Sunday, March 23, 2008
As seen on Diner Hotline, Jack's Diner in Albany, NY, my home town, was reviewed by the Times Union recently. Click the Times Union link for the original review. Or, read on:
Classic comfort food at Jack’s Diner
By JOSEPH DALTON, Special to the Times Union
First published: Thursday, March 20, 2008
On Easter morning a couple years ago, my partner and I picked up the Sunday papers and headed to the charming Miss Albany Diner for breakfast, only to find it closed. So, instead, we tried Jack’s Diner on Central Avenue. The contrast between the places is dramatic. There’s nothing particularly cute or nostalgic at Jack’s. It’s just a diner. We nicknamed it the Mister Albany. Jack’s has been around since 1947, and for the past 44 years it has been run by owner John J. Murtagh, 78, who still calls himself “the new Jack.” The diner’s heyday was back when Albany’s population was larger and Central Avenue was the destination for shopping. Murtagh says that there were once five General Motors car dealerships within one block, “and there were no McDonald’s or Wendy’s. Thursday nights the shops were open late, and Central Avenue looked like Fifth Avenue in New York.” Well, maybe there is some nostalgia at Jack’s, after all.I’ve had a couple serviceable breakfasts at the place since that first encounter, but it has been a while, and I’d never gone for lunch until a recent weekday. Though the place was full when I arrived with a friend at around 12:30 p.m., a booth opened rather quickly. Our white-haired waitress, Janice, brought coffee ($1.25) and a no-nonsense attitude.Frequently, her voice rang through the place, as she’d call out an order or question to the kitchen. She could also be heard giving some lip to a table of four guys who were demanding this and that, but it was obvious they were regulars and everything was in good fun. According to Murtagh, Janice has been hopping tables at Jack’s for 33 years.
What better test for a diner than meatloaf ($6.60)? I was served two large slices, which had some tomato paste on the top and bits of onion and green pepper in the meat. It was tasty and rather comforting. The brown gravy, on the meat and the fluffy mashed potatoes, was clearly freshly made, since some tiny chunks of flour could be seen, though it didn’t mar the taste or texture a bit. The vegetable choices of the day were peas or corn, and the latter was obviously canned but otherwise serviceable.
The house salad ($2.75) was an unexpectedly substantial and colorful mixture of iceberg, carrots, tomatoes and celery. I didn’t understand why, but the Italian dressing came in a bowl on the side. I was also given what’s called a hard roll, though it was squishy and fresh, with a swipe of butter in the middle.
The same kind of soft hard roll served as the bun for my friend’s meal, the Jack’s Burger ($5.75), which includes cheddar cheese and bacon. It was warm and delicious and came with a large serving of fries — the kind with the ridges down the side, like they’ve been cut with pinking sheers — that were cooked to golden perfection.
For dessert, we picked the cherry pie a la mode ($3.75), and requested that the pie be warmed up a bit. It was probably obvious that we were enjoying it, but Janice nevertheless asked if she’d overdone it in the microwave.
With such a long history, Jack’s seems like something to rely on and I’ll surely be returning for some diner classics. By the way, when we recently spoke, Murtagh was noncommittal about being open this Easter Sunday.
Our meals with tax and tip came to $27.38.
Joseph Dalton is a local freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Union.