The Max is a 75-seat diner in the city of Orinda, California, thirty minutes outside San Francisco. It’s a white-washed place where the majority of it’s population are good looking Caucasian high schoolers who seem to be a lot older than they portray to be.
Note: The Max is in between 6 bay area high schools all within a 5-mile radius.
The Max’s interior is kitsch with pleather booths and a lot of space for pep rallies, dance competitions, and the occasional magic show.
The owners said their main goal is to try to influence the students to appreciate good food and that’s where The Max’s money is going into.
In a special work-school trade program promoted by the culinary community, The Max puts students to work and refines their cooking and hospitality management skills. This is not your ordinary home-economics class.
The menu changes every day with the produce and meat coming from local farms and ranches. The students have the freedom to choose what they want to make and have their own cooking competitions among themselves, which can rival any cooking reality show (but without the drama).
Tuesdays, the Max serves their own variation of the trending grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a three-cheese blend consisting of Gruyère, Burrata, and Smoke Gouda bubbly to perfection in between two grilled pieces of brioche. They serve it with sweetened tomato bacon bisque.
Fridays is their fish fry. The recipe The Max uses comes directly from the home of fish and chips, Leo Burdocks in Ireland. You are served a large folded aluminum wrapper filled with a ½ pound of fresh fried cod.
Rather than being a thick golden brown blanket of fried flour that would more than likely be used for fried chicken, The Max uses a light tempura batter that one will find at a Japanese restaurant. The tempura doesn’t mask the flavor of the fish and still has a crunch. I personally like my fries to be skinny and extra crispy, but I appreciate the softness and thickness of The Max’s large potato wedges.
On a few occasions a customer asked for ketchup with their fries. The waiters and waitresses gave them a large bottle of malt vinegar instead. I respected that totalitarian call. Drowning the fries in the vinegar sogs the guts of the chip up to where you are almost eating bite sized clumps of mashed potatoes.
The Max also does calamari quite well. Many people who I have dined with don’t like to see tentacles of a fried baby squid. They prefer the rings. I like the tentacles. They always come out to be tender whereas the rings are more times than not rubbery.
I asked to speak to the GM, 18, to send my complements to the chefs, 16, because my Ahi tuna burger was exquisite. The GM asked if I wanted to speak with the fishing team too.
She said to me that the school district has a fishing team that brings its fresh catch in every day. The Ahi I was eating was caught two hours prior to my arrival.
The Max, though manifesting top quality fresh creations remains economical for the student who needs to barrow money from mom and dad for his/her Friday & Saturday night.
The Ahi burger was $10, the fish and chips, $8, the calamari, $5.
The only complaint I have comes from an observation. The teens who filled The Max were still worried about the way they looked and who was looking at them that they completely ignored the fact that there was some of the Bay area’s best food starring them right in the face and getting cold. I wanted to yell and lecture them. I wanted to say that it was okay to have a great meal once in your life. To indulge for Pete’s sake. You can worry about the high school pettiness tomorrow, but tonight, fill your face with this cheap and good quality grub!
The GM told my guests and I that she is used to it. The students pay and tip well, plus it’s great practice to test the chef’s patience when they someday have to service patrons who keep sending $70 steaks back.
The only thing that calmed me down was the Saturday night magic show. The Max is a tour stop for traveling magicians of The Magic Castle in Los Angeles.
I give The Max 4 out of 5 Roses.
That means when in Orinda, California; make an effort to stop there.
ATMOSPHERE: A happy-go-lucky-teenage-after-school hang out filled with your average teenage “who’s dating who” gossip, a juke box filled with your fill of Ace of Base, Alanis Morissette, and Bay area hip hop.
SERVICE: Like fine dining. It’s orderly, efficient, and professional. You will be in and out in 30 minutes but if you tell your waiter you want to dine and hang, they will let you do so too. You will just have to order more fare.
SOUND LEVEL: Noisy. One can write a soap opera over the petty drama flowing from the student’s mouths. It’s quite comical, but the conversations never ruin the main purpose at hand, eating the good food.
RECOMMENDED: Fish and Chips and whatever the hourly catch is.
DRINKS AND WINE: No alcohol. Too many underage patrons. Sodas, water, fresh squeezed juices, and shakes.
PRICES: $5-$15. Many average around $10.
OPEN: Tuesday – Saturday, 4pm-11pm. Sundays 8am-3pm.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
Wi-Fi: Yes. The Password is “Alonzo”
Restrooms: Unisex (It’s a Bay area thing). Clean and well maintained.