PART ONE – KICKIN’ IT OLD SCHOOL
Heading to SoCal for a weekend in LaLa Land is pretty much a tradition in the ELV household. It’s fun to escape either the heat or cold of Vegas for more moderate climes, get a nice dose of real freeway congestion, and enjoy some pretty tasty eats in a culture that values something other that over-sized, celebrity-chef food factories. And since, as you know, ELV seeks nothing but the best when it comes to shoving things in his piehole, he and his staff always make their first stop at The Mad Greek in Baker.
Approaching TMG on that long exit ramp off I-15 an hour or so outside of Vegas, ELV is always left to wonder: The Greeks gave the world: art, sculpture, engineering, mathematics, birth control (in the form of pederasty), politics, literature, and philosophy…and now have only this:…to show for it.
Where Greek civilization went off the rails is anyone’s guess. These days though, except for hackneyed food and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Greek-American culture is non-existent, and other than “cheeseborger, cheeseborger…,” there is nothing in the popular consciousness that defines it.
So forgotten is it, that this looks like the height of sophistication by comparison.
ELV (born Yanni Antonis Cutsumpas), mourns this sorry state of affairs, but tries to hoist the flag when he can, and do honor to the cuisine of his ancestors by eating it whenever possible.
And mostly, it’s just awful. Banal, boring and repetitive, the “cuisine” of Greece in America is so dumbed down that you could close your eyes and eat in a hundred different Greek restaurants and not find one, single, different dish or seasoning in any of them. In this regard, it shares much in common with Indian food in the United States.
But if you’re gonna take the plunge into this world of mediocrity, TMG is as good a place as any to grab a bite. Some things on the menu, like the pastries and shawarma, are actually worth pulling off the expressway for. Others, like the gyros (YEE-rohs), should keep you driving.
Like all “gyro” meat out west, TMG doesn’t shave layers of beef and lamb onto its pita bread, but rather that extruded, compacted, vaguely meat-like crud that most “gyro” restaurants churn out the way Arby’s does its fake roast beef sandwiches. Doner kebab-like, thinly-sliced, real meat is like a holy grail to true lovers of this sandwich, and the closest you can come to it here is a shawarma sandwich that contains (and tastes of) real chunks of beef and lamb. Combined with a decent tzaziki sauce, some surprisingly good rice, and one of their signature, real milk milk shakes, and you have enough protein to last you at least until you get to closer to the coast. And the Greek pastries, despite an unholy yellow glow emanating from the baklava, are still fairly good and fresh representatives of these (generally too-sweet) standards.
While The Mad Greek does nothing to dispel the low-brow stereotypes for which Greek food is known, neither will it overly dent your wallet or disappoint. For that, and the fact that it’s the only non-chain food outlet at this way station (other than the Alien Beef Jerky Store), is something for which travelers should be grateful.
Lunch or dinner for two will run around $30 — more if you’re real hungry. There’s also a burger and Mexican menu, but anyone who orders anything but Greek food here oughta have their head examined.
THE MAD GREEK
72112 Baker Blvd. (No joke, they call it a “boulevard” in this one-horse town.)
Baker, CA 92309