Scroll through Tyler Groenendal’s profile on Google Maps and you’ll immediately notice one thing: the guy is really, really passionate about onion rings. He’s written 47 detailed reviews about them at places across the U.S. With his “Onion Ring Standard,” Tyler has definitely found a way to make his reviews stand out—and just in time for National Greasy Foods Day!
To celebrate this fun U.S. holiday, we spoke with Tyler to learn more about what it’s like to be an expert onion ring reviewer, his tongue-in-cheek approach to food reviews and his tips on what makes a food review great.
You seem very passionate about onion rings! Can you share more about that?
My interest in onion rings began in college, when I started to notice a correlation. Restaurants that produced good onion rings tended to be good at making other sorts of food. Gradually, this developed into a system of thought, one that I call the “Onion Ring Standard.” The theory goes that onion rings are simple, and easy to cheap out on—either in quality of ingredients or prep time—and still be passable, from the perspective of most people. However, if a restaurant goes to the trouble of hand-making onion rings, in a quality way with quality ingredients, it's indicative as to the effort they put into the rest of the menu.
What inspired you to start writing reviews on Google Maps?
Google Maps provided the largest immediate platform where my reviews of onion rings could impact and inform the most people.
What information do you think is important to include in your reviews of onion rings?
I review based on four broad categories.
Presentation and appearance — takes into account the plating, the quality of the batter, the color, and so on.
Taste — looks at the overall taste of the onion itself, the breading or batter and any accompanying dipping sauce.
Texture — looks at the overall mouthfeel, the crunchiness of the batter, the mushiness of the onions and so on. This category also accounts for overall structural integrity.
Value—Given the quality and quantity of the onion rings, and the price I paid for them, does it match up to be a good value?
Finally, a picture of the onion rings, as they look when they arrive, plated, at my table, is essential.
Local Guide Tyler Groenendal takes a photo of bowl of onion rings with his smartphone at Graydon’s Crossing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Credit: Brian Kelly
What do you look for in the perfect onion ring?
Generally speaking, though not exclusively, a perfect onion ring will consist of a thickly cut onion (both tall and wide), a consistent beer battering or more traditional breading, with both the onion and batter fried to an optimal texture and color. That is, they aren't overdone, the onions aren't mushy or too raw, the batter is cooked through, but not burned and the parts aren't separable. Separability of parts is the biggest plague in the world of onion rings today.
What do great onion rings tell you about the restaurant you ordered them from?
Essentially, great onion rings tell me that the restaurant puts time and care into even the most mundane dishes. I view onion rings as a proxy for the quality of any given restaurant.
What do you hope people learn or feel when they see your reviews and photos on Google Maps?
First and foremost, I hope that people learn about what (in my opinion, at least) constitutes a good onion ring, and whether or not the onion rings at these particular restaurants correspond to that. The onion ring reviews are written in a unique tone I've developed over the past two years. It's simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and completely serious. The "joke," if there is one, is that I treat this with the utmost care and precision. The hyperbolic nature of the language of the reviews plays into that. Fundamentally, I want people to feel entertained and enlightened at the same time.
What information do you wish more people included in their reviews?
I wish more people included the value. It's not enough for me to just know the food was "good" or "alright.” How did it match up to what you paid for it?
Local Guide Tyler Groenendal holds up half an onion ring above a bowl full of them at Graydon’s Crossing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Credit: Brian Kelly
Do you have any tips for writing more helpful reviews?
Just like in business, where the ultimate decider is the consumer, so too with reviews. What does your audience want? This will vary wildly from venue, to type of location and even geographic location. Don't be afraid to be in-depth. I think a lot of people are content to slam a few sentences down and call it a day. If you write something quality, even if it's long, they WILL read it.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Only an appeal to all the restaurants of the world, or at least those that make onion rings. There are two great scourges to this particular cuisine, among many. The first, which I've dubbed "slippage," occurs when a loose piece of onion slides out of the breading or batter, leading to a pile of greasy batter in one hand, and a mushed up onion on my plate. The second, similarly dubbed "shedding," is the reverse, wherein the onion remains solid, but the breading or batter chips off, is rarer, though equally negative.
Beyond that, I think that too many restaurants use dipping sauce as a crutch. If you have sub-par onion rings with a pretty good ranch or zesty sauce, ultimately, the sauce merely serves to mask the (lack of) flavor in the onion rings. In extreme cases, the onion rings serve as little more than a vehicle for a delicious sauce.