As you drive east on Interstate 15, on your way to winning fabulous riches in Las Vegas, you can't help to notice what seem to be hundreds of billboards promoting the Mad Greek, in the town of Baker, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, about half way between Sin City and Los Angeles. The billboards promote such lofty slogans as "Everybody is Greek at Mad Greek," "Best Gyros USA," or "Love our Strawberry Shakes," and other catchy phrases. I wasn't drawn to the restaurants by the numerous billboards, as I was staying across the street at the Bun Boy Motel, and something in the back of my brain recalled that I'd heard about Mad Greek on television a couple of years ago... I rarely miss an opportunity to try an unusual restaurant, nor do I miss an opportunity to enjoy breakfast, so on Tuesday morning, March 17, 2009, I decided to combine my two passions and enjoy breakfast at The Mad Greek Diner.
Photo: The Mad Greek Diner, taken from the intersection of First and Baker, with The World's Tallest Thermometer in the background. Photo gives you an idea of the chintzy outdoor decor.
Photo: Taken from across Baker Blvd. from the restaurant, this photo shows the classic Greek architecture that the diner features, the beautiful columns, and the statues. Note the Greek flags on top of the restaurant.
The small town of Baker is a very competent gas-restroom-food stop between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as its about a three hour drive from either location. It's a favorite stop for big-rig drivers, as it offers inexpensive motels, lots of diesel, repair facilities, and lots of diners and fast-food joints. Baker is world-famous for two reasons, as it contains a) The World's Tallest Thermometer, and b) Mad Greek. Thanks to the giant thermometer and the funky Mad Greek restaurant, Baker is on the map!
Photo: Mad Greek Diner features outdoor dining on their patio, where you can dine next to the Mad Olive Tree, and admire the classic Greek columns and statues, all crafted out of plastic!
If you're a sucker for a kitschy decor, The Mad Greek Diner is for you. When you walk into the restaurant, you're struck a feeling that can only be described as "Is this really real?" Maybe it, and maybe it isn't, but whatever the case, you'll have a difficult time trying the categorize the decor, as it's a mixture of faux-Greek, art deco, East Coast diner, and just plain kitsch. You'll marvel at the neon-worshiping, aqua-colored, vinyl-upholstered booths, the cheap, plastic statues that are supposed to resemble classic Greek statues, and the signs that are plastered everywhere, that promote the virtues of being Greek, both in English, and in Greek, using Greek characters. It seems that every inch of the restaurant is decorated with some item that embellishes Greek Pride, complete with slogans, and even some cuss words in the Greek language, so I'm told. It's like seeing the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding on steroids, much larger-than-life, and immortalized in a restaurant... it's almost overwhelming, but keeping things in prospective, it's just a kitschy, pseudo-Greek marketing ploy. To complete the mood, cheesy mandolin music is playing in the background...
Photo: Here's the view as soon as you walk into the restaurant. The decor is a mix of pseudo-Greek, art deco and just plain American funk.
Photo: These folks are placing their order at the order counter. Note the lighted menu board, and the cashier that is ringing up the sale.
If you're a fan of outdoor dining, you're in your element, as Mad Greek offers comfortable tables and chairs, under a shaded overhead, facing busy Baker Boulevard, the main drag in town. You can relax at a table and marvel at the cheap, plastic replicas of classical Greek statues, and admire the gilded columns that hold up the awning, gilded with gold-colored plastic. If you're dining at night, your romantic lighting will come from strung-up Christmas lights, and several neon signs to make the mood complete. You can watch the big-rigs roll up and down the boulevard, and listen to the latest country and western hits blare from boomboxes and jacked-up pickup trucks. If you're not inclined to romance, you can skip the outdoor dining scene altogether and utilize the drive-through window. Mad Greek has all bases covered!
Photo: A peek into Mad Greek's kitchen, although it's a small peek, but the photo will give you an idea of some of the items on the menu.
Photo: Here comes an order of strawberry shakes! Note the framed photos of famous Greeks, and the Greek writing above the door. The soft drink dispensers are to the left of the photo.
Mad Greek operates on pretty much the same format as a fast food restaurant, in that you place your order, and pay for it at the counter, take a plastic number, and sit yourself at a table. When your order is ready, one of the staff members brings it to your table. Your coffee or soft drinks come from a dispenser, and when you place a drink order, you're given a cup, which you can fill up as many times as you wish. Mad Greek is a 24/7 operation, so their menu offers selections appropriate for any time of the day, and what a large, disorganized selection the menu is, as it includes such diverse offerings as souvalki, kabobs, gyros, pita dogs, hamburgers, Phily steak sandwich, chili, horchata, Greek coffee, and strawberry milkshakes, just to name a few of the menu items. I homed in on the breakfast menu, which offered many traditional American favorites, but I ordered Gyro and Eggs, as I'd never even dreamed of a gyro for breakfast before visiting Mad Greek, but on the other hand, you haven't really experienced life until you've dined at the Greek. I placed my order, handed my money to the gal behind the counter, and was given an empty coffee cup and a plastic number to place on my table.
Photo: My delicious breakfast... now I know what a breakfast Gyro is, and I can tell you that it's delicious. Note the attractive presentation, and the cantaloupe and sprig of parsley for garnish, and the thick sourdough toast. Despite the cheesy decor, The Mad Greek Diner serves a delicious breakfast.
Photo: During my visit, I found the restaurant to be very clean, and the staff members were very friendly and attentive. Note the clean, shiny floor.
Photo: The little girl in pink seems to be running away from the photo... note the Greek slogans printed on the ceiling beams, and the merchandise and souvenirs behind the glass counter. Photo shows some of the typical decor inside the restaurant.
I've read various dining reports on the Internet, lambasting Mad Greek for being dirty, and having poor service, but I didn't experience either, as my meal was placed on my table in a very timely manner, and the restaurant appeared to be quite clean, as while I was waiting for my meal to arrive, I watched a couple staff members mopping the floor. I've also read reports that the food is lacking in quality, and overpriced. Perhaps I'm not a connoisseur of true Greek cuisine, but I found my meal to be delicious, as the eggs were cooked to order, the hash brown potatoes were golden brown, but not heavy or greasy, and the meal came garnished with a slice of cantaloupe and a sprig of parsley. The gyro meat was delicious, as it was juicy, and mildly-spicy, but not at all hot, and so tender that you really didn't need a knife to cut it. I was impressed by my order of sourdough toast, as each piece was very thick -- about a half an inch -- and the toast came with real butter, which melted as I spread it on the warm toast. The total price of the meal, including an endless large cup of coffee and tax came to only $9.94, with no tip expected, nor included.
Photo: I love this slogan, which is placed above the order counter... Yassou! Note the yellow sign to the right, which tells you to enjoy your order the Greek way, or not at all... Hey Dorothy, this ain't Burger King, and you ain't in Kansas!
Photo: A portion of the dining room, showing the vinyl upholstered booths, more Greek slogans, and one of the many gaudy, faux-Greek paintings that decorate the walls.
If you're GPS inclined, the GPS coordinates to Mad Greek are N35.15.948, W116.04.495, with an elevation of 956 feet. Even if you're map-challenged, now you can find your way to Mad Greek.
Photo: I don't think these guys are on the payroll, but they seem to part of the outdoor clean-up crew, and these are only a few of the outdoor custodial staff who keep the grounds free of any food scraps. Aren't these birds native to Greece?
Mad Greek is crazy, cheesy, larger-than-life, kitschy and almost unbelievable, but their food is great, the service is good, the portions are good, and the price is right. Where else in California can you dine on gyros and eggs for breakfast, while admiring some of the craziest decor in the country? So go ahead, make your day, and dine at the Mad Greek! Consider this: Breakfast at The Mad Greek Diner will give you bragging rights around the office water cooler the following Monday morning.
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