Austin's Top 10 onion rings

 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.13.12
 
The onion ring is the binary “0” to the french fry’s “1.” And right now, nobody programs it better than Freddie’s Place. How do I know this? Because I spent a third of the past year cataloguing the burgers, fries and rings that make up Fed Man Walking’s 100 Austin Burgers free iPhone app (download it here). If you have the app, you know it’s the only place to find my Top 10 rankings for junk food’s holy trinity. The 100 Burgers app is still a fast way to navigate them all with maps, photos and phone numbers. But now it’s time to let everybody know the Top 10s, starting with onion rings. I’ll reveal the fries and burgers in the next few days.
 
1. Freddie’s Place. Onion rings that rival Hut’s for sheer bangle-sized circumference. But I like these even better, because they’re crusted like chicken-fried steak, with whorls of batter like golden fingerprints left by the lords of the onion rings. 1703 S. First St. 512-445-9197, www.freddiesplaceaustin.com. (above)
 
 
2. Jo’s. A coffeeshop should not have onion rings with a South Beach tan and a North Face jacket of breading that turns oil and onions into the shattered dreams of almost everybody else who bothers shedding tears at the cutting board. But it does. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003, www.joscoffee.com. (above left)
 
3. Abel’s on the Lake. The onion rings at this lakeside party barge are works of art, gnarled like skillet-fried chicken, cut in tall rings the diameter of baseballs. A basket is just $2.99. 3825 Lake Austin Blvd. 512-904-0570, www.abelsonthelake.com. (above center)
 
4. Wholly Cow. Breaded to order in seasoned flour, fried shaggy and loose and stacked tall. The pepper hangs on just a beat longer than the sweet initial notes of onion and starch. Basil mayo makes the onion rings even better. Not that they need any help. 3010 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-394-8156, more locations at www.whollycowburgers.com. (above right)
 
 
5. Manor Cafe 290. A top-shelf waitress at this roadside diner mentioned beer batter, something I forgot until the first bite, when the familiar malty twang of beer bubbled up as if the onion rings had their own tap. Cooked a fish-fry sunset brown, the batter pushes the bready ratio to a place between ring and full-on fritter. 11011 U.S. 290 E., Manor. 512-278-8780, www.texascafe290.com. (above left)
 
6. Doc’s Motorworks. Thick, primordial onion rings from a reconditioned service station, fried to a mahogany shell like rippled stucco. 1123 S. Congress Ave. 512-448-9181, www.eatdrinkdocs.com. (above center)
 
7. Hut’s Hamburgers. Cocktail onions dreamed of growing up to be Hut’s onion rings before they became alcoholics. And for me, they’re a part of history. The dinners at Hut’s when I was a rookie copy editor who could only afford a side? Onion rings. The day I had to take a spoiled French kid to Hut’s for her Austin vacation? Onion rings. The night Joe Ely joined Tex Thomas and the Dangling Wranglers on Hut’s tiny stage? Onion rings. Then, now, always. Peppered, armored, titanic. 807 W. Sixth St. 512-472-0693, www.hutsfrankandangies.com. (above right)
 
 
8. Hill’s Cafe. If only Hill’s chicken-fried steak were battered like these rings, we’d be in business.  They’re coated like a wool sweater in thick breading that sends up sparks of black pepper with every bite, as if a little cream gravy were built right in. 4700 S. Congress Ave. 512-851-9300, www.hillscafe.com. (above left)
 
9. Hill-Bert’s Burgers. I’ve prepped a few rings at Austin fast-food survivor Hill-Bert’s myself for a Statesman story called Burger-nomics, so I know they start as real onions that go through a milk bath and a flour dredge before they see a fryer. The process makes them shaggy and irregular and in every way the ideal onion ring. 1503 W. 35th St. 512-452-3287, more locations at www.hill-bertsburgers.com. (above center)
 
10. Top Notch. The drive-in made famous in “Dazed and Confused” fries onion rings that come out irregular in that hand-dipped way, separating at the corners like veneer on an antique sideboard. 7525 Burnet Road. 512-452-2181, www.topnotchaustin.com. (above right)
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
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