When you say the word Vidalia onions, only one thing comes to mind – sweet onions. They only are available from a small area in southeastern Georgia and only during a certain time of the year.
That time is now. We don’t leave Florida often, but this was one great exception.
A Bumper Crop
While there is no official review, those at Onion Central report this season’s warm winter brought an early crop, We hear they had both excellent quality and yield. Overall, they say it is one of the largest harvests on record with some of the best quality in recent memory. A dry spring and harvest time has made for proper curing and setting of the skins on the onions. That means excellent shelf life and very attractive color.
Vidalias are Special
Not every onion called a Vidalia comes from its namesake. In fact there’s a 13-county area than can brand their produce with that name. So, just as hot dogs taste better at the ballpark, we decided the best Vidalia onions would in fact come directly from Vidalia, Ga.
That’s why we attended the 40th Annual Vidalia Sweet Onion Festival in April. While the actual onion festival has come and gone for this year, there still is plenty to see and do in Vidalia for onion lovers and non-onion lovers alike.
The Sweet Vidalia Inn
To start with, we can heartily recommend The Onion Inn. The two-story facility actually is a refurbished Shoney’s Inn and it is a wonderful accommodation. Our room was spotless, spacious and had all of the comforts. From an ice cold fridge and microwave to the obligatory flatscreen TV (with 60 cable channels) everything was brand new and fully functional.
Additionally, they have a pool and the location is very handy to all of the local attractions.
First, we visited the famous Onion Museum.
It’s a fun little place that also houses the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. There’s a wide array of exhibits showing the sweet onion’s economic, cultural and culinary significance. Visitors have an opportunity to see a range of information. The best story is how Vidalia onions were discovered – quite by accident.
Yes, we got to see Yumonion, the official Vidalia mascot. There also are displays of marketing campaigns, Vidalia onion box art and several examples of how the vegetable has been worked into popular culture.
We really enjoyed a music video of Sammy Kershaw performing his country music hit song “Vidalia.” But also there’s a montage of mentions of the vegetable on national TV. Displays included questions on game shows such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” “Cash Cab” and “Jeopardy.” Additionally, there was the use of the local soil as a clue on the CSI Miami television crime drama and a feature on the Today show.
The Iconic Onion Fountain
No trip to Vidalia would be complete without a trip to the Onion Fountain. It’s located in a park behind City Hall, just in front of their City Stage facility.
The six by six foot stainless steel onion was created by local artist Ruth Williams English. It sits in a 20 foot basin pool designed by local landscaper Greg Goff,. The basin includes ten individual pumps which operate both the water feature of the onion and the surrounding pool.
At night visitors can be entertained with multi-colored lights that highlight the water jets that dance to the music played in the park.
Dining in Vidalia
There are many great places to eat in Vidalia. Our favorite hands down was a wonderful place to eat called The Rialto. It is a marvelous Italian restaurant with possibly the best such fare we have ever enjoyed.
I ordered the Arancini Rialto – Arborio rice balls with Romano and mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, breaded and fried to a golden brown. Moreover, it was served on a bed of fresh marinara sauce.
My wife went with the Tomato Basil Bruschetta. The toastpoints were crisp, almost like crackers while the mixture of tomato, basil, onion and garlic pieces were flavorful but not overpowering. She also ordered a salad which was equally delicious.
The best part of the meal easily was the Tiramisu. Stacked high on the plate it was totally flavorful and not overly sweet. It spoiled us for any other of its kind – possibly ever.
For lunch, the Downtown Bistro is a local favorite. The dark and quiet atmosphere plays host to a menu full of salads, sandwiches wraps and deserts. Miss the Mango Coleslaw at your own peril.
For those who want to immerse themselves in Vidalia onions, there are seasonal farm tours where visitors can get a first-hand look at the production end – from growing, to harvesting, to packing and shipping. Those run from the spring to mid summer.
Additionally,there’s the Vidalia Valley Farm Tour.. That excursion shows how the sweet Vidalias are processed and used in condiments. That one ends with a product sampling and everyone goes home with a bottle of Vidalia Onion Product. Purists may be more inclined to take the Toombs-Montgomery County Agri-Tourism Trail. That shows the local rural life and gives participants an opportunity to engage in corn-shucking and hay rides among other things.
Did we mention there are plenty of real Vidalia onions this year? In addition to bags of onions there are onion-based products as well as cookbooks and other suggestions on how to enjoy the local favorite.
Next year’s Vidalia Onion Festival is in the planning stages, with the traditional onion eating contest, a cook-off, beauty pageant, fun run, as well as an arts and crafts show, street dance, carnival and air show. But for those who don’t want to wait a year, and want some real Vidalia onions – there’s plenty to see and do for a trip to southeast Georgia.
Local officials predict this year’s season will run through the end of July – then you’ll just have to wait until next year. Those who follow us know we love to have fun – and this was fun!
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