Unlike such nearby states as Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, there aren't a whole lot of old-fashioned roadside restaurants in Massachusetts, especially in the Boston area and the eastern part of the state in general. Sure, a few diners can be found here and there and occasionally you might discover a seafood shack in the middle of nowhere or maybe a drive-in restaurant, but they tend to be few and far between. One such place fits in the last of these categories (though it also feels a bit like a diner as well), and it resides in the beautiful town of Groton, just under an hour northwest of downtown Boston. And while Groton is a prosperous community that has a slightly button-down feel with its clapboard colonial houses and its sparse scattering of restaurants and shops, it is indeed home to Johnson's Drive-In, which is the type of roadside eatery that one might find on Route 17 in New Jersey or Route 20 in New York.
Johnson's Drive-In is tucked away on the side of a hill along a winding section of Route 119, giving it the feel of being a bit further away from Boston than it really is. The squat, one-story place is a true drive-in, with head-in parking out front, a large counter area with grills and all kinds of food equipment and displays in plain sight behind the counter, a rustic dining area with "communal" wooden picnic tables, a low-slung lacquered wooden ceiling, and old-fashioned sconces along the walls. Out back is an outdoor patio that is used during the warmer months, and further back is more outdoor seating that is basically tucked into the woods above the restaurant and is a great place to sit on a hot summer day.
Being that it's a drive-in, Johnson's is all about classic American fare and comfort food, with little in the way of healthy food, but lots in the way of very tasty grub. All of the familiar items can be found here, including juicy griddled burgers with a sufficiently-high fat content; hot dogs that have little "snap" and are placed in grilled, buttered buns; chicken baskets that are filled with battered fried chicken and can be ordered as a basket of wings, breasts, thighs, or a mix of all three; sandwiches such as an excellent steak and cheese, a house-made meatball sub, and a tender roast beef; pizza slices that are rather large and have a fairly thick crust; some of the tastiest fried clams you'll have away from the water (and the non-rubbery clam strips are decent as well); other seafood items such as shrimp, fried scallops, and haddock plates and a fish sandwich along with non-greasy fish and chips; stacks of onion rings that are also light on the grease; an unusual side of pepper rings that are delicious; well-seasoned curly fries; and, for the kids, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, and a peanut butter sandwich. Prices are, as you would expect, quite low, with only a few dishes surpassing the $10 mark, and service is excellent overall, with a staff that seems to include folks who have been doing this for a long time. By the way, ice cream is a big draw here, as many flavors are offered, and it is all house-made.
It probably won't win any awards for food presentation or inventiveness, but Johnson's Drive-In fills a niche that sorely needs to be filled in and around the Greater Boston area--a down-and-dirty roadside food shack that serves up dishes that bring back memories of childhood (unless you happen to be a child, in which it's a great place to develop memories). Add to the old-timey food and atmosphere a particularly scenic ride from Beantown and you have the type of dining spot where getting there is half the fun.
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