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Restaurant Review: Swensons

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Restaurant Review: SwensonsPhotos by Lauren Sega.
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Swensons is an Akron-based drive-in restaurant that dates back to 1934. Since its founding, its outlets have multiplied, but never in Columbus. After decades, Swensons has finally arrived in town. It’s understandable that things were a little extra-crazed at first at its new location on Sawmill Road. Crowded restaurants can be scary enough, but a drive-in eatery ups the ante; it means customers vie for spaces in the parking lot while encapsulated in cumbersome vehicular boxes.

A few weeks after opening, the crowds at Swensons are less overwhelming. Outside of primetime hours, the parking lot is only half-filled: that makes it easier to check things out.

Regulars already know stuff about Swensons that newbies do not. Like, how this whole thing works. Swensons doesn’t look anything like a Sonic, which would be a more ubiquitous drive-in establishment. Unlike traditional set-ups, there’s no carport stationed with mounted menus. Instead, Swensons is a big building with lots of parking spaces, like pretty much any restaurant.

So, if you don’t already know, you pull in and take a space, any space. You’ll want to pull in so your vehicle is facing the restaurant building: That’s a rule (or recommendation, not sure which). There’s a good chance that, to achieve this position, you’ll be backing into a parking space. Be ready for that.

A server will bring you a menu, and when you’re ready to order, you flip your headlights on.

From there, it’s pretty easy. A server takes your order, then you sit in the car and wait. It’s mildly entertaining to watch the servers run — and they literally run here. Not fast-walking: running. Even during slower times, it’s still pretty busy, so running is the only way for servers to cover the massive parking lot and keep up with the endless orders.

The food items arrive not quite as attractive-looking as they are on the menu photos, but that shouldn’t be a shock. That’s pretty much the case everywhere. Here’s a run-down on items tried so far.

Chicken Nuggets ($2.75): Nope. They’re highly processed and perfectly oval. Plenty of fast food joints make something more likable in nugget land, so that’s a one and done.

Shrimp Snack ($4.95): Is actually surprisingly okay. An order provides a whole bag of crunchy-coated fried shrimp. They’re bigger than salad shrimp, big enough to have tails, and plentiful enough to feel like a good entree.

Galley Boy ($3.90): This is an award-winning double-cheeseburger. It’s definitely okay, built on two slim patties, cheese and a typical soft bun with some messy house sauces for flavor. The meat retains meat-texture, so that’s a plus on the fast food scene; other than that, it does not seem to be particularly magical. Those who want more creative control can customize the slim burgers with various traditional toppings and extras from the menu.

Onion rings ($2.50): Are quite large; soft inside, crackling outside. They do what they’re supposed to do.

Potato Puffs ($2.10): Skip those. They’re tator tots and nothing special; indistinguishable from the ones you’d make at home.

Potato Teezers ($2.60): Are a way better choice. There’s cheese inside: melted cheese that oozes out and merges with the starchy goodness of potato and some token mild jalapeño. The Teezers disappeared before everything else in the order.

Fries ($2.10): The fries were slightly dry, and needed love or salt: should have gotten more Teazers instead.

Brownie Sundae ($3.35): It’s low-brow, but lovable. The sundae is built on a dense, chewy brownie, and topped with a swirl of vanilla ice cream and sticky hot fudge.

Chocolate Milk Shake ($3.25): Loved that too. Thick, chocolatey, milky sweet. What’s not to love? You can score a 32oz milkshake for $6.50. While mammoth, this seems like a reasonable future goal.

All in, it’s fast food, but it’s Ohio-grown, and that counts for something. You can give it a test-drive(in) at 7490 Sawmill Rd.

For more information, visit swensonsdriveins.com.

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