Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Chubby's Bar & Grill (Wyoming, MI)

Among the many qualities I find desirable about Chubby's Bar & Grill is proximity. A short drive from my abode, it's close enough to go to on a whim and, in dire circumstances, meander home after enjoying a variety of adult beverages. Despite its wide array of potables, I was drawn to Chubby's one fateful night with a singular purpose: to determine if they had any onion rings.

They did.

Here's a review of onion rings from Chubby's Bar & Grill

Presentation and Appearance: 3/5

Bucking the trend of smaller bowls, more rings, the onion rings arrive in a white bowl that's just slightly too big to accommodate the somewhat meager helping of onion rings. Served with a black plastic cup of southwest ranch, that mysterious sauce that's simultaneously proprietary and ubiquitous, the plating isn't wowing, but neither is it jarring.

The onion rings themselves are a different story. In my many (or, 2) years of reviewing onion rings, I've never seen an onion ring with such a pattern on the breading. The rings are characterized by dark brown stripes occurring at regular intervals along the edge, emanating out from the center of the ring. They look vaguely like grill marks, but on further inspection, I think they're more likely to be some sort of sauce added on near the end of frying. Their breading is fairly consistent, though the size is variate. The only other observation of note is the total fusion of two onion rings within one another, perhaps a meta-commentary on the dual nature of the color due to the stripes.

Taste: 3/5

Though the onions are cut a little thin, especially given the quantity of the rings, they were able to provide a sizeable amount of onion flavor. As may be expected at a bar, they're accompanied by a decent amount of grease, though it's not tremendously overwhelming.

The most fascinating part of these onion rings is no doubt tied to their unique striped appearance. Throughout the batter, and mixing in with the whole of the onion ring, there is a subtle, but ever present, tang. It's like a particular seasoning was mixed in with the batter, lending credence to my secondary theory of a sauce of some kind added to the batter after frying. The tang leads to a slightly sweet, and unidentified (even to my exclusively-refined-in-the-world-of-onion rings taste buds) taste, but it's a fascinating innovation. Additionally, the southwest ranch serves as a creamy complement to the uniquely sweet onion rings.

While the rings have a unique taste, the tang isn't always pleasant, and is attractive more for its innovation and mystery than flavor.

Texture: 3.5/5

Much like the humble and invasive zebra mussel, these striped onion rings have a crunchy and hardened exterior. Though I've never eaten a zebra mussel (indeed, my main interaction with them comes from an unfortunate incident with a bloody toe in Green Lake), I like to imagine they are moist and juicy on the inside, with a strong hint of onion.

If that turns out to not be the case, at least these onion rings are. The onions are cooked well, with a slight pliability and moistness without careening towards mush, and they complement the firm crunch of the batter.

Unfortunately, much like a zebra mussel, slippage of the interior parts to the outside are a negative. Slippage was all too common in these onion rings, with many a ring dissolving in a pile of onion and batter, which worked oh so well together.

Value: 3.5/5

Though innovative and well put together (barring the numerous counts of slippage), the price of $2.99 is a little too steep for so few onion rings. That said, they were largely good, if not great, and delivered not only a unique appearance, but a fascinating tang that I've still yet to unveil.

Total: 13/20

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Brann's Steakhouse & Grille (Grand Rapids, MI)

My muse is not a spout that can be turned on at will. Though the occasions are few, there are times when, despite being at a new eatery ripe with onion ring potential, I don't feel the call of the Allium in my bones. Thankfully for you, dear reader, I was bolstered by a stalwart compatriot in the world of liberty (and Sola Cepa fandom, for which I imagine there is a non-zero overlap) to order and consume these onion rings on a wholly unrelated occasion.

Here is a review of onion rings from Brann's Steakhouse & Grille. My companions were too many to name, but you know who you are.

Presentation and Appearance: 3/5

Coated in a reasonably consistent covering of golden brown batter, these onion rings are marred immediately by a somewhat patchy breading. While they appear smooth at first blush, the gaps in the batter portend grave danger just ahead. Even from a distance vantage point, I can see the thin sheen of grease peaking over and among the rings. 

The presentation is roughly standard for bar fare. Plain white wax paper lines a reasonably good facade of a basket (made of plastic, but designed to vaguely resemble wicker). The onion rings don't quite fill the container, making the portion size seem more scanty than it otherwise would. The haphazard toss of a plastic container of the purported "Bistro Sauce," which, to the best of my limited knowledge, doesn't resemble in any way, shape, or form what one would get in a bistro, speaks to an apathetic lack of care in the plating.

Taste: 3/5

The batter, though delicately coated in a fine mist of grease, characteristic of the morning dew on a cool Spring day, holds a delicate and light flavor. Seasoned with a pinch-and-a-half of salt, it manages to approximate a sweet-spot between "bland pile of batter" and "explosion of every spice in the kitchen." Generally, I prefer a more flavorful batter, but I felt the mild taste worked well for these onion rings.

This may have been helped by the utter tastelessness of the onions. Though the onions were sufficiently soft to release flavor, very little of it made its way through the light batter. Indeed, the slight seasoning on the surrounding batter was enough to overpower the onion. 

However, both were not just blown out of the water, but set on fire, capsized, and collapsed to the bottom of the sea by the "Bistro Sauce." While I'm generally a fan of strong flavor, this sauce completely and utterly overpowered any hint of flavor in the other two primary components of the onion rings. While it delivered a unique tang, that tang marked the death knell of both batter and onion. 

Texture: 1.5/5

The standard Sola Cepa review, to the astute reader, is a mess of foreshadowing. Issues that crop up in Presentation and Appearance and Taste should signal (at least, to an onion ring expert) further issues in texture. The onion rings here are no exception. 

The softly cooked onions, while flavorless, generally could score some points on texture. However, when combined with the delicate batter, the inevitable result is iteration after iteration of slippage. The underlying texture of these onion rings was, in one word, weak. The batter falls apart as strands of what was once an onion ring slip out into the void. Integrity is gone. Peace is lost. 

Value: 2/5

$3.00 nets a meager portion of onion rings, drowning in an overpowering Bistro Sauce and ready to crumble at the slightest provocation. They were mildly filling, and looked pretty, but that's about the size of it. 

Total: 9.5/20

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Golden Egg (Ypsilanti, MI)

Onion rings are renowned for many things, not the least of which their mystical healing and therapeutic properties. For those that doubt this maxim, I would highly recommend consuming a hearty plate of onion rings after a (presumably) energetic wedding reception after an unknown quantity of gin and tonics.

Thankfully, on that fateful post-wedding reception morning, I received a timely invitation to brunch by my good friend Shelby. Joined by Eric, we journeyed to the Golden Egg for brunch, which thankfully had the mighty golden rings.

Here's a review of onion rings from The Golden Egg.

Presentation and Appearance: 3.5/5

Diner-style restaurants aren't where one goes for refined presentation, and the Golden Egg is no exception. My onion rings are served without glamour on a mildly interesting plate (with a variety of colored rings emblazoned on the surface), in a fairly standard heap. They appear to be thin cut, while remaining hand battered, and are a bit on the darker side of golden brown. 

Hidden beneath the mound are two cracked rings, and one can detect a handful of cracks in the batter sprinkled throughout. Beyond these minor issues, however, the appearance of these onion rings have no glaring flaws. 

Taste: 4.5/5

Onion ring deception is typically one of my greatest foes, comparable to state-funded business subsidies and my latent fear of dying of an infected wound in a post-collapse society, but in this case, the deception works to these onion rings' advantage. While fairly unassuming and thin in appearance, they deliver a wallop of flavor in both onion and batter. 

The sole flaw in flavor comes from the slight char on some bits of batter. Beyond that, the batter is seasoned congruently with the flavor of the onion. While most of what I get is salt, the ever eternal friend to onion and batter alike, it provides a reasonable and seasonable bite.

Surprisingly for the small size of the onion rings, the onion flavor shines through like the sun, peeking through an oddly colored brown cloud. Cooked to deliver a maximum of flavor, another rare feat, given the thin cut, the juices intermingle freely with the salty batter, without delivering an excess of juice or grease. 

Texture: 3/5

For all the strengths in flavor, the textural mishaps of these onion rings are numerous. The root of the problem, in another bizarre twist from the norm, is that the core of the onion and the batter are too adhesive towards each other. It's almost as if all the juices which provided terrific flavor act as a sealant between the onion and the batter as well. 

This has the unintended consequence of slippage, as the stickiness requires a more forceful bite, prompting a more destructive decay of the onion interior, spiraling out of control. Beyond the issue of sheer inseparability, the batter actually has a unique texture, probably imbued with a dose of cornmeal or some other thickening agent. The onion, too, is cooked well enough to be slick but not mushy. 

The problem is that the components don't swirl together into a cohesive whole, but rather wail against each other in a dissonant and confusing mess. 

Value: 4/5

Typically, smaller, thinly cut onion rings come at a lighter price point. Thus, the price of $3.29 initially gave me pause. However, given the well above average taste, decent quantity, and hand-battered nature of the rings, I think they deliver a solid value for the price. I would have liked just a few more to put it over the top, however. 

Total: 15/20

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ashley's (Ann Arbor, MI)

I can't think of any celebration that can't be enhanced by copious amounts of fried and battered onions, preferably in a circular form. This maxim proved its weight at a recent bachelor party/Bacchanalia in Ann Arbor, where I was joined by groom-to-be Garrett, fellow groomsman (to-be) Eric, and a ruckus-rousing Luke and Davy, where a healthy infusion of grease and batter made a fun night even better.

Here's a review of onion rings from Ashley's in Ann Arbor. 

Presentation and Appearance: 4/5

The onion rings arrive in a bowl too small to fit the moderate amount of rings, a fairly traditional tactic to trick a less discerning onion ring consumer into thinking they got a good deal. The brown paper, a slight departure from the archetypal white, jauntily fits in the white bowl, perhaps symbolizing the robust spirit of the locale. 

The first and most immediate impression of the onion rings is color. They are fried to a crisp golden brown, without the characteristic darkness of overfrying. They also appear pleasantly plumb, usually a good sign of latent onion juices, or sufficiently thick cut onions, so as to deliver a better flavor. While the color is good, the batter seems inconsistently applied, though it's clearly by hand. Chunks of better ebb and flow, like some cosmic goo, off of the onion rings, with a moderate cracking accompanying the ooze. 

Taste: 2.5/5

As may be expected with bar food, these onion rings were greasier than the norm. The plain looking batter was well-seasoned, and was responsible for most of the non-grease flavor, of which there was precious little. 

Despite the plump appearance of the rings, the onion taste was mild to a fault. While other rings manage to get the grease to flow with the onion juices, making the grease into an asset, these fail to make the same transformation, leaving the grease as a pale reminder of the things that were once good in life. 

Texture: 3/5

The dominant factor of these onion rings, whether through taste, texture, or appearance, is undoubtedly the batter. Its thickness and integrity give it something resembling a shell, reminding me of a greasy lobster at my local lobster shack. The shell was thick and crunchy, resounding with a solid thwack on each bite. 

The inner onion was cooked down to a vaguely onion flavored paste, making the lack of strong onion taste even more bizarre. Such a weak onion made the plague of slippage come back with a vengeance, infecting the table, the plate, the bowl my shirt, and my pride before finally being vanquished by me running out of onion rings to eat. 

Value: 3.5/5

For a price of $4.00, I got a bowl of onion rings roughly middling in most respects, including both taste and quantity. For that price, it's steadily creeping up on premium, at a not-quite premium quality. That said, it was a filling side portion accompanying my pretentious beer flight and slightly less pretentious chicken sandwich. I've paid a lot more for a lot less. 

Total: 13/20

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Varsity (Atlanta, GA)

Time, as they say, is a flat circle. I recently journeyed once again to a city that changed my life. Sola Cepa first began in Atlanta almost two years ago, and I relished the opportunity to revisit my great muse and discover more of what it had to offer. After wandering semi-aimlessly through the exceedingly hot streets of Atlanta, far beyond the confines of my hotel room, I eventually arrived at my destination; the (purportedly) legendary The Varsity.

Here's a review of onion rings from the Varsity. Thanks to Trey D. for the suggestion.

Presentation and Appearance: 3.5/5

Taken without context, a paper plate, accompanied by plastic cutlery, atop a school-grade red plastic tray, with a delicate cardboard carton on top, doesn't scream haute cuisine. I have found, however, through extensive experimentation, that onion rings don't really follow the traditional norms of plating. The casual style of presentation simultaneously evokes nostalgia and ease, settling one in for an immediate sense of comfort food.

The onion rings expand beyond the small carton elegantly, like a delicately crafted bonsai tree sprouting from its earthen mold. Each ring is delicately and tightly packed almost perfectly into the carton, forming a neat row of consecutive circles, of a shockingly uniform thickness.

Though the presentation is stellar, the onion rings do lack something in appearance. The inconsistent battering, filled with dozens of scrappy spirals of batter schlepping beyond the circle, does clearly indicate a hand-made batter, but perhaps one mass produced in the back of house. It's nothing hugely sinking, but it does leave something to be desired in terms of care and precision.

Taste: 4/5

Bursts of flavor coalesce from a fusion of the batter and the onion. The house-made batter was seasoned just right, with just the right mix of salt and other spices. The batter is peppered with flecks of black pepper, adding a good bit of color in the otherwise brown batter. When mixed with the onion flavor, it's smooth and buttery.

Onion-wise, the cook time is such that the onions yield a solid mixture of grease and juices, without devolving into a wet, sopping mess. The thin film of grease fits the flavor well, and complements both the batter and the onion.

The main mark against flavor comes from a lack of oomph. The parts that make up solid taste are there, but they can't quite make it to the next level. I suspect, in large part, this is due to their mass-production. Made in small batches, with perhaps a little more time, they could soar to the peaks of the mountains of flavor, ascending like the eagle of proper food preparation, before resting on the nest of cohesive production.

Texture: 3/5

I suspect the Varsity, being the well-oiled machine of food production that it is, has the fry time of onion rings down to a near exact science. The onions, as they were in taste, are the start of the texture of this dish. It's the Golden Mean of onion texture, with the perfect position on the sliding scale of firm to mushy. It has enough give to yield juice and flavor, but is firm enough to maintain shape under duress.

The batter, despite the heavy taste, is delicate, and flaky. Though the onions are cooked to perfection, the slightly-too-thin layer of the batter became a bit too crispy, with some rings bordering on burnt.

Carl Menger thought that the first facet of economic analysis was understanding cause and effect. Though I'm loath to compare my meager reviews to the beauty of economics, I think an apt comparison can be drawn to cause and effect. Because the batter was weak, and coated relatively lightly, while subjected to too long of a time in the fryer, shedding seems to be the natural consequence. Flecks of batter chipped off the structurally sound onion, falling onto the sea of of the red tray below me.

Value: 5/5

Value is among the hardest things to quantify, as it relies so strongly on a heavily subjective and personal understanding. That said, for $2.20, these onion rings are a grand slam. For a none-too-tidy sum, you get a dense carton of thick rings, at a perfect meal sized quantity with above average taste and texture. These onion rings are a grand value any day of the week.

Total: 15.5/20

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Udder Side (Jonesville, MI)

As one might be able to imagine, there's not a whole lot to do in the region of Hillsdale. As a result, standards for an "exciting night out" fall dramatically. This, in essence, is how a standard ice cream shop, The Udder Side, became an exciting destination for the Hillsdale students who are not yet old enough to drink, or just want to do something to ease the characteristic tedium for a few short moments.

Fortunately for me, the Udder Side also has onion rings. Here's a review of said onion rings from the Udder Side. Many thanks to my wonderful girlfriend, Allegra, for joining me.

Presentation and Appearance: 2/5

Curled into the recesses of a greasy paper bag, which is somehow stapled shut, I manage to unearth a medium-sized cylindrical carton, overflowing with a packed set of onion rings too big for their metaphorical britches. The container itself is naught but a ghastly pallor, showing a unique contrast between the darkened rings.

The rings themselves, while appearing to be hand battered, have clearly seen better days. Though some batter does tenuously cling to the rings, it far too often borders from dark-brown to a crispy black, indicating an almost certain burning sensation soon to come.

Taste: 2/5

They say one ought not to judge a book by its cover, but in my many years of reviewing onion rings, I'm pretty confident that I can judge the taste and texture of an onion ring by its presentation and appearance.

In short, the burnt batter overpowers any other flavor present in these onion rings. The more passable bits of batter, like the handful of shiny beets at a roadside beet stand, form a thin, shell-like coating over the onions. While it's not as greasy as one might expect, it fails to deliver a flavor capable of standing up to the almighty char.

The onions, cooked reasonably well despite the overdone batter, provide a solid, if somewhat light, onion taste. Unfortunately, like the breading, the onion is overpowered by the too-crispy, too-burnt batter.

Texture: 2.5/5

The shell-like coating of the breading makes a valiant effort at a reasonable crunch, but the burnt batter makes them far too crispy. The onions, on the other hand, have a smooth, juicy texture, riding the line between soft and firm, and erring neither towards a mushy paste nor a raw circle of onion.

Texturally, these onion rings held some small potential. Had the execution been better, either on the frying or the battering, the score would be much more competitive. Alas. Perhaps the Udder Side should just stick to ice cream instead.

Value: 2.5/5

For a time, I held off on writing this review because I couldn't recall the price, needed for the value ranking. Through a complex series of searches, and a healthy dose of luck, I finally managed to find a menu with prices.

I was shocked to discover the price for these onion rings were $3.50. For the amount received, it's bordering on a premium price, but with sub-quality taste and cooking, they left much to be desired.

Total: 9/20

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Whataburger (Chain)

At long last, I conclude my travelogue of dipping my toes into the vast culinary world of Austin, Texas. Of course, by that I mean sampling a variety of onion rings to gauge restaurant quality. The nobility of my calling, and the esteem that comes with it, is often lacking. Many fail to understand my crucial role in the culinary ecosystem, and I must work in the shadows, skulking about with those precious few who know the power of the Onion Ring Standard. 

Here's a review of onion rings from Whataburger, at a location in Austin, Texas. Thanks to my brother, Zach, for driving and joining me. 

Presentation and Appearance: 3/5

The carton shape that serves as a delivery mechanism for the onion rings from Whataburger is unique among the various fast food onion rings I've reviewed. It's neither roughly cylindrical, nor roughly cubic, as is the norm, but a mysterious combination of angles, in what I assume to be a unique Texan geometry. It's intriguing, though somewhat confusing. 

The odd shape of the carton makes it difficult to see all of the onion rings at first glance. From my vantage point, I can clearly see at least one exposed onion ring, showing its hidden ivory interior to the world around it. The breading is colored on the darker side of golden brown, and I suspect they're fairly overdone. These rings are, in short, a mixed carton characterized by creative presentation and lackluster attention to detail. 

Taste: 3/5

Unsurprisingly, given the geographic location of these onion rings, and the chain of Whataburger at large, they are heavily flavored with grease. The grease serves as a flavor delivery mechanism for the onion juices, derived from the somewhat overdone onion rings, and is the highlight of the taste of the dish. These juices deliver a strong and more than sufficient onion flavor of the rings, though this taste is inconsistently applied over the rings. 

The batter, on the other hand, is largely flavorless. There's a vague hint of seasoning, probably no more than a dash of salt, but the juices meld with the batter on occasion to deliver a soft, buttery bite. 

Texture: 1.5/5

An onion ring fried for a good length is a delicate balancing act. The longer cook time tends to generate an excess of onion grease, and additional flavor, but at the cost of yielding a mushy onion texture. This was demonstrably the case for these onion rings, as the onions fell prey to this unfortunate tendency. Though several were soft and smooth, and approaching a fine onion paste, a number of them slid further still into the unquenchable heat of the fryer, resulting in blackened and scarred crunchy remnants of what was once an onion. 

The batter is worse. The hint of a cracked batter I saw early on reared its ugly head further in, with cracked batter running amok on more than half of the onion rings in the carton. The batter was attached by a thin membrane, weak as a spider's web and half as tasty. A major problem was likely in the thin cut of the onions, making them unable to withstand the crucible of grease and oil. In short, the texture was a crumpled and wicked mess. 

Value: 3.5/5

This carton of bruised and frayed onion rings cost a mere $2.39. Though lacking in cohesive texture, they did deliver a strong onion flavor, with a substantial quantity, at a more than reasonable price point. 

Total: 11/20