Aug 12 2008

This Greek is Anything But Mad!

Published by at 2:49 am under Los Angeles

Beautiful Downtown (and Uptown) Baker

Beautiful Downtown (and Uptown) Baker

If you head east and north out of Los Angeles, you end up on Interstate 15, in the middle of a very large desert. People do this for a few touristy reasons, but they’re usually on their way to Las Vegas.

Two hours out of Los Angeles you come to Barstow. An hour past Barsstow you arrive at the thriving community of Baker, home to 914 people, 15 restaurants, 7 gas stations, and 5 markets. Oh yeah, and at 134 feet, the world’s tallest thermometer.

The one thing you ask yourself when you get to Baker is why? The answer is tourists. It’s in the middle of the Mojave Desert, it’s hot, and it’s desolate. That giant thermometer is 134 feet tall in commemoration of the record temperature at Death Valley, some 80 miles away, but it’s not uncommon for the thermometer to report that Baker is over 110 degrees. Not exactly someplace I’d want to come home to.

But if there is anything a tourist needs, it’s available here, from ice to food to sleep. (And where else can you find Abducted Cow Jerky?) One place in Baker that everyone has to try sooner or later is The Mad Greek. The place is legendary for its gyros, but everything is good, from salads to baklava. I would recommend it as the place of choice if you’re there, but there are some things you should know to make your experience the best it can be.

The Mad Greek Restaurant

The Mad Greek Restaurant

Number one tip is DON’T order the gyro, order the shawarma. They’re very similar and the price is the same, but the gyro is west coast mass produced gyro meat. The shawarma is made on site, and sliced a bit thicker than the gyro. The vegetables (tomato, onion, cucumber, parsley) are also chopped a bit finer on the shawarma. The tzatziki, which accompanies both, is excellent. The pilaf that comes with both is a bit on the salty side, but nicely flavored and they give you plenty.

The Mad Greek's Shawarma

The Mad Greek's Shawarma

There are soft drinks, tea and lemonade, all the usual stuff, but you might want to try their famous fresh strawberry shake. There are people who drive to Baker JUST for the fresh strawberry shake. I’m one of them.

The Mad Greek's Fresh Strawberry Shake

The Mad Greek's Fresh Strawberry Shake

If you don’t order the shake, or even if you do, you might want to order something from the dessert case. The baklava is heavenly. Yes, that’s an objective opinion. Their Greek Salad is also excellent and enormous.

Okay, you’ve ordered, you have your order number placard, now you need to pick a table to park yourself at and wait for your food. If it’s not hot outside, take your pick. If it IS hot outside, which is a lot of the time, turn right from the ordering counter and head for the outer door. Turn left before the door and you are headed into the chilliest part of the restaurant. There can be a 20+ degree difference between other parts of the restaurant and the cool slice of heaven on the northeast side.

The Mad Greek at Baker, California

The Mad Greek at Baker, California

Another unique feature of The Mad Greek is their pickled vegetables, which are free for the asking. Just make sure that HOT is a flavor you enjoy. If the air in the restaurant seems humid, that’s just the steam coming out of the ears of the pickle eaters. But look closely, they may be on fire and unconscious, but they’re still smiling.

The Mad Greek likes his pickles HOT!

The Mad Greek likes his pickles HOT!

This is a Greek restaurant, not a restaurant that happens to serve some Greek dishes. You may be tempted to shout, “Shut the bloody bouzouki!” but ambiance they have in spades. From the Mad Olive Trees to the murals to the cases with Greek military uniforms to the statuary. And the Greek flags. And it’s probably 110 outside, so sit back and relax and enjoy yourself. It’ll cost you about $15 a head, but it’s the closest you’re going to get to the Aegean this far from the Aegean. There are worse things. At least people aren’t dancing and throwing plates, and shouting, “Opa!” at you.

The Mad Greek by night

The Mad Greek by night

One response so far

One Response to “This Greek is Anything But Mad!”

  1. Johnon 25 Aug 2008 at 6:49 am

    Mersi boku. Beautiful site. I’ll become your regular visitor and RSS subscriber.

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