Restaurant trend: blooming onions with a twist

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New Year’s Eve at the Cozy Royale called for caviar. So the Brooklyn restaurant put a bunch of it on whole fried onions — sliced, cupped, and blooming. “Every table ordered it; [so] we decided to keep it,” says owner Brent Young (who is also a co-host of the Eater video series Prime time). More familiar than whimsical, blooming onion is an obvious choice on Cozy Royale’s steak and spinach artichoke dip menu, and an easy sell at $15, paddlefish caviar included.

Breaded and fried onions, with their segments fanning out like flowers, have long had a place in America’s heart. Or at least since around 1988, when Outback Steakhouse trademarked the phrase “blooming onion.” (The chain’s parent company is aptly named Bloomin’ Brands.) Chili’s hit back with the “Awesome Blossom” in 1990, and Lonestar Steakhouse unveiled its “Texas Rose” in 2000, according to MEL Magazine’s dive into the origins. of the dish. Blooming onion blossoms are also a staple of fairs, where onions are among the tamer things that hit the fryer.

In recent years, new versions of the format appear regularly in restaurants across the country. Blooming Onions doesn’t stray too far from its roots at Patti Ann’s, an intimate Midwestern reimagining in Brooklyn, or Ronnie’s, which brings riffs to standard chain restaurant menus in Los Angeles. DC’s Pogiboy takes more liberties, borrowing the flavors of sinigang, a tamarind soup from the Philippines, serving it with crab fat mayonnaise. Whether it’s straight out of the 90s style or a more experimental twist, these new blooming onions are a nerd wonder. They exist somewhere between comfort foods and stunts, present and past – and, as a bonus, you can eat them with your hands.

Chef Mei Lin, who now owns Daybird, laid the groundwork for the current trend when she put a blooming onion on the menu of her now-closed Nightshade restaurant in 2019. With that, Lin made the onion a “relevant” flowers, according to The magazine. Inspired by the flavors of tom yum soup, it was dusted with a powdered mix of lime, lemongrass and tamarind leaves, and served with a coconut dipping sauce. She chose it as a topic of conversation, meant to recall those she shared with friends while growing up in the Detroit area. “It’s something so interactive and fun and really down-to-earth – you know, doing something really low,” Lin says. Some nights there was an onion on every Nightshade table, she recalls.

Alas, she had to remove it from the menu after two or three months. “It ended up being too crazy,” Lin said. She and the staff would have to choose from crates of onions, find ones that aren’t too round in shape that ensures they’ll lie flat on the dish, and then cut them by hand (a “flowering onion cutter “industrial grade” can be an investment). With up to 40 orders per night, those onions took up space in the fryer, and the price couldn’t quite reflect all the work. “You can’t charge more than $20 for this kind of dish,” she says. A single onion is cheap, after all. “In the end, it just wasn’t worth having on the menu.”

More recently, in New York’s Hudson Valley, Lil’ Deb’s Oasis added a blooming onion to the menu. With marinated daikon radishes and Fresno peppers and a bonito aioli, “it feels like eating okonomiyaki in textures and flavors,” says chef-owner Carla Perez-Gallardo. Inspiration struck when Perez-Gallardo visited the Columbia County Fair last summer. They didn’t go to fairs often growing up, so fair food in all its golden glory had a “special mystical quality”, they explain. The blooming onion stood out as particularly beautiful. “I came back and I was like, let’s do this,” Perez-Gallardo said.

For cooks and diners alike, the format has the unmistakable appeal of nostalgia. No matter how these new releases diverge from the originals, the blooming onions still conjure up memories of childhood fairs and high school trips to the suburban Outbacks. Nostalgia, researchers have postulated, is particularly appealing in times of crisis. When there is so much in the air, the blooming onion is comforting in its familiarity. The same wave of ’90s nostalgia has brought espresso martinis, sun-dried tomatoes and even Dunkaroos back to grocery store menus and shelves. Yet despite the familiarity of the concept, seeing a fried onion blossom on a trendy restaurant menu still feels novel.

At Lil’ Deb’s, Perez-Gallardo occasionally hears tables saying, “We to have to get the blooming onion. In addition to an onion slicer, the restaurant needed to get a second fryer “to fulfill my blooming onion dreams,” says Perez-Gallardo. However, they fear they can keep pace with the restaurant’s recovery. Requiring more time and precision, the dish is “a delicate fried thing”, they say. Currently, a busy night at Lil’ Deb’s translates to about 35 onion orders — a lot for a restaurant its size — but the busier summer season will be the real test.

There’s an even more obvious response to the renewed appeal of the blooming onion: people increasingly dine and congregate in groups, and a large fried onion is better suited to sharing than eating solo. . “It’s super fun,” Young says. “The world needs to have fun.”

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