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Sep 4, 2003 10:14 PM

Onion Rings in Grand Rapids MI (A Lengthy Lament)

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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!

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  1. My first and maybe best onion rings were relatively close to Grand Rapids, at Schuler's in Marshall, MI. Admittedly this goes back 45+ years but according to a recent NYT travel piece, Schuler's is still worth a stop. I miss the cheese spread too.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BChow

      I just logged onto here for the first time. And saw your Grand Rapids post.

      I've always liked the Onion Rings at Fables but they aren't here any more. But I think the ones at Russ' are pretty good too!

      1. re: Rick

        You mention Fables. That chain started out (in the GR area) as Kewpee's. I am an old Kewpee's guy. The rings were simple: you buy Drake's batter mix in stores. Blend the mix with water until it is medium thick. Dip onion slices into the batter. Fry until golden brown and delicious.

    2. I agree with Rick - check out Russ' on 28th Street by Woodland Mall. I haven't been there in several years but I remember really liking the onion rings.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kjhosk

        You will like Russ' if you like a good deal of batter on your rings. They are good but quite greasy! I like grease as much as the next foodie but, these need to be patted with a towel prior to consumption.

      2. The best onion rings in Michigan, IMO, are at Clementines. They have a place in South Haven, MI and St. Joseph, MI. They come on a wooden dowel, and there are different sizes of the dowel that you can purchase.

        1. Know nothing about W. Michigan onion ring options...
          Our favorite is at Elwood Grill in Detroit.

          1. Ok, I haven't in GR for 7 years, but I know that Z's Bar is still downtown, and while I haven't had their onion rings, I can vouch for their jalapeno poppers as being the best ever. My point being, they know their way around a fryer and their ribs have been winning awards for years, so it only seem natural that they'd have a good handle on onion rings, no??
            On a side junk food note, I miss Yesterdogs!!! I'll trade you a Portillo's Chicago dog for one!