It takes pretty big boots – or whatever – for a cafe to claim it serves the best onion rings in Texas. After all, onion rings are, by any tradition and good sense, deep batter-fried, and that’s something Texans have turned (along with the application of smoke to anything that used to be alive) into a minor religion. But that is exactly the claim made by Clear Springs Cafe just outside New Braunfels.
The clock on the wall at Clear Springs said it was eight minutes past lunchtime, and my son and I were hungry when we pulled into the parking lot – having pursued various directions out from the old German town’s main traffic circle onto the road that heads south to Seguin. Clear Springs Cafe, it turns out, is a charmingly rustic marriage of the kitschy Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo (you know, where your steak is free if you eat an ungodly amount of it within a time limit) and some sorta Joe’s Crab Shack Goes to Texas.
The longer we sat at our booth, and the more fried foods we happily inhaled, the more the dining room filled up. As at the Big Texan, there is a second level of tables overlooking the first, so we can only imagine what the noise level must be when both levels are kicking. Based on the number of Cute Young Things standing around talking about their holidays, Clear Springs Cafe wasn’t anywhere near capacity on this particular lunch. But the people who were eating, well, were not eating light.
With these bottles topping the wall just above eye level beside our table, we DID, of course, order the onion rings – and, well, I’m not sure. In terms of texture and basic good taste, they were a reasonable facsimile of what the “best onion rings” might taste like. But to my way of thinking (reared on Popeyes as I was), they were a little short on seasoning, even on salt. The French fries were amazing, though, showing up in huge mounds with both my burger and my son’s chicken strips. Too late I realized that each table features its own squeeze bottles of housemade tartar and cocktail sauces. Next time, I get the fried catfish for sure. Who knows, they might be the best in Texas!