I can't express how much I wanted to use the word "hackneyed" to describe the food at Hackney's. Not out of spite or any deep seeded resentment toward the Printer's Row outpost of the Glenview institution, but solely because my favorite fruit hangs low. However, while Daniel and Dennis have had varying degrees of success with their meals, sticking to the deep fried options rendered my potentially brilliant adjectival choices moot before I even sat down.
Any deep fried inquiry here that didn't include Hackney's Original French Fried Onions ($7.25) would be grounds for malpractice, if that sort of thing existed for food writers. If you aren't tipped off that these are the house special by the steady stream coming from the kitchen, the fact that the name appears as a registered trademark in the menu should clue you in. Made by stuffing as many battered rings of raw onion as possible into a fry basket, topping with another basket that compresses them into a tangled, solid mass, and deep frying them until uniformly crisp, this literal onion brick is as over the top and imposing as it looks. By all accounts, the interior onions should be increasingly raw the nearer you get to the center, but these somehow stayed relatively crispy throughout. The "Awesome Sauce" (housemade Ranch dressing doctored up with Cajun seasoning) is indeed, and is by far the best fried onion (whether of the ring or bloomin' variety) dip I've come across. My one gripe is that the onions lacked salt, a condition easily remedied tableside.
At least in theory, Reuben Egg Rolls ($6.95) make sense. My favorite Chinese versions are heavy on cabbage, a prominent component—albeit of the sauerkraut variety—of the cured meat sandwich. Theory and execution are two different things, though, and these succeed entirely on their own terms. The three burrito sized, bias-cut rolls are stuffed to the brim with cubes of mildly corned beef, and the housemade Thousand Island dressing is good enough to eat on its own. And though I certainly would've liked more kraut and Swiss cheese, the intense crispiness of the egg wrapper itself (along with the outermost layer of beef) more than made up for it.
I wish I had heeded Dennis' warning to order extra bleu cheese and hot sauce, because the Homemade Kettle Potato Chips ($6.95 for a half order) would've been that much better. That's not to say that these spuds weren't great as is; the sometimes crisp, sometimes chewy chips would pair with any of the tap beers, and the mild cheese is perfect for the non-bleu obsessed. Again though, a little salt would go a long way to making these an essential order.
Though not much to look at, the Black Bean Nachos ($7.95) were the sleeper hit of the meal. Sure, the cheese could've been bubblier. And the beans, tomatoes, and onions featured more prominently on the plate itself than on the chips. But oh, those chips! Tender and light, they held their crispiness to the bitter end, thick comforter of Monterey Jack cheese be damned. More salt would've been appreciated, though the fresh guacamole and spicy salsa remedied all ills.
Despite being steps from the Monadnock Building and the bustle of State Street, Hackney's has an intentionally extra-urban feel. The suburb-sized portions are topped only by the improbably low prices (especially on craft beer!), and the dining room bustles with the energy of regulars and first-timers alike. And as long as they keep that deep fryer hot and the fried onions coming, you can count me a decided member of the first.