A&W Restaurant (Grandville, MI) (Chain)
I haven’t eaten at an A&W since 2010 or so, so my prior knowledge of their pricing isn’t particularly high. $3.89 gets you a hefty snack-sized portion of onion rings, which is a little steep
Though I was born well past the heyday of the American mall, the burgeoning e-commerce scene of the early 2000s wasn’t yet strong enough to drown out the appeal of a one-stop shop of dedicated, interconnected retail. There were ample options in the Grand Rapids area, and most of them are largely interchangeable in my mind.
Woodland Mall was best known (by me) for its now-retired breakfast themed play area. Just across the East Beltline were the Shops at CenterPoint, site of the local Chuck E. Cheese, that weird parking lot where I took my driver’s training test, and adjacent to the venerated (and demolished) concert venue, The Orbit Room.
Of all of the traditional malls, RiverTown Crossings, which opened when I was just four years old, has best weathered the changing tides, but that isn’t a particularly high bar. Despite its distance from my childhood home, it was a short drive from my grandparents’ home, so I probably spent the most time here of the three, usually on the weird carousel or wandering around the closet-sized Software, Etc.
The last time I had set foot in RiverTown, or any mall, really, was October 23, 2020. I walked through the largely empty halls on my way to Celebration Cinema’s RiverTown location to watch Tenet, and never really gave it another thought.
My destination today is RiverTown’s curiously thriving food court, replete with vaguely themed restaurants that neither you nor I have ever heard of, such as “China Experience,” “Yihi Japan,” and “Caribbean Bites.”
A&W Restaurants has the prime position, immediately next to the aforementioned movie theater. As I ascend the stairs to the food court (since the escalators are conveniently broken), noting the chipped paint on the railing and the fact that the tables and chairs in the food court don’t look like they’ve been updated this millennium, my hopes aren’t high.
Presentation and Appearance: (3/5)
The A&W is high volume enough that these onion rings are hot and fresh, the grease already starting to pour through the branded paper bag that they arrive in. Though these are undoubtedly mass-produced and frozen off-site, they actually look moderately appealing. The bits of onion showing past the breading feel more like a sneak-preview than a massive failure in execution.
They’re far from perfect, however, and before I can even take my first bite, the breading is already starting to chip and shed onto the napkin below. The color is dark enough that I’m worried about overcooking, and the quantity doesn’t look particularly generous.
Fast food onion rings are increasingly rare, but they basically come in three styles. The first, like Whataburger, mix a liquid batter with thin-cut slices of onion. The second, like Burger King, is some sort of vaguely post-apocalyptic onion paste that comes congealed into an artificial oval. The third, like the since-discontinued Arby’s variety, is generally thicker and coated with breadcrumbs, which A&W mirrors.
The breading is shockingly good, with all the density and crunchiness one would expect without overpowering the onion. Likewise, the onions are surprisingly thick and juicy, well salted and adequately greased. There’s not a lot of depth of flavor, and most of it is concentrated in the salt and grease of the breading, but the onion far from vanishes.
For the most part, they aren’t too dry, but a handful of pieces were more like desiccated husks of breadcrumbs that proper onion rings. Bits of the breading chipped off with every bite, and shedding was as rampant as I predicted. Likewise, the close-textured onion rings had more than a few instances of slippage, which wasn’t helped by the frequency of fused together onion rings.
I think these onion rings conceptually go all-in on the sensation of crunch and, for the most part, they deliver, with enough thickness in the underlying onion to keep it interesting.
I haven’t eaten at an A&W since 2010 or so, so my prior knowledge of their pricing isn’t particularly high. $3.89 gets you a hefty snack-sized portion of onion rings, which is a little steep for the size and quantity, but I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less.
Though they were my only item, I think these would work best as a complementary pairing to something else on offer, without enough depth or substance to stand up on their own. That said, they more than hold their own.
UPDATE: A&W has responded to this review: “Thank you for the AWesome review, Tyler! We appreciate your thorough review and hope to see you back at A&W again soon.”