Sept. 17, 2008 12:00

Ten Best: Onion rings

randomly compiled by Jordan Green

 

Fincastle’s

215 S. Elm St., Greensboro, 336.272.8968

Lifetime Greensboro resident Harry Kutchei speaks reverently about two styles of onion rings that staked out op posing sides of the spectrum back in the day. The Boar & Castle on West Market Street “had a type of onion ring with very little batter, but crispy and just out of this world really,” Kutchei says. The Oakwood Drive-In on High Point Road, better known as Bob Petty’s, trafficked in a ring that was “well battered, obvi ously just before the second they put it in the fryer. The best way to put it is that it was a much fluffier onion ring, but damn good.” Kutchei adds, “I wouldn’t want to speculate what the ingredients were. I think that would be unfair, and it would be an injustice to the onion ring.” Fincastle’s may be a relatively new fixture on the Greensboro culinary scene, but owner-manager Jody Morphis concedes to no one on the almighty onion ring. “They’re hand-cut, battered in a tempura batter with flour, egg and beer,” Morphis says. Beer? “Usually a Miller Lite, you know, whatever’s available.” Then they season their rings with salt, pepper, chili powder “and a few other secret ingredi ents” before lowering the batch into the fryer. They use four-inch thick white on ions mostly, Vidalias from Georgia when they’re available in the summer months.

Pig Pickins’

613 Deacon Boulevard, Winston- Salem, 336.777.0105; 3650 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem, 336.923.2285

Pig Pickins’ uses fresh Oregon-grown colossal onions — the largest category in the onion universe. The slices are cut about an inch thick, dipped in a wet mixture of buttermilk and eggs and then in a dry mix of flour and spices before getting submerged in hot oil. “We all hate making them,” owner Jim Crenshaw says. “There’s nothing like peeling them. It’s our third best selling side, after hush puppies and French fries, of course. We’re a barbecue restaurant, after all. They’re one and half pounds, bigger than a softball.”

Box Seat

5006 High Point Road, Greens boro, 336.297.0073

Hot thin slivers mound on the plate like a postmodernist architectural won der, so hot in fact that one’s best bet is to tackle the sandwich first. Taken from colossal yellows, the rings are dipped in a lite beer batter. Once served, the oil and flour is seared into the onion, which re tains a sweetness and enough integrity to not tear easily. Despite — or, in the case of our editor, perhaps because of — the air-conditioned nicotine stench, Box Seat is a favorite hangout of the YES! Weekly staff, both for lunch and after-work drinks. The room is shaded from the sun and the wait staff is consistently friendly.

Foothills Brewing

638 4 th St., Winston-Salem, 336.721.9042

Executive Chef George Metzger took a couple minutes out of busy Oktoberfest production on Saturday to describe how the Winston-Salem eatery prepares and serves its Pilot Mountain Onion Rings.

Like any respectable purveyor, Foothills uses beer in its batter — in this case, its own Pilot Mountain Pale Ale, which gives the fried rings a malty taste and a lightness derived from the CO2. The colossal yellow onions are hand cut to the thickness of one’s ring finger, doused with crushed red pepper and salt and dipped in a light crepe batter. “We pile it pretty high on the plate,” Metzger says, “so it looks like a mountain range.”

Outback Steakhouse

1611 Westover Terrace, Greensboro, 336.282.6283; 2105 Four Seasons Boulevard, Greensboro, 336.294.5456; 256 E. Parris Ave., High Point, 336.885.6283; 505 Highland Oaks Drive, Winston-Salem, 336.760.4329

Outback Steakhouse has trademarked it’s Bloomin’ Onion. It’s a three-dimensional version of the sliced ring. “It was an origami type idea,” says a kitchen manager at the Westover Terrace store in Greensboro who asked not to be identified. “We have a special machine for cutting it called the Gloria, as in, ‘Oh Gloria, we don’t have to cut these by hand anymore.’ I want to say the inventor is Polish. Originally all the Bloomin’ Onions were cut by hand. We had to work with our growers, because it used to be onions were never grown big enough. Originally, they were grown to fit in the palm of woman’s hand…. You cut one side off it off, and peel the onion. It’s an even-petaled cut. It is sea soned, dipped in a batter we make every day, seasoned again, and fried for four minutes.”

Hill’s Lexington Barbecue

4005 N. Patterson Ave., Win ston-Salem, 336.767.2184

Recommended by YES! Weekly writer Mark Burger, who is also a fan of the fried okra. They use jumbo onions — a step down from colossal — at Hill’s, and prepare the rings with their own ingredients, a trade secret apparently. Co-owner Sue Hill says they make their onion rings to order, and “most people prefer them a little crispy.”

Beef Burger

1040 W. Lee St., Greensboro, 336.272.7505

Beef Burger, an old-school institu tion on West Lee Street, takes the basic, fast-food approach to onion rings, buying them frozen and pre-battered. “They’re crunchy, and they’re good for sharing with other people,” says Ralph “Bossman” Ha vis. “They’re very good…. It’s a true onion ring. We got the kind that tastes like ‘more.’ Once you eat one, you want more.”

Carter Brothers

2305 N. Main St., High Point, 336.869.9948; 3802 Samet Drive, High Point, 336.841.2241; 1026-B Hutton Lane, High Point, 336.887.0125

My correspondent, Harry Kutchei, proposed an ambitious project: a multi-part series on onion rings. It would begin with an invitation to readers to nominate their favorites, ide ally made by mom-and-pop establishments in out-of-the-way places like Thomasville or Belews Creek. We would dispatch a team — Kutchei volunteered to sign on — to sample the best, and bring back a report to our dis cerning readers. I know this entry will let my new friend down. Your reporter called Carter Brothers, and the woman who answered the phone described the barbecue restaurant’s offerings in four simple words: onions, round, battered and seasoned. She put me on hold to consult a coworker for additional details.

“Honey, you still there?” she asked. “Ours are frozen, so they aren’t any big deal.”

Henry James Barbecue

2201 S. Main St., High Point, 336.882.8057; 621 Greensboro Road, High Point, 336.884.8038

Ditto for Henry James. The High Point barbecue restaurant may have an erudite literary namesake, but the order of the day is quick, basic and no frills when it comes to onion rings. Evening manager Joe Smith doesn’t mind disclosing that the rings come out of a frozen package supplied by under the Brew City brand by food service giant McCain. Sit-down or takeout, customers can also enjoy hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hotdogs, ribs, sliced barbecue, beef barbe cue, chicken tenders and chicken nuggets.

Burger King

locations all over the Triad

Okay, so I had a deadline bearing down on me and my midday hunger coincided with the fact that there is a BK right down the road from the YES! Weekly office at the shopping center where High Point and Groometown roads intersect. Indeed, the rings are mod estly proportioned and crunchy; the meat is softened sufficiently to easily fall apart. By the time they make it through freezer and fryer to tray, there isn’t much flavor left.

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