Why are fried onion rings on the menu everywhere? The first answer is that they are a low food cost item. But the real reason is that they are good. And people order.them. When I stopped absentmindedly eating anything put in front of me, I realized eating fried everything is a bad idea. And I didn’t notice onion rings for many years. Have they always been on menus everywhere? Or is their popularity resurging because of the obvious reasons I mentioned earlier in this paragraph?
Since I took notice of onion rings, I made the unhealthy decision to try them everywhere, so I could do a comparison for this newsletter. At the Cool Water Ranch, we like them as much as the next person, but have always prided ourselves on making pretty great ones at home. These are, to our taste, better than any out there, but there are some very good ones out there, as I have learned from this experiment. In fact, it is not easy to find a bad order of onion rings out there.
Our tastes tend to run alongside the type of onion rings which created the sensation in the 1990s, Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion Mum with the special sauce. We like them thin and crispy, light and greaseless. That style has become increasingly hard to find.
In the days of a bygone favorite, Andy’s Bistro in Metairie, their Crystal Hot Sauce onion strings created another milder sensation. Only one other place I know serves that style now. Pat’s Rest Awhile in Mandeville, but we rarely get them because we have seen it before.
My old standard for excellence used to be The Blue Crab, which may be the only restaurant in that tier serving fresh cut fries (New Orleans only.) These are mid-range thick, with a light coating. They are crispy, greaseless (though less so lately) light, and golden brown. The portion size is smaller than it used to be, and the onion ring size seems a bit thicker.
Not far from The Blue Crab in Slidell, Nathan's offers another contender of great onion rings. While a doppelgänger to Blue Crab, they are a bit thicker with a heavier crunch factor.
Our new favorite is DiMartino’s, which serves a huge pile of these to every order, with a sauce I’m much less enthusiastic about. These tend to be neither thin nor thick, but thinner than average. They are light, greaseless always, golden brown and crunchy. Perfection! The sauce has too much tomato in it, maybe a nod to its Italian origins?
Our most recent entry into the onion rings sweepstakes is Porter and Luke’s, which is part of the review in this same newsletter. In short, everything you want them to be, with more crunch. We love these too.
We have tried Giorlando’s, because we love everything there. These are exactly as I would expect, with a surprising amount of horseradish in the sauce. Packs a pleasant punch. These are on the extra crispy side too.
Nearby at Parran’s the onion rings were also as I expected, not as crispy or as greaseless as the others, but not bad, either. There is such enormous volume happening here the lack of crunchy perfection is to be assumed.
What was a surprise was the onion rings in Kenner at Ground Pat’i, the first contender in my onion rings search. These are straight out of yesteryear, as is everything else about Ground Pat’i. They were great, though maybe too crunchy. They seemed to be double-battered for extra crunch. The result? Extra crunch! They were also greaseless and golden brown, and do not seem to be affected negatively by sheer volume.
Also in the yesteryear realm, Crescent City Steakhouse is turning out tiny portions of great onion rings exactly as your mom would have. The unpretentiousness of this place is one of its greatest charms. Also terrific food, because isn’t simplicity always the best? These come in a tiny little side dish, crispy crunchy and golden brown, and you just keep ordering them because they are that good. Inconsistency in size is also part of the charm. No sauce or fancy aioli served with these, because no one did that in 1934. Ketchup works great.
Another restaurant from that same era is still doing their onion rings the same way, and they are renowned for it. Charlie’s Steakhouse doesn’t not have a large menu, but its signature onion rings created a buzz long before Outback turned up on the scene. The buzz has not subsided. Charlie’s is known for its onion rings, wedge salad, and of course steaks on a pewter plate. I am not as enamored of the Charlie’s version of a crispy onion pile, but I am not needed in their fanbase. It is legion. The onion rings are indeed pretty great, but not the definitive, to me, anyway.
That distinction goes to The Greyhound, a newcomer to downtown Covington that I can best describe as peculiar. They are doing the definitive version of a number of dishes. Best pizza. Period. Best hamburger, pretty great fries, and best onion rings. Unfortunately, the rest of the menu is just bizarre. Interesting work in progress.
These onion rings are light, crispy, greaseless, crunchy, golden brown. Check everything. And, even better…plentiful.
The last of the onion rings roundup is not the best, but only because they are thick and I’m not really a fan of thick onion rings. But these are great, because Keith Young does everything great. These thick onion rings are the only ones on the list because it seems the preference is for thinner, at least in my experience. But these do turn heads going around the dining room at Keith’s, and they are well worth getting, along with anything else here.
There are plenty more onion rings piles on menus around town, and they are probably all worth getting. Because who doesn’t love something light to dip and then crunch while you are chatting as you wait for a meal?
And if you are inclined to try this at home, our recipe at the Cool Water Ranch can be found on nomenu.com/recipes.