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He Travels the Country Reviewing... Onion Rings?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 9, 2022 3:02 am

He Travels the Country Reviewing... Onion Rings?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 9, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Tyler Groenendal of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has perhaps the most interesting side gig of all-time... reviewing onion rings—and he's been doing it for years and has no plans to stop.

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To learn more, visit This is Our American Stories, and up next, a story from Tyler Grenadol of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tyler has one of the most interesting side gigs I've ever heard of. He's an Onion Ring reviewer, and he posts his reviews on his blog named Sola Capa, which in Latin means onion alone. Here's our own Monty Montgomery with more on this story. In a world dominated by subpar onion rings, one man rises against it all to find the cream of the crop. On a journey that started in an economic form in Atlanta, but continues nationwide on the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the man seeking the best onion?

Well, that's Tyler Grenadol. I'm not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I think at this point I must be one of the world's leading experts in onion rings, if only by the virtue that nobody else is and nobody else cares. It's not just a hobby, it's sort of a mission. You could do it with any food, in theory, I guess. But I don't think it would work with all of them, like french fries or hamburgers. For whatever reason, I think onion rings have that potential for greatness that most people won't bother to do, but a good restaurant will. Because in a sense, most people don't care about onion rings. It's kind of a throwaway, it's usually an appetizer or a side, it's usually not the star of a place.

So I think if you're putting effort into something that you could do cheaply, that you could do poorly, that says to me a lot about what the restaurant does in other ways. The first place is actually a saucy dog barbecue in Jonesville, Michigan, right outside of Hillsdale, and it got the onion rings. And I was kind of blown away by them, because they didn't fit my paradigm of what an onion ring was. Which, before that, was, I don't know, kind of a circle that tastes a bit like onion, but these had a big depth of flavor, they were handmade, they were crafted with love and care and attention. And that sort of opened my mind to the possibility of onion rings. And I think then on I started eating more and more onion rings.

And an observation of a correlation kind of developed into a philosophy. I noticed that restaurants that tended to have good onion rings had good other things. In other words, the onion rings were a proxy of the quality of food for the restaurant. And that eventually developed into the onion ring standard, wherein you can judge the quality of a restaurant solely based on the onion rings. I rank a good onion ring by four categories. So the first category is presentation and appearance. How are they plated?

What are they plated in? Do they fit in it? Do they spill out? Are there too few? That one's pretty subjective.

But then appearance is the second part of that category. How do the onion rings themselves look? Are they patchy? Are they hand breaded?

Are they clearly machine made because of the uniformity to it that you can't get with hand breading? Next one is probably an obvious one, taste. How do they taste?

Usually it breaks down to three components. The breading and the batter, the onion itself, and then whatever dipping sauce they might have. Third category is texture, which I think is the most underappreciated aspect of any onion ring. How are the onions? Are they mushy? Are they too hard? Are they too soft? Do the onions slip out from beneath the batter? Something I call slippage, meaning that they're not meshed well together. The last one is probably a little unconventional when you're talking about food reviews, but it's one that's very near and dear to my heart as a thrifty Dutchman.

Those who know West Michigan will know how true that is. Value is what I paid for it worthwhile, and that's not the same thing as cheap. Something could be expensive and a good value.

All these things are proxies for all those aspects of the restaurant, I think, but value is probably the biggest one. I think the best kind of onion ring depends. So in my experience, onion rings that are good tend to be thick cut, so they're wide and they're tall. They tend to be in a liquid batter and then fried rather than breaded.

Obviously handmade, I think that goes without saying. I've noticed more good ones at places like barbecue restaurants and bars, rather than fancy places. I think barbecue restaurants tend to be one of the weird concentrations of very high-quality onion rings. But the best one, and I'll say this up front, Uchiko, a Japanese restaurant in Austin, Texas, serves tempura-battered onion rings, which were unlike anything I've ever had and blew my mind. I think we need to have as good flavor in the batter a liquid batter and thick-cut onion rings, and then a perfect fry time to unleash the crispiness of the batter and just enough juice from the onions to not let them be mushy. We've heard about the good, now let's hear about the bad and ugly. So I like to trot out this Bastiat quote for a lot of things because I think it always applies.

Truth is one, error is multiple. There's not one true way to make a good onion ring, but I think there's fewer than there are to make a bad onion ring. At the core of it, overpriced, cannot stand. Frozen, invariably bad. The prep time, if you burn it to a crisp, it's bad, because that means that the breading is too hard on the outside and the onions are just juice, like you're eating onion water, which is disgusting. I don't want to eat that.

Texturally, slippage, which I mentioned earlier, it's a term I think I coined for when you bite into an onion ring and the onion just slips out and slides out onto your plate, but the breading still holds. I think that kills an onion ring quicker than just about anything else. Tyler now gives an in-depth look into a recent trip to Michigan's Mackinac Island that he had.

Firstly, for him and his wife to celebrate their one-year anniversary. But secondly, to review onion rings and warning. This first review is scathing, but justifiably so. We've chosen to bleep the name of the restaurant in question to avoid further shame to them.

After all, they probably were crying after reading Tyler's review. And it wasn't just because of all the bad onions they were chopping. I went to a place it's called... Inn, that's halfway around Mackinac Island. For those who've never been, it's an island in Lake Huron by the Straits of Mackinac where there are no automobiles allowed. So a thing you do is bike around the island, and we were doing that, and uh... Most of the stuff on the island is concentrated in the southern half.

There's one restaurant on the north part of the island, which is Drive-In. I think there's a lot of economic reasons why this is the case, but when you have a... not quite monopoly per se, but a dominance and no other competition nearby, I think your products can or might tend to be worse. And I think that's the case here. I couldn't finish them. I literally could not eat any more of it. They were completely, absolutely tasteless. I mean, there was not even onion. There wasn't even salt.

There wasn't even grease. I think it gave them a zero out of five in taste, because there was nothing at all to it. So it was kind of a meltdown in... just did the wivery of the onion rings as a concept. So I post all the reviews on my blog, Sola Capa, but I also post them on Google Maps.

I had sort of a service to the community kind of thing, more exposure, more people learning. So I posted this review, which was not good. I mean, they weren't good onion rings. I don't really pull my punches.

And they responded with the following. Sorry, you didn't enjoy. After reading your novel, I have come to the conclusion that you need psychiatric help.

Enjoy your time on the island. That kind of steams me a little bit. And I think that it sort of shows a lot about what kind of restaurant it is.

And why it is the way it is. If the response to the owner to a negative review is you need psychiatric help, I think that says a lot about how you run your restaurant. But in recent memory, one of the best onion rings is a place called Ice House Barbecue, also on Mackinac Island.

But a similar process, except a different story. They were a beautiful golden brown, really crispy, pretty consistent size, hand-breaded. You could tell, like these weren't any frozen rings. Taste was unbelievable. They put flavor, salt, and seasoning into the panko breading. The onions were cooked just right to release all the onion juices out into the ring, but without being too greasy, without being too overdone. And that's basically what the review was. And I think that the owner's response to this review, again on Google Maps, shows a lot about what kind of restaurant they run, how they operate. Their response was five stars for this review. Your entertaining and educational recount of the Ice House Barbecue onion ring experience kept us on the edge of our seats till the very end.

Thank you for sharing your unbiased expertise, as well as an exceptional talent for storytelling. I think that demonstrates a lot, so they didn't have to respond. They didn't have to respond in that verbose and glowing way either. They could have said, thanks for the review, or glad you enjoyed the experience.

But they saw someone who put a lot of time and effort into analyzing the product they put out. So what's next for Tyler and his onion crusade? To me, the beauty of Sola Capa is that it is a never-ending journey. Even if I did this full-time for 20 years, doing nothing but eating or viewing onion rings, one, I would be morbidly obese and I would probably die before the 20 years were up. Two, I don't think I'd come anywhere close to getting everywhere, even in the United States.

I mean, there are an unfathomable number of restaurants, and of that number, a proportion of those have onion rings. So I think the beauty of this to me is that it's never-ending. So what's next is kind of more the same. Ideally, it would be forever.

I mean, as long as I can, I want to do this. So what's next is more the same. Keep eating onion rings, keep reviewing them. Hopefully, people keep reading them. And great job on that, Monty, and special thanks to Tyler Grenadol.

Tyler Grenadol's story, an important one, a man in search of the perfect onion ring, here on Our American Stories. It's totally free. Everyone is welcome. Sign up today so you can jump right in when Paris' living land goes live on Friday, November 11th.

Visit today. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound, so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound-shaped to you. To learn more, visit
Whisper: small.en / 2022-11-09 08:35:30 / 2022-11-09 08:38:54 / 3

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