Monday, May 4, 2009

An Akron Classic: Swensons and the Galley Boy

If there's one place that anyone who is a transplant from Akron always asks about, it's Swensons. Swensons is a drive-in carhop joint that started in 1934 and has now grown to seven locations in North and West Akron, North Canton, Montrose, Stow, Seven Hills, and Jackson. While the original one on the corners of West Market Street and Hawkins has been demolished and rebuilt, any of the locations offer the same Swensons drive-in experience.

When I got out of work today at 6:30, it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny, and just gorgeous. Perfect weather for a trip to Swensons! And since there is a location on my way home, it made even more sense. When you pull in, find a parking spot and turn on your car's headlights. This indicates you need a server. On the wall is the basic menu:

Fortunately, I already knew what I wanted (since you can download a copy of their menu from the website), so I didn't have to ponder too long when my rather cute carhop ran up to my car to greet me. Pleasantries exchanged, I placed my order and as quickly as he ran up to my car, he ran back inside to turn my order in.

After about ten minutes, he returned with the classic "window hooking" tray with all my food on it:

On deck are my Galley Boy, an order of onion rings, and my cherry milkshake. The Galley Boy is one of Swensons signature items and the skewered olive on top is just a reminder that you can only get this here in northeast Ohio. Unfortunately, because of the odd angle that I was sitting in the car and trying to take pictures out the driver's side window, I decided to photograph individual items after they were brought inside the car.

First up, the cherry milkshake (and yes, I am actually balancing these things on my pants while I photograph them -- hey, you do what you gotta do):

They have three sizes, 12, 16, and 32 ounces. I went for the 16 ounce size and was pleasantly rewarded with a nice, thick, creamy milkshake that had a nice cherry flavor, but wasn't too over the top. I can't imagine ordering the 32 ounce size ... that would be a lot of milkshake! And while this milkshake was good (I'd order it again), I do think that Tommy's in Coventry sets the bar when it comes to amazing milkshakes.

Next up were the onion rings with ranch dressing as a dip:

These were fine, better than some other examples I've tried. The menu states that they are Swensons own recipe and they certainly are tasty. Nice and crunchy on the outside with a nice thick creamy onion on the inside. The ranch dressing dip was, well, ranch dressing. They didn't do anything to gussy it up. Which is kind of a shame since that could really add to the Swensons mystique.

Finally, a close-up of the Galley Boy. First, wrapped:

And then, unwrapped (after I ate the olive, of course!):

The Galley Boy is a double cheeseburger served on a grilled bun with two special sauces, tartar sauce and a sweet BBQ sauce. Now one might think, "Ack! That sounds awful!" But I can assure you this is one of those instances where the food gods have smiled upon mankind and allowed them to indulge in this really wonderful burger. Sweet, savory, grilled, cheesy, creamy, crusty. It's all there in one sandwich. Normally I like to alternate between bites of burger and whatever side I've ordered. Not this time. Before I realized what I had done, I looked down to discover that my Galley Boy was GONE. I looked over at my poor onion rings and realized I hadn't eaten a single one.

The final bill for my indulgence wasn't terribly expensive either, just a shade over $9, $12 with tip. They've got lots of other great items on their menu, but it's really hard to go wrong with the Galley Boy. As it is the start of summer, I can see myself going back many more times over the next couple of months. And having just as delicious a meal.


Anonymous said...

I love Swenson's and their Galley Boy. Their burgers are simply the best. The milkshakes are good too. I hit the one in Stow just about every time I go to Bow Wow Beach on Stow Road. It's worth driving forty minutes.

Tino said...

Swenson's in general seems to strike such a profound chord in many of the people who read my blog. And while I didn't come to the Swenson's party until later in life, I can totally understand why.

Anonymous said...

I always get a galley boy when we come back home to visit. You're right, it's an unexplainable Akron thing. Luckily, unlike some other nostalagic foods, the galley boy is actually good! Glad you'll be in KC!

Marmish aka Beth

Adan said...

i'm glad you linked this. the galley boy was mysterious. many people told me to order it, but no one told me what the sauces were. it sounds interesting! i know exactly what I am ordering next time i go!

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Swenson's and LOVE IT. I go to there every time I go home - I will go there before visiting my family! THEN on our way out of town we will order food and take a few burgers to take home (we live 3 hours away). Though I am not a fan of the Galley Boy, I love their other burgers, potato puffs, shakes, Floridas, poppers, etc etc etc. Now I'm hungry for Swenson's....*sigh*

Amy Waldfogle said...

bastard! (just sayin')

Anonymous said...

Did you know thge Galley Boy basket came from a small rest. in wadsworth ohio? I worked there 40 years ago and It was called cooks drive in it had curb service. But the owner made the first Galley Boy basket ever.

Tino said...

@Anonymous: So if the Galley Boy was invented at Cooks Drive-In, how did it migrate to becoming the signature sandwich at Swensons?

Bite Buff said...

Love Swenson's, but have yet to try the Galley Boy. My boyfriend swears by it, so I think that I have to take the plunge soon. :)

Becky said...

I remember having the Galley Boy at Cooks's Drive In in Wadsworth while in high school in the lat also was a car hop. The Galley Boy was great then and just as delicious now when I have one occasionally at Swenson's.

I wonder how Swenson's came up with the identical sandwich?

Becky M

Randall said...

Third best Burger in Akron area. Whitey's is the best, and for car-hop style, Skyway has Swenson's beat. Back when I ate this stuff I would order a burger from each place after work just to see which one was better. Even alternated which one I would eat first. Skyway came out on top every time. That said, we are talking about two great burgers here, best in NE Ohio which puts them high in the running for best world-wide. Other area favs: Bob's Hanburg on East Ave. in Akron -- not sure if they are still open. Louie's Lunch on Tallmadge Ave. And the main burger at Larry's Main Entrance. They were putting eggs on burgers long before Michael Symon.

Tino said...

@Randall: Bob's Hamburg is still indeed open and in fact, I have an upcoming post to talk of my experience there.

Louie's Lunch I'm not so sure about. There is Louie's Bar and Grill (which I've written about twice now), but I suspect they might be different.

I may just have to add Larry's to my list of places to eat. I have friends who used to go there often until they moved away. Thanks for the suggestions.

Bartman said...

I can answer your question cooks was owned by my great grandfather his son in law my grandfather invented the galley boy and was the 2nd owner of swensons. His name was Robert Phillips you can google him and swensons

Bartman said...

Cooks was owned by my great grandfather who's son in law my grandfather Robert Phillips was the 2nd owner of swensons and inventor of the galley boy

Anonymous said...

RE: Cooks drive-in in Wadsworth

I remember this drive-in as a very young child. They had some sandwiches they were famous for in the area. I forget what they were. Could someone list them, and maybe make available some memorabilia?


Unknown said...

I remember Cook's Drive-In well they had good galley boys and good french fried mushrooms

Unknown said...

Cook's Drive-In was located in the tailgaters parking lot I believe

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