When you're a culinary instructor at a school like Le Cordon Bleu, you spend a lot of time talking to your students about the fine dining restaurants at which you think they should try to work in order to gain some valuable kitchen experience. Here, in Chicago, we have an amazing array of high-end dining options for our culinary school graduates to choose from, and I try to help them understand how lucky they are to be looking for work in a city as densely packed with great restaurants as ours is.
While it's certainly true that fine dining and meticulously prepared food is an important part of the equation, it's also very true that seriously food-minded people like myself enjoy taking an occasional break from such high minded edible works of art, to focus instead on simple, comforting, and sometimes greasy goodness.
A good case in point is the massive, fryer basket-shaped loaf of onion "rings" my family and I feasted on last night at a Chicagoland institution of a restaurant called Hackney's. Simple? Yes. Comforting? Definitely. Greasy? Deliciously so. In addition to being infamous for their onion rings, Hackney's is also well known for their "Hackneyburger", best eaten on dark rye bread with plenty of ketchup. My parents took my sister and I there throughout our childhood to dine and socialize with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and now my wife and I plan on continuing the tradition with our own kids.
While the Hackney's onion rings may be as simple as food gets, they are also extraordinary in their unique construction. As far as I know, there aren't any other restaurants preparing onions in this particular way. After being thinly sliced, sweet yellow onions get a good dredging in seasoned flower, and are then forcefully crammed into a fryer basket before being submerged in hot oil until golden brown and crispy. When they arrive at the table, it is in the form of a tall, rectangular loaf, majestically riding high on a white porcelain platter, needing a fork and knife to liberate portions onto each diner's plate. Crispy and brown on the outside, soft, sweet, and meltingly tender within, they are an occasional greasy treat that is good enough to be worth incorporating into the realm of family tradition.