Astoria, NYC: Jackson Hole Airline Diner, Where Bigger Is Not Necessarily Better
Jackson Hole Diner
69-35 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria NY 11370 (at 70th Street; map); 718-204-7070; jacksonholeburgers.com
The Skinny: This local chain of diners is known for its tall, 7-ounce burgers. In truth, the burgers are a bit bigger. Cooked on a griddle under a dome, the coarse grind becomes almost too crumbly, and the patty steams to a gray flavorlessness only salvaged by a heavy shake of salt
Want Fries with That? The platter comes with thick steak fries. They're adequate
Price: Cheeseburger platter, $10.60
I want to loooooove Jackson Hole. The local chain is well-known among New Yorkers for its big ol' burgers, and the one in Astoria (you've probably seen it off the Grand Central Parkway) is a beautiful punch-in-the-gut of old-school Americana. Tabletop jukeboxes stand ready to belch out tunes for a quarter, neon blares through the night, curvy Art Deco aluminum blinds passersby in the noontime sun. Rikers guards, LaGuardia workers, weary travelers just off a flight—they all pile into booths or plunk asscheeks on stools at the counter.
The 7-ounce burgers (in reality, they're closer to 10 ounces) are a good value—$10.60 for a cheeseburger platter—but the burgers could use some work.
The patties are thick and tall, puck-shape—if you stacked two pucks together.
I almost didn't want to use the term puck, since that's usually a pejorative, used to indicate a dense, tough burger. These patties are anything but. Yes, they're large, but they've got a coarse grind and a very loose texture. I'm normally a fan of those qualities—when the patty has a nice sear on it and some texture.
But here, the patty is griddled under a small dome. You know the kind. The kind that ends up steaming the burger as much as anything else. What you end up with is, funny enough, a dry, gray patty with little flavor. I had to hit it with a couple shakes of salt to improve it, and even then, the flavor was pretty flat.
A shame, because the building housing this branch of Jackson Hole is awesome. (There are seven other JHs in NYC.) You may recognize it from an early scene in Goodfellas:
Yes, it was once known as Airline Diner, as it's blocks from LaGuardia. It's the diner in whose parking lot Jimmy and Paulie steal the truck.
The jukeboxes are straight out of the '60s.
Even though they've been updated at least as long ago as the late '90s. "Thong Song," anyone?
If you're on the way home from the airport and your curiosity gets the best of you, I wouldn't blame you for stopping to see a minor location in a great Scorsese film. Or to even take some photos—it's crazy photogenic in the hands of a better photographer than I.
But don't bother with the burger. Bigger is not better here.