It was my intention to celebrate the sandwich when I started this column last year by finding as many tasty examples as possible. The emphasis was on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I have done this weekly, and periodically presented round-ups of the ones I consider best.
Cryptically named after a ski destination in Wyoming, Jackson Hole is a streamlined chrome diner just west of LaGuardia Airport in a neighborhood sometimes called East Elmhurst, sometimes Astoria Heights. It was founded in 1972, replacing a restaurant previously called Airline Diner, which probably originated in the early 1940s, soon after LaGuardia opened in 1939. In the days before air terminals were filled with mediocre and overpriced eateries, you had to go for a bite at places like this before taking off.
But this unpretentious place famous for its outsize hamburgers is a good point to initiate our discussion of BLTs. It’s significant that we can identify this sandwich by only giving the initials, and everyone knows what we’re talking about. The BLT stands for bacon, lettuce, and tomato, plainly describing the ingredients of one of the world’s most famous sandwiches, yet one quite different from the others in fundamental ways.
First off, the volume of the toppings — tomato and lettuce — far outweighs the volume of the meat, which is a testament to bacon’s awesome power. Nowadays, BLTs have been ramped up a number of ways by restaurants that want to glamorize the sandwich, and make more money in the process. They often feature fancy bacon, and lots of it, overwhelming the other ingredients, on funny shaped bread with superfluous grains. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered a BLT in a bistro and found it full of huge, over-chewy bacon slices with extraneous flavors. Finding your bacon cured in maple syrup, for example, is a total drag. I’ve seen lettuce replaced by arugula and designer lettuces that think they’re better than bacon, and by tomatoes that sear the eyes with their color but forget to offer any flavor.
What a BLT at Jackson Hole tells us is that the BLT is best kept small and simple. By using thin slices of diner bacon — and a limited number — rather than anything thicker, sweeter, and smokier. Behold the Hole’s BLT ($6.75)! The slices of bread are small and white and toasted to a medium brown. Four slices of bacon make up the entire complement, the tomatoes are of the woody supermarket type, and the lettuce is strictly iceberg. But somehow these unprepossessing components, when subjected to the magic of commercial mayonnaise, make one of the world’s best sandwiches. Go figure. 69-35 Astoria Blvd, between Hazen and 71st streets, East Elmhurst