2538 Whitney Avenue, Hamden CT 06518; map); 203-281-0604; glenwooddrivein.com
Cooking Method: Grilled.
Short Order: Superb charbroiled burger from a classic circa-1950 drive in.
Want Fries with That? Yes, but don't miss the superb onion rings either. Order Frings for the best of both worlds.
Price: Hamburger, $3.25; cheeseburger, $3.55; Frings, $3.65
"I have been coming here for 50 years and I have never tried the hamburger; I always get the hot dogs," chuckled the elderly lady, as if the joke was on me for getting the burger instead of the famous hot dogs on my first visit to the Glenwood-Drive In. I was standing in the parking lot taking a picture of the vintage restaurant when she approached me to sing the praises of the place, laud the hot dogs, and reminisce about a life wasted avoiding a hamburger. Fifty years is almost as long as the Glenwood Drive-In has been in business, and it has remained in the hands of the same family since the patriarch, the improbably named Rocky Stone, purchased it back in 1955. The name Rocky Stone sounds like he should have been a boxer, but he actually delivered bread to the Glenwood before buying the restaurant.
When Rocky passed on in 1960, his son Wayne Stone, who sounds like he should have been a wealthy philanthropist, took over and expanded the menu. The building and signs have undergone a number of transformations over the decades, seemingly mirroring the body shapes of automobiles of the day, but seem to have stalled out in the late 1970s.
Fortunately, the food seems to be unaffected by modernity as well. The reasonably priced portions of quintessential New England comfort food—hot dogs, lobster rolls, and fried clams—are huge, and according to the lady in the parking lot have not changed over time. Although she could not speak for the hamburger, I can't imagine that it has changed much either—it has a classic architecture and corresponding taste.
The cheeseburger is made from fresh beef that is charbroiled. The grill puts some nice hatch marks on the patty, but more importantly gives it a familiar smoky flavor. I generally prefer griddle-cooked burgers, but this one makes a compelling case for grilling. The thin patty comes out invariably cooked medium to well done even when requested rare, but it doesn't really matter—the meat is tender and stays moist enough. One of the virtues of charbroiling is that much of the flavor is derived from the grill itself, so any flavor lost by cooking beyond medium is compensated for in a way that a griddle cannot.
The cheese, a white American that seems to be de rigueur on Connecticut burgers, comes perfectly melted. The white squishy bun is soft and fresh; the vibrantly hued tomato, lettuce, and onion are crunchy and fresh. Can you see where I am going here? This is one fresh burger that even in early fall has the taste of summer.
Don't skip the fries—they are crinkle cut, golden, and crunchy. But even more impressive are the onion rings, which are "made by hand, from slicing to breading." Or just order the Frings—a half and half order.
Save room for dessert as well. The adjoined Kelly's Kone Konnection serves some award-winning ice cream. In fact, according to Glenwood's website the hot dogs, lobster rolls, and onion rings are all award-winning. Why has no one awarded the burgers anything? It deserves some kind of award—beyond the AHT seal of approval, that is.
I can't wait to get back to the Glenwood Drive-In to try the famous hot dogs, the huge plates of golden fried clam strips that I so admired while waiting for my food order, and, of course, the great hamburgers. I don't feel foolish for putting the burger before the dog on my first visit to the Glenwood Drive-In, at least not as much as if I had been going there for half a century and had yet to try the hamburger.