By Carol Brock
37-47 74th St.
In an issue of Delta Airline's inflight magazine, “Sky,” I found an article listing 13 great places to grab a bite when you're at the airport. The choice for New Yorkers?: Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights. Taxi time: La Guardia 15 minutes; JFK, 25 minutes.
Zagat rates it highly. Come to think of it, the Daily News rated it No. 16 in a list of 40 restaurants in its price range.
We get to 74th Street and there it is: No. 37-48, Jackson Diner. It is big, very big, with a cathedral-like interior. Some might downgrade the decor, but I find it mod, much more American than Indian, like its name.
It seems that two chefs, both Indian, Gain Saini and Bobby Chikar, bought a small diner down the block 16 1/2 years ago. They wanted to have a real American diner. But no go. More curries were ordered than omelets. So they moved to bigger space but kept the name, Jackson Diner, and opened an Indian restaurant. Every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. there's a buffet lunch. (Some diners eat traditional Indian style and break off pieces of nan baked in a tandoori oven, pinching the food and eating it that way. No knife and fork for them.)
A la carte for us. Fortunately, Southern Indian dishes from Madras had a section to themselves and marsala dosa became one of our appetizers. The dosa, a gigantic crepe (two feet across) rolled up with a potato filling, is a feast for sharing as an appetizer, with a coconut dipping sauce.
Our second appetizer, billed, “A Tasting of Three,” is a combination platter of machi amritsari, fish marinated lightly and fried (very moist and delicious); samosa, a crisply fried, pyramid-shaped croquette with spices, peas and potatoes (very tasty); and chicken malabar, marinated chicken fillets with coconut coating, fried and served with mango chutney (This one was too dry!! But the chutney was heavenly. I could devour it for dessert.)
Other appetizer selections include: the chat papri, a mixture of crisps, potatoes and chick peas in yogurt and tamarind sauce; bhel puri, rice flakes tossed with onions, potatoes, and tomatoes, topped with tamarind mint sauce; and vegetable pakora, an assortment of vegetables coated with spicy gram flour butter and fried. Also, don't forget the mulugtawany soup, a traditional soup made from lentils and flavored with herbs.
The tandoori chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices and grilled at high heat in a tandori clay oven. It is then served topped with sliced onions. It was a “safe” choice for my dining companion who was hesitant about hot spices.
Jackson Diner also offers an array of additional tandoori specials, including: lamb chops lahori, marinated rack of lamb grilled and served with fresh mint sauce; fish tikka, an exotic ajwain flavored boneless fish spiced with yellow chillies; and the tandoori mix grill (deluxe), an assortment of Kashmiri Kabab, Malia Kabab and lamb chops.
I then strayed toward the vegetarian specials served with rice or nan, dal and raita, a cucumber sauce. The bindi masala was marvelous, served with fresh okra tomatoes, onions and chilis then sprinkled with fresh coriander. (Indian ratatouille!) Dum aludo benarsi was unique; it is a potato stuffed with cashews and served in a curry like sauce. What a delectable idea. A basket of nan accompanied it (nan that was pleasingly fluffier than others I've eaten.)
At lunch, most choose the buffet route which makes for express dining if you're taxing back to LaGuardia
For dessert, there you could choose the big dish of rice pudding with white raisins or a serving of pistachio ice cream. There is coffee or spiced tea, your choice. Or skip dessert and visit their sweet shop down the block where Indian Chinese cuisine is eat-in or take- out. For total immersion, choose the take out supper, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Not a diner. North South Indian food. Buffet A la carte lunch. Large, mod, barnlike space. Located on a fascinating all Indian shopping/dining street.
Marsala Dosa (crepe filled with potato, peas and nut mixture)…$5.95
Tasting of Three (combination of fish, chicken malabar, samosa)…$6.95
Chicken Tikka (boneless, succulent pieces of chicken marinated and broiled in tandori)…$8.50
Murg Malai Kebab (chicken supreme marinated in ginger, garlic and green coriander)…$11.50
Lamb Chops Lahori (marinated rack of lamb grilled and served with a mint sauce)…$16.95
Murg Tikka Makhanwalla (broiled chicken pieces immersed in curry finished in cream)…$9.95
Lamb Korma (cubes of lamb cooked in cream sauce, and garnished with almonds)…$9.95
Shrimp Cooked with fresh vegetables and spice)…$13.95
Onion Kulcha (soft onion bead)…$2.95
Food: North & South Indian
Setting: Atypical. Mod, barn-like space
Hours: Lunch (buffet & a la carte) and dinner 7 days
Reservations: Large groups
Location: N of Roosevelt Ave, 31 block
Credit cards: Cash only
Take out: Yes
Private room: To 50
Noise level: Low
Handicap accessible: Yes