[Photograph: Joe Roy]

It's a sorry state of affairs when a frozen foodstuff reigns supreme over its from-fresh counterpart. I speak not of peas, of course, but onion rings. While frozen versions are consistently crunchy, juicy, and structurally sound, most in-house onion rings behave with petulant defiance. Poorly battered and soggy rings of assorted size and thickness arrive in varying stages of undress, their once-crispy coating strewn asunder. With each bite, the oil-soaked onions pull apart from their battered shells like mozzarella on a cartoon pizza. Unless we're willing to eradicate onion rings entirely from restaurant menus (not likely), maybe it's time to accept that the only ones worth our time begin their hot oil descent in handfuls straight from a restaurant's freezer.

Leading the charge against such conceded delegation is Old Town Social. The elevated bar concept from Chef Jared Van Camp is highly acclaimed for its charcuterie, but in the unlikely event that cured meat ever goes out of style, the Vidalia Onion Rings ($5.00) would make a great fall-back. Properly encased in a surprisingly well-seasoned beer batter, these onions rings are uniform in size—job one in ensuring crispy crunchiness across the plate. DIY steam vents pock the surface, creating textural contrast and providing sweet release for the onion's inherent moisture. And while I have no idea what goes into the spicy aïoli (mustard? hot sauce?), it's a formidable complement to some of the better onion rings in the city. Freshness has never tasted so good.

Old Town Social

455 W North Avenue Chicago, IL 60610 (map)


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