The story of Jahn's, the Jackson Heights diner and ice cream parlor (and now a time capsule) has been told many times before. Way back in 1897, John Jahn opened the first Jahn's in the Bronx, in Mott Haven, then three more in Queens which he gave to each of his children. And then the franchising began — at one point there were 30 Jahn's all over town and down in Florida, all famous for their outlandish ice cream sundaes like the legendary, "serves 8," 24-scoop Kitchen Sink.
In 1970, the Moukas family took over the Jahn's on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights — the only one left today. Brothers Peter and Nick began working here, and have now been running the show for at least 30 years. Over time the place has evolved into more of a classic Greek diner than an ice cream spot, but there is still a whole page on the lengthy menu devoted to crazy sundaes. In other words: it's the best of both worlds.
Like everywhere else, Jahn's has struggled during the pandemic, but the brothers have stayed open the entire time, doing takeout, then adding outdoor dining, and recently offering up a few of their red vinyl booths for eating indoors. When I showed up for an afternoon feast last week, their spacious curbside room was getting winterized with a roof and some windbreaks, though Nick told me he's undecided about investing in electric heaters.
The Jahn's menu is a glorious thing, not only for its depth and breadth in all of the usual diner categories — burgers, breakfast-all-day, salads, sandwiches, "steaks and chops," as well as Greek specialties like Spanakopita — but also for its corny copy, particularly in the ice cream section. "Sultry days and sultry dames both cool off eventually," begins the History of Ice Cream, "and what finally did cool off Cleopatra? Why, Mark Anthony of course! He sent his runners to the mountains for snow and covered it with fruits and sugar."
In fact, poring over the cryptic sundae copy is almost as much fun as eating one of these monsters. There's the Chocolate Pecan Shortie ("Harold Teen takes the blame"), the A Shissel ("If you can't eat it, use it for washing"), the Pink Elephant ("This is not the kind you see on the walls"), and dozens more. No, I have no idea what any of those mean in terms of things like flavors and toppings, you'll have to go with your gut. I went traditional and got the Hot Chocolate Fudge, the sticky sauce glopping up a scoop each of Schraft's Strawberry and Coffee ice cream, all buried under a half a can of whipped cream. It was perfect.
The Cheeseburger Deluxe, cooked medium rare as requested with melted American on both sides of the bun, was a fine example of the classic diner burger, and the accompanying fries were decent as well. The Challah French Toast delivered on its promise — sweet, fluffy, and filling — and both meats, fat well-seasoned sausages and thin crispy bacon, fulfilled their roles admirably. There are hundreds of other options though, so if you want to go deeper than these baseline dishes, there is certainly ample opportunity to do so.
Jahn's is located at 81-04 37th Avenue, between 82st and 82nd Street, and is currently open Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. (718-651-0700)