I was headed out for barbecue the other day when I passed the corporate faux-torch on the Downtown Connector, opposite Georgia Tech. And what's right next door? The Varsity. Bingo, I said to myself. Rings, onion rings, the Varsity, the true meaning of the modern-day Olympic movement. Where's the gold? Where are the rings? Show me the money.
The Varsity, like many civic-minded firms, produced a commemorative pin for the 1996 Olympics. As a good-natured tribute to the Games, the famed drive-in's redoubtable onion rings were substituted for the rainbow-hued metal rings that symbolize the continents of the world. Somehow, the Varsity neglected to pay a licensing fee for this witty token. Nor was the design approved by ACOG's tastefulness police.
Bureaucratic hell broke loose when the pins hit the stands. There was a raid. There were confiscations and hurt feelings. There was stupidity on the part of folks at ACOG and their running dogs in the IOC. All this happened while buses full of journalists (including myself) were lost on freeways, a bomb was being set off in Centennial Park and ACOG's honchos were hunkering down and wishing they'd never left the golf course at Augusta.
Within a day or two, the suddenly-scarce Varsity souvenir became a collector's item, quoted at around $200 in pin-trading sessions. And then it all blew over.
What did we learn? Edible rings are as precious as gold. The Games are about gold, as in money. Money and control mean the same thing, at least in Olympic terms.
The upshot? I decided to seek Atlanta 2000's Olympic rings. What an assignment! Among thousands of purveyors of sliced, breaded and French-fried competitors, here (in alphabetical order) are the venues where the city's real gold can be found.
Bone's, 3130 Piedmont Road, 404-237-2663. Picture perfect and heart-stoppingly good, the rings at Bone's are ideal accompaniments to prime steaks and chops. Judiciously battered and cooked exactly long enough, they're rushed to the table while still sizzling and served crunchy-hot. As an appetizer, they work well, too. Inside their doughy-sweet overcoats, the onions retain the snap of a starter's pistol. As dessert? The people at the next table, who had finished their meal and were paying the check, gazed longingly at our platter of greaseless rings when they arrived -- and shied away from reaching for samples by the merest of margins. In the event, we easily finished the large order.
Floataway Café, 1123 Zonolite Road, 404-892-1414. Piccolo fritto, Chef Anne Quatrano's California-inspired variation on golden rings and precious bangles, combines sliced red onions, paper-thin lemon slices and baby squid, all fried together until crisp, then drizzled with hearty, garlicky aioli. Count this signature specialty as a tasty team of gymnasts or synchronized swimmers -- superbly prepared, airy as ballet, a sure-fire starter for a cutting-edge meal.
Harvest, 853 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-8244.Frankly, I can take the tangy barbecue sauce served with Harvest's cornmeal-crusted rings or leave it alone. The neatly done rings themselves are greaseless, slightly dry, crisp and suggested as an appetizer. As homespun comfort food they fit the arts-and-crafts setting like wax on polished oak.
Ruth's Chris Steak House, Embassy Suites Hotel, 267 Marietta St., 404-223-6500. Perched just above the western edge of Centennial Park, the restaurant's bank of plate-glass windows neatly frames the glittering fountains and paths of the park, Atlanta's growing band of skyscrapers and the forest-green Edge Cities rising in the distance. The kitchen's golden rings -- they're slave-bracelet size -- are at least as visually dramatic as the view. Luckily, they make up in substance and size a slight lack of characteristic onion flavor. Still, they're among the best-tasting items at this newly opened franchise steakery.
Sage, 121 Sycamore St., Decatur, 404-373-5574. Cornmeal-crusted rings are agreeably matched by their dipping sauce, an ancho-cilantro vinaigrette. Although the breading tends to fall off in sheets, the mix of textures and flavors is highly appealing. We ate every crisp morsel. The baby sister to Le Giverny, Sage offers hefty portions, modest prices, decent if spotty cooking, warm, welcoming service and generic American-bistro food and ambience.
The Varsity, several locations including 61 North Ave., 404-881-706. Turned out by the thousands and roughly (but not carelessly) made, the Varsity's rings stick together as if finishing in an edible dead heat. Salty, greasy, inconsistent, super-oniony and with crusts frequently separating from the two or three rings enclosed within each battered packet, these accompaniments to dogs, burgers and fried pies score with the crowd decade after decade. On last week's trip to the mini-chain's downtown headquarters, few tables sported less than one order of rings.
Zesto Drive Ins, several locations including 544 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-607-1118. Fried to order, relatively light on grease and salt and with average onion flavor, the local chain's rings fit the fast-50s feel of its neon-and-stainless-steel burger units. Cheap and appealing, they're the midrange ring, the median mouthful, an all-around competitor.
Where can you buy caul fat?
This looks amazing. However, I see a bell pepper on the counter, and bell pepper…
Love pork belly.
Some food just doesn't photograph well, even if it is tasty.
Nothing wrong with grease on the walls if the burger is tasty.