than most of what is served at Applebee’s and Chili’s. It’s also worlds better than the food at Hooters, Twin Peaks’ forerunner in the “breastaurant” game. Hooters now seems so quaintly 1990s, so Pamela Anderson-in-a-one piece, compared with Twin Peaks’ post-Kardashian, Instagram-selfie acres of torso.
So ... the food. Twin Peaks’ “Billionaire’s Bacon Burger,” which mixes ground bacon into its beef patty before adding strips of bacon finished with brown sugar and cayenne, ranks among the better chain restaurant burgers I have tried. The caramelized bacon also adds a welcome touch of spicy sweetness to the salty/fatty goodness of Twin Peaks’ buttermilk chicken sliders. The “Mom’s pot roast” entree holds tender, expertly seasoned beef along with potatoes packed with flavor from having been sauteed with a garlic lime butter.
According to Bruce Marano, COO of the franchisee group that owns this Twin Peaks and plans to open 17 more in California, the chain proudly serves scratch dishes. Items other restaurants might get delivered prepackaged, such as soups, are made in house. We could taste the freshness of the green chili chicken soup, which was homey and comforting while offering a slight kick.
But we found the venison chili sweet where it should be savory, and the chicken-fried steak under-seasoned. Twin Peaks’ tortilla chips and fries tended to be a touch too salty, in the manner of bar dishes aimed at selling more beer.
Twin Peaks takes pains to ensure it serves its 32 draft beers, many of which are local, at 29 degrees or cooler. Though such temperatures are not considered ideal for many craft beers, our frosty mug of Track 7 Blood Transfusion blood-orange beer was wonderfully refreshing. But Twin Peaks’ “Jack Daniels’ Whiskey Smash” cocktail was made cloying by an overabundance of simple syrup.
Twin Peaks has bucked a national downward trend for sit-down casual restaurants (Hooters just closed another Sacramento location) by showing growth in its business. The 380-seat Sacramento Twin Peaks was close to full on a recent Friday night during which no big sporting event took place, and had to turn people away during the last game of the NBA Finals last week. After each period of the Warriors-Cavaliers game, servers and bartenders performed a loosely choreographed, almost-in-unison dance routine.
Twin Peaks hires servers as “performers,” Marano said. No previous restaurant experience is necessary – Twin Peaks will train the women. Because it is magnanimous like that.
The performers are backed by a “support staff” – bussers and barbacks – of men and some women who wear dark, loose-fitting clothing, seemingly so as not draw attention to themselves. I saw these people but do not recall anyone approaching our table but the performer/servers, of whom there were many on busy nights but perhaps too few on slower ones. There was significant lag time between server visits to our table during a midweek dinner, and some dishes arrived lukewarm, as if they had been sitting too long, waiting to be picked up from the kitchen.
Even as I tried to keep an open mind about Twin Peaks’ business model – because of the real, autonomous, likable women who work there – fine print at times intervened. Twin Peaks’ beer list, for instance, deems 10-ounce pours “girl size” and 22-ounce portions “man size.”
That’s enlightened compared with the chain’s special “Bottoms Up” ketchup bottles. The bottles’ label art depicts a woman bent at the waist, back side facing the bottle’s front, and includes a description of her position, in smaller type, that ventures into triple- and quadruple-entendre territory.
The ketchup tasted like Heinz. And rage.
535 Howe Ave., Sacramento. www.twinpeaksrestaurant.com/locations/ardenarcade
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Beverage options: Full bar. Craft cocktails. Thirty-two draft beers, including several local offerings. One red and one white wine.
Vegetarian friendly: There are options
Gluten-free options: Yes.
Noise level: Loud
Ambiance: A visit to this Howe Avenue sports bar and restaurant involves so much stimuli – dozens of TVs showing sports, loud rock music, servers in skimpy outfits – that it is a bit of a shock to the system. And although one can acclimate to some of these elements, it never quite becomes a comfortable place, despite all the wood paneling and comfort food.
The food is good by chain-restaurant standards, and the servers are friendly. But despite efforts to stay open-minded, the sexism is unavoidable.
Food ☆☆ 1/2
The “Billionaire’s Bacon Burger” is a winner, as are the buttermilk chicken sliders and green-chili chicken soup and pot roast plate. The venison chili was too sweet, the chicken-fried steak under-seasoned and the tortilla chips and fries at times too salty.
Service ☆☆ 1/2
Efficient in most instances. But on one dinner visit, too much time elapsed between server visits to our table, and a few dishes arrived lukewarm.
On par with other chain restaurants. There were no deals that jumped out at me.