03 November, 2009

An Old Fashioned A&W - Greenville RI

I should have written this post a long time ago - like back in the early autumn when I first found the place - but there always seemed to be something else going on. Now, their season is winding down, and I'm not sure how much longer anyone will be able to visit the drive-up A&W Root Beer stand in Greenville RI before they close for the season.

When I was a kid, just about every town had an A&W stand. They were one of the first franchised "fast food" places, starting way back before 1920, and by the 1960's there were thousands of locations all over the country. They fell on hard times, though, and a lot of locations closed before they were finally taken over - and kind of rejuvenated - by YUM! Brands, the same company that owns KFC and Taco Bell.

Anyway, most recent A&W visits I've made have been to places that shared space with a KFC. But when I was a wee sprog, A&Ws were low-slung little buildings, sometimes with a big "wing" sticking out the front tagged with an A&W sign, where you drove up, a carhop came out to your car and took your order, and returned with your food on a tray that cantilevered from the window opening of the car. There was never any indoor seating, but some of them had outdoor picnic tables (and you could walk up to a window and order.) To be honest, I thought all of that was a thing of the past - the last A&W drive up local to me closed in the early 1980's.

We never expected to find this little place, which we stumbled upon when we were questing for a Rhode Island KFC in our search for the Double Down sandwich. But since that first time, we've been back for more visits. It's a nostalgic trip back in time for Maryanne and I, and we found that the root beer on tap is almost as good as it was back then (and it's still better than the bottled version in the supermarket.)

Like many of the A&W I remember from my youth, service is available both at the window and from your car, and there is a lean-to off the side of the building sheltering a handful of picnic tables. On a few of our visits (splendid and mild autumn days with the trees breaking out in full color) the picnic tables were crowded and the carhops busy, so we simply ordered at the window and brought our own food to the car.

Apparently, A&W places have a little more leeway with their menus than most fast food chains. There were many "non-standard" items, like fried clams, clamcakes, and both kinds of clam chowder (clear-broth, or "Rhode Island" style, and white "New England" style.) The clam cakes were great. Maryanne and I tried a bag of clamcakes, and they were great - big savory fried fritters loaded with chunks of meaty quahogs. The chowders were decent as well, though I admit to a slight preference for the Rhode Island style over the New England here, because the New England chowder was thickened with starch rather than a buttery milky roux. Be sure to get there early if you plan on getting the Rhode Island chowder. It's a popular item and they sell out by the end of the lunchtime rush.

As far as more traditional A&W eats go: The fries are decent - I know A&W's curly fries have a cult following, but I just can't bring myself to get all excited about spuds. The burgers are much better than McDonald's or Wendy's and would even have an edge on Burger King if they were flame-broiled. Still, we weren't at all disappointed by them. Onion rings are real sliced onion, coated in a tasty batter. Plain hot dogs were underwhelming, though the chili dogs - once upon a time my primary reason for going to A&W - were just as awesoome as I remember, though you need to take that with a grain of salt and remember that chilidogs appeal to my inner 8-year-old.

The service is fast and the food is decent, nostalgic fun. The carhop service and window trays are kind of cool, too - Zim thought so, anyway, when he hopped into the driver's seat to see what all the fuss was about.

If you're in the area during the season, I recommend you check them out - they're on US44 in Greenville (460 Putnam Pike.) They're open from March through October. Go on a Tuesday night in the summer, and you can check out the classic cars at their Cruise Night events.


Eating The Road said...

I love A&W! You're right their root beer on tap is awesome, it's by far my favorite soda anywhere, bottled, canned or whatever.

Those crab cakes sounds great. I love that they can the freedom to have specials like that.

Did you ever find that Double Down Sandwich from KFC? That sounds epic, I want to try one. I've heard great things.

Dave said...

The KFC where we got our Double Downs is just up the street from this A&W. Double Downs are pretty bitchin', BTW. I reviewed them here.