Welcome to the well-run first local branch of a beloved Akron fast-food chain that began serving its famous, semi-sweetened burgers in 1934
Swensons is a fast-food chain so beloved by past and present denizens near its home base of Akron that I'm guessing every such person reading this is cursing me for not awarding a perfect review to the first local Swensons that recently opened in Dublin.
To such fanatics, I would like to unequivocally state that I like Swensons. And I know it's been cited as one of the country's best burger joints by Forbes, Business Insider and (more impressively) Akron native LeBron James. But, come on, perfection is a bit high. Besides, as someone not raised on its fare, I have an outsider's perspective and needed to acclimate to the operation's claim to fame: sweetened — ostensibly by brown sugar — hamburgers.
Make that “hamburgs.” That's how this endearingly retro business, which began serving customers in 1934, refers to its crowd-pleasing ground-beef sandwiches.
Quirky nomenclature is only one of the qualities that distinguishes this eminently charming Northeastern Ohio classic. Its constantly hustling and remarkably efficient carhop servers might top the list.
Swensons offers no dining room. Instead, patrons pull into a large parking lot and turn on their lights to request service. This results in a server immediately running over — and I mean sprinting — to the car. Considering that many other dashing-about servers are carrying armfuls of food, this is like watching the craziest track meet ever. Note: If the lot is full, a facilitator will ably assist a makeshift lineup of cars to find the first available parking spaces. This happened to me, and my wait was negligible.
Your dining options are to receive rapidly delivered bags of hot food and drive off, or to eat in your car. If you choose the second option — let's face it, that's more fun — your grub will be brought out on a metal tray able to dangle from a window.
As previously mentioned, Swensons' burgers — which are memorably fashioned with thin, griddle-seared, diner-style patties and puffy, distinct, high-quality toasted buns — are a little sweet. This might seem perplexing to first-timers, but is easy to get used to, and even crave.
Especially if you order them with (always melted) cheese and “everything.” At Swensons, everything means sweetness-offsetting mustard, pickles and onion. Certainly, the burger prices are hard to beat: Cheeseburg ($2.75), Double Cheeseburg ($3.25), Quarter Pounder ($3.90).
You'll likely notice “Home of the Galley Boy” is written on Swensons' building, its old-school waxy bags and on the lips of countless admirers. So try a Galley Boy ($3.90), the highly and often celebrated double-cheeseburger with two “secret sauces” — think tartar, plus tangy, onion-accented barbecue — garnished with a toothpick-speared olive. Fans of the Frisch's Big Boy will recognize this as a not-so-distant cousin.
Among nicely fried accompaniments, the fries ($2.10) are OK; the tot-like Potato Puffs ($2.10) are better. Better yet are the delightfully craggy Onion Rings ($2.50) and the must-order Potato Teezers ($2.60) — tots crossed with jalapeno poppers.
Looking to explore more of the menu? Pass on the squishy Grilled Chicken Breast sandwich ($4.50) and stick to fare made with the place's semi-sweet ground beef: the good and hearty Vegetable Beef Soup ($2.50); hefty, accurately named Sloppy Joe ($2.95) livened by green peppers, onions and hints of cumin; and the satisfying Hot Dog made with a standard but appealingly seared weenie beefed-up with almost-Cincy-style coney sauce ($2.75).
What to drink? The amusing “California” ($1.50), an “Akronism” made by combining 7Up with grape soda, is worth a try. I prefer the milkshakes ($3.25), available in 18 flavors such as the pleasant mocha and — LeBron's favorite — banana.