Restaurant Review: Sycamore Drive-In Restaurant, Bethel, Connecticut

The Sycamore Drive-In Restaurant

By Jonathan Spira on 11 December 2020
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As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, drive-in movie theaters began springing up in droves. It was only natural that drive-in restaurants would also experience a resurgence.  We’ve reviewed several but none has stood out as authentic as the Sycamore Drive-In Restaurant in Bethel, Connecticut.

If you haven’t heard of Bethel, don’t fret, you’ll still be welcome.  While the town covers 16.9 square miles (44 square kilometers) and has a population of 18,500, it is known for being the birthplace of P.T. Barnum, the site of the first Young Communists Meeting that took place in 1922, and the home of battery maker Duracell, whose corporate headquarters I passed en route to the Sycamore.

As I drove from New York City through the winding roads of Putnam County in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut to get to Bethel, stopping to appreciate the beauty of fall foliage that was in peak colors, I wondered whether the Sycamore would be just another pale imitation – or would it be the real thing.

I needn’t have been concerned. As I turned onto Greenwood Avenue, I saw a number of vintage automobiles from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s parked in front, with their owners indulging in burgers, fried clams, chili dogs, grilled cheese, shakes, and homemade root beer.

The Sycamore, which opened in the 1940s when at least two of those automobiles were coming off the assembly line, offers traditional seating (permitted in Connecticut at press time, albeit with restrictions) as well as carhop service.

A carhop – for the uninitiated – is a waiter or waitress who serves customers by taking orders at the driver’s window and then delivering the food on a special tray that mounts onto the car’s open window. The tray is known as a carhop tray.  Please do not confuse a drive-in restaurant with a drive-through, such as what so many fast-food establishments offer to merely pick up food orders.

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