It's been 37 years since Alan Greeley first opened the doors of the Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa that, according to a 1988 Los Angeles Times reviewer, is "an eccentric restaurant with an eclectic menu that defies rhythm or logic."
Things haven't changed. Greeley still does what he wants at his "accidental restaurant" noteworthy for its ever-changing menu.
But, after nearly four decades, what he wants now is to be done with it. The boisterously outspoken 64-year-old Costa Mesa resident is closing the Golden Truffle this summer, possibly in August. He isn't sure of the exact timing yet.
As for why, in a recent interview Greeley said he's sick of the hassles of running a business — the tax man, lawyers, health inspectors and all. He still enjoys cooking, though.
Greeley has been letting his customers in on the news recently in the form of distributed papers explaining his future plan: "I am opening a church in Utah with a full-service liquor license, which is strictly for medicinal purposes."
The Golden Truffle opened in 1980 at 1767 Newport Blvd. It started out as, primarily, a catering business with a deli-like front. Then came some positive press. That led to people sitting down to eat. Lots of them.
In an interview, Greeley recalled how high-class folks initially had nowhere to put their hats or coats once seated.
Without a coat rack, Greeley stuffed them in the back. But then staff got a hold of them.
"I had dishwashers working and wearing mink coats," Greeley said with a laugh.
Catering still takes up a large chunk of Golden Truffle's business, about 70%, Greeley said.
Among the luminaries in Greeley's fan base — aside from, perhaps, the four U.S. presidents he's served and the Segerstrom family of South Coast Plaza notoriety — is Elton John and his band. They love his meat pies and, in the good ol' rocker days, he joked, "They'd spend about $20,000 in gas to pick up $200 in meat pies."
"That was before the accountants got 'em," he added.
There was also the time Greeley cooked for Steven Spielberg's 50th birthday party.
Greeley, born at Hoag Hospital and raised in Costa Mesa, where he still lives, originally studied engineering. He went to Estancia High School and Orange Coast College but got sucked into the restaurant world and never turned back. He has no formal culinary training.
Greeley has two sons and eight grandchildren. There are no cooks or future cooks among them, he noted.
"They're smarter," he said with a laugh.
If the Golden Truffle had to get a label, it could be called a French-Caribbean restaurant, but that wouldn't give the true picture.
"We don't follow any gizmo," he said. "Since it's my place, we can do anything."
Golden Truffle's website warns that, while there's a posted menu — including Russian cabbage soup, shucked Maine lobster, chicken fried steak and Alaskan halibut — it can change daily and remains subject to "the freshest ingredients and the whim of the chef."
Thus, a Golden Truffle entrée may be one thing, but it could come served on a plate with dabs of infused olive oil and peppered with, say, canary carrot and beat powder. The result makes for a colorful smattering.
"There's always a little zip and zang and lots of color," he said.
The decor is eclectic, with plenty of personal mementos of Greeley's travels and travails. There are Caribbean influences, but there's also a semi-hidden wine cellar-esque dining room with bookshelves and a painting of a monkey reading The Wall Street Journal. On a recent afternoon, it was rented out for a group of Russians who wanted to eat Russian food.
Around the corner are some Elton John memorabilia and a cartoon sketch of Greeley.
When Greeley leaves, he's taking the Golden Truffle name with him. He's not sure what the new owners are going to do, but it will involve using some of Greeley's staff. He wanted to make sure they still had jobs.
Besides, he added, there would be nothing left to give new ownership. The Golden Truffle doesn't keep recipes.
"They're going to get their own piano, play their own songs," Greeley said.
Meanwhile, the Golden Truffle cooks told their boss they're aiming for "their best ever" in the coming weeks. The pressure is on to close out with culinary flair.
For Greeley, this make him wonder: "Why did they wait so long?"