Main Ave., Wynantskill, 283-5110. Serving 11-8:45 daily. Cash
burgers and fries.
price range: oh, come on
depends on the weather
strange kind of change came over my friend Peter as we neared
our lunch destination. He grew unprecedentedly quiet, somber
even. “It’s just ahead,” he murmured as the small red shack
and its white roadside sign eased into view. “You’ve never
been here before? I grew up with this place.”
This was more than a search for a meal: This was a pilgrimage.
We parked and walked the grounds slowly. “This used to be
gravel,” he said of the parking lot. “And the original building
was much smaller. It burned down years ago. My parents came
here when they were dating, so it’s been here a long, long
In fact, my subsequent research revealed that Jack’s Drive-Inn
opened in 1938 when RPI grad Jack Horn sought some supplementary
cash. He got it, and then some. Although it has changed in
many ways over the years, a greater sense of continuity remains
in the eyes of its fanatic followers—enough so that the greatest
scandal to hit the place in recent years was the addition
of cheese to the burgers 15 years ago.
According to manager Dave Hardy, cheeseburgers now dominate
the orders. Hardy started at Jack’s in 1970—back when there
were carhops hustling food to the patrons—and returned after
a brief hiatus to take over the helm. Has the place lost its
appeal over the years? Not if the current level of business
is any indication.
been very busy,” he told me, “since we opened in March.”
Make your own pilgrimage between now and early November and
prepare for an experience that is as much about nostalgia
(whether or not you’ve been to Jack’s before) as it is about
My ideal burger is something rarely found in restaurants and
almost never in fast-food joints. But a place like Jack’s
(and the unrelated but similarly long-lived Jumpin’ Jack’s
in Scotia) offers its sandwich in a more complicated context.
If you physically deconstruct a Jack’s slider, you’ll find
a small, square patty dwarfed by its bun, draped in the cheese
you probably ordered, with ketchup and possibly fried onions
among its toppings. Nothing unusual or outstanding here. The
sum is much greater than its parts, and it’s something you’ll
discover upon making . . .
The emotional deconstruction. This is more complicated. This
you do by actually settling in at a picnic table and eating.
For some reason, the burger is not only tasty but it’s also
a great comfort. The cheese on your fries (because you couldn’t
resist ordering them so topped) clearly was pumped from a
can and bears little resemblance to anything produced by a
true fromagerie, but it combines, enhances, travels
to the roof of your mouth and, for a little while, lingers.
Let’s look at the entire process of roadside burger dining
to see where and why the magic happens.
If you’re a longtime customer, like Peter, you’ve rung the
Pavlovian bell long before Jack’s comes into view. Conditioned
by so many past visits, you’re primed for another. As a first-time
customer, you will be affected by the aroma of sizzling beef
and the pungent, resin-y smell of a Frialator punishing potatoes.
It’s the fragrance of every cookout you’ve ever enjoyed. It’s
the scent of our hungry ancestors, an awareness carried in
our DNA, roasting the day’s provender. It lives on in that
wee, greasy patty. It’s a cheap enough journey: $1.65 per
burger, $1.95 with cheese.
Hunting dinner with autos instead of side arms makes sense
in our society. Our cars are extensions of ourselves, idealized
representations of the power we wish to exert. They’re instrumental
to our courtship, our occupations, our free-time traveling.
At Jack’s we can circle the parking lot as if circling our
prey, and pounce merely by standing in line and surrendering
Al fresco dining is always a treat. Not the greatest view
here, but that’s not the point. Fresh air ruffles the skin,
provokes the appetite. In effect, you’re sitting around the
campfire, with the genteel addition of buns and forks and
straws to make consumption more civilized.
And then there’s the meal itself. The bun is a component of
genius. It contains the fat-enhanced flavors that otherwise
might drip away. You eat with your hands—a primal act—but
it’s a socially acceptable sandwich you’re wielding. Fries
add the crunch that’s always desirable with a meal. Crunch
and fat and the piquancy of ketchup make for a long, lingering
flavor experience. This isn’t about hand-formed gourmet patties.
This is about getting food to the table quickly. Better still:
This is food in a bag, consumed while driving, combining two
of our top three activities.
There’s nothing more to add except this: Hot dogs are $1.60.
Fries are $1.75 or $2.45, unless you want cheese, which brings
you to $2.25 and $3.35. Shakes (in many flavors) are $2.20
or $2.95, and sodas cost what you expect them to cost. No
surprises. That’s the whole point.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
best dinners provoke a sense of total well-being.
I am wired such that my own sense is strongest
when I’m enjoying an excellent post-prandial cigar.
If it’s an occasion to stretch out and sneak in
some puffs between courses, that’s all the better.
And what better menu than a hearty Italian meal,
an event meant to go on and on by tradition. Village
Pizzeria in Galway (2727 Route 29, at the
junction of Route 147) is hosting just such an
event at 6:30 PM Tuesday, May 19, where you’ll
feast on a six-course meal including pork osso
buco, grilled broccoli rabe and cheese sausages,
Tuscan kale with white beans and rabbit ragout,
served alongside a variety of Super Tuscans, Barolos,
Brunellos and Port. And you’ll get three fine
cigars, courtesy of Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe.
The price is $100 per person, which includes access
to the restaurant’s bocce courts and putting green
as well. Info: 882-9431. . . . Remember to pass
your scraps to Metroland.