After much anticipation, Swensons Drive-In has arrived in Columbus! I’ve been hearing so many great things about this nostalgic burger joint that when Yelp Columbus invited me out for a taste, I jumped at the chance. And then I quickly realized that I had much to learn about Swensons. I don’t want you to be as clueless as I was, so I’m sharing everything you need to know about Swensons Columbus!
First of all, it’s called Swensons DRIVE-IN. And unlike the only other drive-in that Columbus has (Sonic), it doesn’t particularly LOOK like a drive-in. I mean, there’s a parking lot. And what appears to be a restaurant in the middle. Pretty normal looking actually. Nothing screams “drive-in”.
But that’s what it is, so don’t park and then walk out of your car. There’s a whole genius system in place, folks.
And I’m going off topic slightly – but in case you didn’t know, I’m married to a guy whose personality type is INTJ. Which basically means his brain is a little machine, constantly absorbing, organizing, and spitting out information based on his observations.
We pulled in to our parking spot facing the building. But the entire row behind us backed into their spot.
Which to me, is just, you know, a fun coincidence. But I could see my husband’s eyebrows furrowed which means he’s busy observing things and getting ready to spit out relevant and brilliant information.
“Okay. I get it. I see why they’re backing in, but our row pulled in.” I held my breath, dying to know what he was going to say.
“Okay. So you communicate with the car hops by turning on your headlights. So they have to see your headlights, which they do if you pull in facing them, but if you’re in the row behind, you have to back in. Totally makes sense now.”
There you have it folks. Genius communication, and no need to flag down a car hop or get out of your car.
How To Order at Swensons Columbus
Step 1: Pick your location. There are currently two central Ohio locations. One in the Polaris area (2012 Ikea Way, Columbus, OH 43240) and one in Dublin (7490 Sawmill Rd, Dublin, OH 43016).
Step 2: Park your car. Make sure the car hops can see your head lights – so pull in to your spot if you are facing the restaurant, or back in to your spot if you are parking on the perimeter.
Step 3: Turn on your headlights for service. As soon as your headlights turn on, a car hop will sprint to your car with a smile. I read about that on their website, and I thought to myself, that’s a bit corny, no? But honestly, when I saw it happen in action, it totally melted my heart and made me smile. They really do sprint to your car. I love it.
Step 4: Once you’ve ordered your meal, turn off your headlights. The car hops will take your order inside, and everything will be made fresh to order. While it does take a few minutes longer than a traditional drive thru window, the food is worth waiting for.
Step 5: Your car hop will bring out your meal. If you choose to eat in your car, and I think you totally should for the nostalgic, retro aspect – they will clip a tray to your window with your food. Or, you can take your food to go.
Step 6: Remember the headlights trick? If you find yourself needing ketchup, ranch, extra napkins, etc. – just flash those lights and someone will come sprinting out with a smile!
Step 7: When you’re finished with your meal, flash those lights back on and a car hop will come grab your trash. Happy dining!
What to order at Swensons Columbus
Whenever I visit a new spot, I always ask myself what they are known for and try to order that. And Swensons Drive-In is known for their burgers. Specifically, Swensons is known for “The Galley Boy.”
What’s a Galley Boy?
Glad you asked! A Galley Boy is a double cheeseburger topped with two special sauces. (well, actually it’s a double cheeseburg – but more on that later). If you order it “with everything,” you will get mustard, dill pickles and onions, and it comes garnished with an olive.
Or, you can pick from a handful of toppings and order it however you’d like. I suggest ordering the original “with everything.”
Fun fact: Forbes Magazine rated the Galley Boy as America’s best cheeseburger!
But I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself here. You’ll probably start your order with a drink. And man do they have some fun options! In addition to the regular soda line up (you can add flavor to any soda), Swensons Columbus also offers phosphates (old fashioned drinks made with soda water and fountain syrup), ice-cream sodas, malts & shakes (18 flavors).
Two things stand out:
Swensons Specialties – The “Florida” – an orange soda based drink (Florida oranges?) the “California” – a grape soda based drink (California grape/wine country?) and the “Ohio” – a cherry soda based drink. (Ok, I’ve lived here my whole life and I don’t get the Ohio = cherries connection. Anyone care to fill me in?)
Mint Whip – This was unlike anything I’ve ever tried. Kind of a creamy, minty, ginger ale? Definitely stood out.
My six year old ordered a lemon flavored milk shake, and I totally gave her the side-eye because that just sounds wrong, but I tried it and it was actually delicious – tasted like a lemonsicle. Yum. But also weird. Hubby got a coffee milkshake. It was delicious!
Next up – order your main course. Besides the aforementioned Galley Boy, you can choose from all kinds of things – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dog, sloppy joe, grilled cheese, friend bologna, BLT, fish sandwich, veggie burger, and even egg salad!
Sandwiches are served a la carte, so you can choose a side item. I was not a fan of the fries, and suggest you skip them – but really loved the “Potato Teezers” and the onion rings. Also available were fried mushrooms, fried zucchini, potato puffs, apple sauce and coleslaw.
My husband described the Teezers as a cross between a tater tot and a jalepeno popper and I totally agree. Delicious. And the onion rings were just how I like them – super crunchy!
They also have a few “dinner” options – fried shrimp, fried fish, or chicken fingers, which were served with fries, a bun, and your choice of applesauce or coleslaw.
Also on the menu were garden salads, desserts, and a children’s menu.
All the Questions I Had While Dining at Swensons Drive-In – Columbus
Is it just me or do you have a million questions about everything all the time? Probably just me. Anyway, here’s all the things that went through my mind that I had to get answers to. I decided to save you the effort and just get ’em answered for you. You’re welcome.
What’s the difference between “hamburg” and hamburger?
So this one was a bit puzzling to me. I’ve never heard of a hamburger being referred to as a “hamburg” before. I felt so quaint ordering myself a cheeseburg. I almost said it with a vaguely European accent…
Swensons Drive-In originated in 1934 and they’ve kept things pretty much the same ever since. So maybe that’s just what they called hamburgers back in the day. I also found an article on Wikipedia that stated that a “hamburg steak” was “a patty of ground beef.”
Which basically sounds like a hamburger to me, no? I’m still scratching my head on this one.
Should you tip at Swenson’s?
Going in to my first drive-in experience, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I mean, I don’t tip when I go through the drive thru, but a drive-in? Should you tip your car hop? Well folks, now that I’ve experienced it, I can confidently say, yes, absolutely tip your car hop. They are legitimately serving you. They sprint out to you with a smile, take your order, bring it out, and will happily run out if you need something during your meal, and then run out once again to clean up your trash. In summer’s heat or the winter’s cold….they run out to you. (Ok, fess up, who all started singing Carmen Ohio with me right there?)
So please, tip your car hop at Swensons.
What are the two special sauces on the Galley Boy?
It reminded me of a zesty ranch and an onion-y bbq sauce. Whatever it was, it was delicious!
What should I order at Swenson’s?
If you ask me, you should order a Galley Boy, Teezers, and a mint whip. But you should do you, boo.
Ok, and maybe also a Xango? A Xango is basically a deep fried cheesecake with your choice of topping. Yummmmm.
Will you be trying out the new Swensons Drive-In locations in Columbus? Hope this guide helps you know what to do.
Disclosure: Food samples were provided by the restaurant. Thoughts and opinions are my own.