Alison Matas compares favorites at three local drive-ins.
Summertime in Ohio is synonymous with the long-cherished pastime of eating in your car.
We got a jump-start on the tradition this year and tested a few of our local drive-ins to determine which would be your best bet this season.
It’s hard to go wrong with a dinner of burgers, milkshakes and fried sides, but some places offered better versions of the classically American cuisine than others. Each had similar prices—we ended up spending about $30 every time, including tip.
To keep it fair, we sampled the same types of food at the drive-ins—cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings and shakes—plus any fare the drive-in is famous for.
Get ready to grab your cash and your napkins (this stuff is greasy!), settle into your front seat and turn on your headlights.
Woody’s Root Beer Stand
Woody’s is Canton’s drive-in. The seasonal restaurant opened in 1947 and packs a nostalgic punch.
We started our drive-in journey at Woody’s and weren’t overly impressed wth this hometown favorite. I realize this opinion might get me slaughtered by people who grew up going here, and I really wanted to love it, but I just didn’t.
The food highlights were the cheeseburgers, which weren’t so different from Swensons. The vanilla malt shake also was tasty.
The sides were my biggest struggle: The unsalted crinkle-cut fries appeared to have come straight from one of those bags you can buy in the frozen-food section at the grocery store. The same was true for the five small onion rings we got.
As for the house-made root beer, we had it both in a mug and in a float. It’s a weaker flavor than I expected, and I liked it better in the float than I did on its own.
Other menu offerings at Woody’s—which get rave reviews on social media—include coneys, sloppy joes and a creamy chicken sandwich.
Swensons opened in 1934 on South Hawkins Avenue in West Akron. Today, there are seven Swensons restaurants to choose from, including two in Stark County.
The drive-in was a close second to Skyway, and it was a winner in one aspect: We agreed that Swensons has the best milkshakes of all the restaurants we tried. We opted for peanut butter with swirls of hot fudge, and key lime, and they were smooth, thick and creamy.
Swensons’ website boasts 18 milkshake flavors. Classic choices include chocolate, root beer and lemon, and special flavors include mocha, mint and butterscotch.
The rest of the food, while slightly less-awesome than Skyway, still was worth the trip.
The burgers at Swensons were flavorful, and the signature Galley Burger (with two special sauces) was a hit.
Among the sides: The onion rings are thin and crispy and have the right breading-to-onion ratio, the fries were warm and lightly salted, and the potato teezers were delicious.
Skyway—a Summit County staple—opened in 1952 in Fairlawn.
This drive-in edged out the other competitors and was our overall pick for best food, with the big burgers, fries and homemade onion rings sealing the deal.
Skyway boasts several gourmet burgers that are pricier than what you usually might find at a drive-in but totally worth it. One burger is a massive meal on its own. We ordered two: Aunt Ruth’s onion ring burger, which has onion rings shoved between two patties and topped with cheese, lettuce and Sky Hi sauce; and the ultimate burger, which has three patties, bacon, cheese, lettuce tomato and Sky Hi sauce.
Fair warning: These are stomach bombs, for sure, but they’re also as amazing as they sound.
Aunt Ruth’s famous homemade onion rings were crunchy and our favorite of all the onion rings we ate, and the fries and potato teasers (a fried concoction of
jalapeño, cheese and potato) were the best we tried, too. Everything came out fresh and piping hot.