IT WOULD BE EASY, as a food critic and all around Judgey McJudgerson, to hate on Tilt in the Pearl District. One could start with the ironies: That a restaurant celebrating its proletariat Swan Island roots opened its second venture in the bourgeois Pearl District. Slapping a mural of a Daisy Dukes-clad pin-up doll on the wall and ordering from the "Blue Collar Biscuits" menu doesn't hide the fact you're on some of the most expensive real estate in Oregon.
But forget class wars. We're here for the nosh, and the food is fine. Think of Tilt as the Red Robin that us anti-chain establishment folks can be caught raising a fork in. Case in point, here's how Red Robin describes its "Burnin' Love" burger: "topped with fried jalapeño coins, tangy salsa, Pepper Jack, tomatoes, and chipotle aioli on a jalapeño-cornmeal kaiser roll. It's love at first bite." Now, Tilt's "Carne Jefe" ($9): "fresh ground, 100 percent natural, local chuck patty, jalapeños, sliced avocado, cilantro, lettuce, tomato, thin-shaved onions, Monterey cheese, mayo, fresh squeezed lime on a scratch-baked house recipe bun." And the line of people waiting to order shows that a reasonably priced place to take a group or the kids may be just what the Pearl needs.
Like a chain, what we got over three visits was bankable, if not transcendent: huge galoomphing portions that hit all of the salty, fat, and sweet points we needed it to. I'm no light eater, yet the BBQ Chicken Rancher salad ($11), a veritable trough of lettuce, bacon lardons, barbeque chicken, tortilla strips, blue cheese dressing, black beans, tomatoes, and cilantro, became two large meals. A fried chicken dinner ($15)—with three whopping pieces of battered poultry, a loaded baked potato, gravy, and coleslaw—needed help from the Tabasco sauce at the self-serve condiment bar, but again was a welcome lunch the next day. And noting that items are made from scratch and in house and that meat is "local" helps alleviate those feelings of Applebee's corporate gloom.
The best thing I had was a biscuit with country-fried steak, pickles, and Tilt sauce (think Thousand Island dressing with a spicy kick) for $8. Again, it was massive, but the pickles and sauce cut the richness of the steak and biscuit. The Big Tilt Burger ($11) was a literal and figurative monument to those working-class stereotypes of decadence, where the only sure thing in life is two patties, a fried egg, pickles, tomatoes, onions, and Tilt sauce.
With entrées so large, it would seem that Tilt would perhaps give patrons a break in the sides department, but no such luck. Tater tots are more like hush puppies in size and texture, a deep-fried ball of potato dough that comes with jalapeños, bacon, or cheese stuffed in there. The onion rings were perfectly fried ($5 for six) and not too heavily breaded, and blessedly not tinged with sugar, as I've had some restaurants assault me with.
The Tilt Bar and Ristretto Roasters occupy half of Tilt's open floor plan, decorated, naturally, with lockers and much metal detailing. The bar offers liquor and mixed drinks, and is packed to the gills with those pretty yet completely characterless young professionals who seem to spawn spontaneously from behind Anthropologie. The restaurant side offers the bar's remarkably thorough tap and bottle list only.
Oh, and save your fork! There's pie! Each slice ($4.50) was perfectly good, although the center of the dough was undercooked in several attempts. The peanut butter pie was overly salty, but the lemon sour cream was a standout, a bright citrus finish to a very fatty meal.
And there was indication that the calloused-palms ethic of Tilt may have a few things to teach the glittering Pearl: On a Friday, a group of three, which included a guy with frosted tips, jumped on one of just three booths in the restaurant. Ignoring the clear indications that they were supposed to bus their own table (staff does clear up when they can) and order at the counter, they sat for about 15 minutes, staring reproachfully at bustling workers. Then they left, never once dirtying their hands for a meal.
Sun-Thurs 7 am-11 pm, Fri-Sat 7 am-midnight, happy hour daily 3-6 pm. Vegans beware. Good for kids and large groups. No reservations.