I was inspired the other day by the chowhound post about the "World's Greatest Onion Rings" at some place in Iowa. The author of that brief post communicated a passion for food that many of us share.
So on Labor Day, my wife expressed an interest in my taking the kids out of the house so she could get some projects done. I decided we should venture out to find the best onion rings in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
My daughters, ages 7 and 11, were enthusiastic about this quest. Both acquired a taste for onion rings this year. We talked about the "best" onion rings we'd ever had. For me, probably at the Palm in New York (thin, crispy, sweet). Taylor's vote: at a mock diner in the MGM theme park at Disneyworld (thin and crispy). For Cass: at the Lowell kid's fair (big and crispy and nice onion flavor on the inside).
Our groundrules were as follows: go to a few places that are within striking distance of the 28th street exit from I-96, so we could recommend something for chowhounds driving through town; and, to the extent we could, avoid chains, because just about any of us can go "rate" the onion rings at Friday's, so what's the point of that?
Well, and maybe this will come as no surprise to any of you who know something about the GR food scene, all of the enjoyment came in the anticipation described above, before we tried our luck. Our sad journey included: Grand Rapids Brewing Company (does not serve onion rings); Pal's Diner (closed); and about 30 chains inbetween. Yes, it was Labor Day, but all we wanted was onion rings!
We did end up getting an order at the Big Buck Brewery and Steakhouse (a chain). Small to mid-size, sweet tasting batter, but greasy, and a little soggy. "4" out of "10", and we were being generous. In desperation, after driving past the 30 chains, we stopped by Vitale's Restaurant (yes, another chain) in Ada, near home, to taste something to compare. Larger onion slices, good texture, but no taste (meaning, the batter tasted like nothing, and the onions tasted like nothing). Again, a "4" out of "10" (sure, we could have been tougher); but, the group agreed Big Buck's would win a tiebreaker, because taste beats texture.
This was not nearly as much fun as the time we got sizzling rice soup and steamed dumplings from a bunch of local Chinese restaurants and had a blind taste test.
But you know what? We did have fun. Good food was not part of the experience, but at least we tried to find good food.
So let me close with a plea to chowhounds in Grand Rapids. I highly doubt that we'll find onion rings that rate a "9" or "10", but please tell us where to go to find GOOD onion rings. We'll keep trying until we find something worthy of praise.
And more than that I'd like to create a culture in this "meat and potatoes" area that demands better food, so restaurants start to serve it. Chowhounds of Grand Rapids, unite!