For those familiar with the uninspired drive between Columbus and Cleveland, the Ashland exit (exit 186) is a well-known waypoint along the I71 trek. As if the location wasn’t convenient enough to break up the journey (it’s just a little farther than the half-way point when driving north), Ashland’s allure includes the Goasis (a full-service gas station/convenience store) and Grandpa’s Cheesebarn, which features a plethora of free samples including dips, pickled vegetables, and (of course) cheese. Because of their proximity to the highway, our many trips to and from Cleveland have included stops at Ashland that have been evenly split between the Goasis and Grandpa’s Cheesebarn. But acting on a recent tip from a friend, we ventured less than a mile off the interstate into Ashland proper and were rewarded with lunch at the Ashland-Wooster Drive In.
A drive-in in the purest sense, the Ashland-Wooster features full carhop service, complete with the (always cool) window tray attachment, as well as a drive-thru window for to-go service. While there has been a resurgence of popularity in retro drive-ins and diners, the Ashland-Wooster Drive In (like similar Ohio establishments Swensons Drive In and Skyway Drive In) isn’t a contrived nostalgia concept restaurant; it is an authentic relic of an earlier era that’s been in business for over 50 years.
The food is reasonably priced and simple, though (as their website points out) they do not offer burgers. We ordered a coney basket which included fries and coleslaw. The hotdog came in a nicely steamed bun (my personal favorite) and was topped with onions and a delicious homemade coney sauce. The fries were freshly cut and arrived with our order right out of the fryer, nice and hot. To wash it all down, we had to try the homemade root beer. Made with cane sugar (no HFCS), it was sweet and contained subtle earthy/spicy notes, a telltale sign this was no ordinary fountain drink. While it could have stood to have a little more carbonation, it was the perfect accompaniment to the coney and fries, as well as a welcome refreshment for a long drive on a hot summer day.
The Ashland-Wooster Drive In is yet another good reason to stop at the Ashland exit. Its accessibility to the interstate makes a visit the perfect excuse to take a break from the monotonous stretch of road that links Columbus and Cleveland.