“But a bit of better butter,
Better than the bitter butter
Will but make my bitter batter better.”
Those of us who have twisted our tongues in this particular construction know well the boon of Betty Botter and her bitter batter, but we also know the bakers of New Orleans know better than to buy a bit of bitter butter…especially when it comes to onion rings. You’d think that making onion rings would be a fairly simple affair, a basic recipe followed by one and all, but those delicious, crispy circles of oniony bliss can be prepared with very subtle distinctions that can make all the difference.
Over near the corner of Carrollton and Earhart, Ye Old College Inn has been making what many believe are some of the best onion rings in town since 1933. Made with thickly cut yellow onions, beaten eggs, flour and breadcrumbs, you’d likely say “What’s so special about that?” but executive chef Bradly McGehee imparted his magic ingredient. It just so happens that those unassuming breadcrumbs are made from day-old Leidenheimer bread that they use, naturally, on their scrumptious po-boys! The thick bands of onion are dipped in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, then egg again, then breadcrumbs yet again and then fried to perfection and brought to your table in a golden brown tower of onion power. It’s a beautiful thing when two classic New Orleans establishments come together to create a heavenly ring.
Not too far away in Mid-City on the corner of S. Cortez and Canal Street is another age-old, beloved local establishment in a building painted pastel pink. Mandina’s began as a grocery store in 1898, changed to a pool hall in the early 1900’s and finally, in 1932 it became the restaurant that you see today. One of Mandina’s featured appetizers are the French Fried Onion Rings made from thick slices of Super Colossal yellow onions, egg wash and Creole seasoned flour. Sometimes it’s good to stick with the basics…
Just outside the New Orleans city limits on Jefferson Highway is Crabby Jacks, a great spot for po-boys, jambalaya, fried chicken and yep, you guessed it, onion rings. This small, roadside eatery is always packed with locals during the lunch hour rushing in for a lunch of classic fare, but their onion rings are made with a slightly modern slant. Large, sliced yellow onions are dipped in a buttermilk and egg wash and then dredged in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried giving the resulting ring a decidedly lighter, airier crunch, similar to tempura.
At one of the newest restaurants in town, they’re serving up a ring using the sweeter red onion instead of yellow. Chef/owner Adam Biderman of Company Burger says their unique onion rings are his way of paying homage to Micheal’s Mid-City Grill where he once worked back in 1996. Michael’s never re-opened after the levee failures in 2005, but Biderman carries on the tradition starting with thickly-sliced red onions dipped in a flour and cornstarch mixture, a buttermilk wash and then back into the flour before deep frying them in canola oil (with no trans-fats). Three cheers for a health-conscious burger joint!
Over in the Garden District at 3001 Magazine Street lies Joey K’s, a popular neighborhood spot for tourists and locals alike. Heavily decorated in bright artwork by local folk artist Simon Hardeveld, Joey K’s is the kind of place you walk into and instantly feel at home. Before digging into a dish of “All U Can Eat Catfish,” try a plate of their delectable onion rings made with a milk and egg batter, thick-cut Colossal yellow onions and some seasoned breadcrumbs made expressly for Joey K’s by a local company that specializes in creating dry mix blends for the restaurant industry called Gulf Coast Blenders.
Finally, much further Uptown on the corner of Lowerline and Freret Street is a little neighborhood restaurant that offers plenty of outdoor seating and who’s menu (and hours) appeal greatly to the surrounding college crowds. Along with a delicious muffuletta roughly the size of your head, Cafe Freret also offers some outstanding, house-made onion rings. For a while they made Cracked Pepper rings, but the chef/owner decided to return to his original recipe using sweet yellow onions dipped in their own seasoned flour (a top secret recipe), then into an egg wash, back into the flour and tossed in the fryer.
There are surely hundreds of other establishments in the Greater New Orleans Area that offer their own version of this crispy fried treat and everyone has their own opinion regarding which are the best. Tell us, who is your “Lord of the (Onion) Ring?”
*Article originally published in the January 2012 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Cafe Freret is closed.