In the midst of the city's current burger craze there lies an endearing little diner that sits on the side of the Grand Central Parkway like a shiny sentinel of roadside cuisine. Serving as a beacon of chrome-plated goodness to motorists and Rikers Island prison guards for over half a century, this mouthful of savory Americana is now home to the Queens outpost of the Jackson Hole burger franchise. Originally built as the Airline Diner in 1952, this classic streamlined car sits across the parkway from a vast cemetery. In case an Astorian hasn't boasted already, this is where Martin Scorsese famously had Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci's characters steal a truck in the movie Goodfellas. Nowadays you can get a 7 oz burger the size of your head. The food isn't phenomenal, it's just pretty reliable diner fare at a fairly reasonable price. This is no shackburger. Hell, its not even an In-N-Out burger. But the menu is comfortably meaty and what you lose in flavor you gain in pre-cooked-beef-weight. Unlike wiseguy Henry Hill, Jackson Hole doesn't like to take chances.
It gets pretty crowded on late nights but on a Monday afternoon it can become your own private burger wonderland (burgderland?) The menu is huge, so don't get distracted by the "burritos" and go straight for the almost two dozen or so choices of burgers.
What's a diner without real tabletop jukeboxes? This one plays Britney Spears alongside Bobby Darin, naturally.
Crisp golden onion rings are the perfect way to start (or accompany) your meal. These ones were by-the-book: hot, crunchy battered outside yielding to a scorching, tender onion strand on the inside. No crazy seasonings or tempura experimentation, just the same recipe that America's built upon... slathered with some ketchup.
Perilously perching atop this mallifluous mound of beef are two strips of bacon, barbecue sauce, onions, and and monterey jack cheese. It's known through out dinerland as the Western Burger. The deluxe platter invariably comes with steak fries, lettuce and tomato. The fries are passable (I'm a shoestring fry kinda kid myself) but they could have put a little more ooomph into the burger's barbecue sauce, you know what I mean? It was a bit thin and pink colored, whereas I believe proper barbecue sauce should be thick enough to stick to both ribs and burgers alike.
Solid vanilla milkshakes are a hallmark of a good diner and this one passes the test: its creamy without being sugary-sweet, which means they used real ice cream. For an extra 50 cents you can get yours extra thick.
The Baldouni Burger is the slab of meat (turkey burger in this case) topped generously with fried mushrooms, sauteed onions, and the cheese of your choice (monterey jack in this case). Although the turkey patty was well-seasoned and juicy, it wasn't the tastiest of turkey burgers; this is a rare animal, I know, since turkey can be notoriously bland and drywall-like. The detractor from this menagerie was the bun. I know most people believe the patty to be center stage but I think that supporting cast members can also make-or-break the show. In this case, the bun was just an ordinary store-bought-sesame-seeded deal. Kind of bready and not up to the challenge of supporting the monstrous patty. However, the highlight of this burger was the fresh (read: not canned) mushrooms, cut chunky and cooked to perfection.
The wonderfully preserved signage up top is all that remains of Airline Diner's classic pedigree.
Jackson Hole Diner
6935 Astoria Blvd (at 70th Street), East Elmhurst