Swan boats. Games at Fenway Park. Patriots Day, and the Boston Marathon. Certain milestones mark the start of spring around here, reassuring in their predictability — especially when it’s snowing. And for so many of us who live west of Boston, spring means a cash-only hot dog and soft serve at Dairy Joy in Weston.
The roadside stand has opened for the season, just as it has every year since 1961, bringing delight and relief for the housebound and hungry. One recent gloomy March day, a line of people ordered ice cream and scurried back to their cars with paper trays of burgers. An intrepid few even sat on damp picnic benches, casting aside winter gloves to peck at onion rings. Summer is almost here, dammit.
There are curmudgeons, of course. My husband breaks out in hives just thinking about the place.
Why? Well, it’s not cheap. We usually spend $60 or more for our family of three-plus-baby. It’s also cash-only (although an on-site ATM now alleviates the woe of ordering a cone and realizing you’re a dollar short). There are no bathrooms; parents of small children, go before you leave or risk a walk in the woods. Lines can be long. Really long on warm summer weekends, stretching back onto Route 117.
But loyal fans — and there are many, including me — say so what. Dairy Joy is synonymous with all that’s innocent and fun about summertime. You can roll up in swimsuits or flip-flops. Your children can run more or less free; at these picnic tables, almost anything goes. Dropped an onion ring or a fry? It’s just a matter of time before a pigeon scoops it up.
The menu is straightforward: burgers, hot dogs, onion rings, heaps of fried clams. There are no new-fangled ice cream flavors or toppings. The person preparing your sundae is most likely a college kid with a tip jar, just as it has been since time immemorial. You shout your order through a screen. There are mosquitoes, usually. But that’s how summer goes. Sometimes there’s sand in your car. Sometimes you get sunburned. Sometimes you spend a little too much money on fried scallops.
There is also something leveling about such a place smack in the middle of swanky Weston. This is the American Dream, right here, Porsches and BMWs next to banged-up Corollas, everyone in search of their seafood fix at magic hour.
I’ve been coming to Dairy Joy since I was a kid, and now I take my own kids, giddy with the anticipation of onion rings, a wad of cash in my wallet. (My older son calls it “the place with no potties.” Really. Go before you leave the house.)
We usually order from the Specials menu, a sign in old-timey script that hasn’t changed since I became sentient in 1985 or so. This is the best deal: You can get a hot dog plus fries and a small drink for $8.95, or a burger for $9.20.
In general, though, you should prepare to part with a little cash. A mixed seafood plate is $26.95; market prices for lobster rolls, clams, or shrimp can climb even higher, depending. But hey: Once you’re dipping a taut, crunchy little fried clam into a paper cup of tartar sauce, you won’t mind a bit. Oh, you’ll also want to get a tray of onion rings — crispy, skinny little oil dispensers — for an extra $6.95. (That’s for the small size. You really don’t need a large, unless you have an army of children.)
Head back to a picnic bench and listen for your number to be called. Grab a plastic cup of water from the fat orange cooler while you wait. Then tote your brown, grease-drenched paper box of goodness back to your table and feast. Are those shrimp? Clams? A stray French fry or two? It all sort of looks the same, battered and beige, crispy and delicious, briny and sweet. Don’t forget the napkins and straws.
If you still have room (please save room), head back into line for ice cream, soft-serve only. Get marble twist or Javaberry, a geometrically perfect swirl in a color of pink usually only found in children’s cereals. For a real treat, get it dipped in a chocolate shell. It’ll crumble after the first bite, and you might end up with a stream of ice cream all over the backseat of your car and running down your wrists, sopped up with too thin napkins — but even this is part of the charm.
Dairy Joy has made some concessions to modernity. There are now veggie burgers, something I’m pretty sure didn’t exist back in my 1985 takeout, post-beach glory days. I’m told that they’re going to add vegan ice cream soon, too. And, yes, there’s even cold brew.
But the mainstays haven’t changed a bit. Give me a cheeseburger with the works — ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and onion — and a heaping scoop of onion rings, and I’m happy. Because it’s at places like Dairy Joy where we can still be kids again, even if we’re now the ones paying.
But at least there’s an ATM.
331 North Ave., Weston, 781-894-2600
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.