There’s Something About Mary’s Diner

Mary’s Diner on Main Street in Washburn is the kind of place you won’t find unless you’re looking for it.

If you’re heading north on your way through town, make sure to go slow, ’cause if you blink you’ll miss the place. The diner has been around so long it seems like it’s evolved a form of camouflage that hides it from outsiders.

But for those in the know Mary’s Diner has been the place to duck into for the last 20 years when it’s raining while you’re out on the ATV trail wet and hungry.

Crossing the threshold into Mary’s Diner is rough if you’re claustrophobic. But it’s also the great thing if you’re dying for intimacy. There’s no room for introverts here. You’re expected to say “Hello” and answer questions. Where are you from? Got kids? Wanna try Mary’s famous Garbage Pail Omelet?

You can say yes to the omelet, it’s good.

Monday through Saturday, Mary Baker, the one and only, makes her way from the outskirts of town to her diner on the main drag and opens shop at 5 a.m. — right around the time the broken church bell across the street delivers a single waking gong.

Summer brings in more business when the nearby ATV trails that cut through The County open for the season. If you’re in northern Maine and you find yourself taking a spin on a four-wheeler, keep your eyes peeled for little signs along the trails pointing you toward Mary’s, where you can satisfy your hunger with red blooded American food.

There’s no bad time to go to Mary’s, but you better get there early. It’s only open until 2 p.m. and seats are at a premium — there are only a few of them.

Mary’s menu, which covers the length of the wall behind the counter, features home cooked classics like burgers, hot dogs, ham steak and chicken nuggets. But nothing beats Mary’s breakfast food. If you’re the type of person that gets excited for all-day breakfast then Mary’s is the perfect place to summon your inner Ron Swanson and dive into a plate of fluffy folded golden eggs with a stack of thick salty bacon, along with homemade toast and knuckle sized chunks of crispy potatoes enhanced with perfectly caramelized onions, which are optional of course.

Neil Baker Sr., Mary’s husband, used to help with dishes and garbage runs, but ever since having to get a pacemaker, he’s had to slow down, so Mary’s left to hustle and manage breakfast orders on her own. She said she had more help when she first bought the place back in the 90s. She could count on family to lend a hand with meals and washing, but now it’s all up to her.

There’s no messing around at Mary’s Diner. Mary leans on her traditions of family cooking. She’s a self-taught cook who learned the basics of cooking in high school.

On Friday’s, Mary’s serves fish chowder — a highlight of the week. You won’t find a better price for a bowl of slow simmered hunks of delicious fish paired with Maine potatoes and accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich to dunk into broth so good it might be a crime to sell it more than once a week.

A sad truth about Mary’s is that until the state finds a way to keep its population from moving elsewhere, especially the northern rural half, Mary said her business will continue to dip. But don’t let that bum you out, because Mary’s a machine and plans to cook, “until … I can’t do it,” she said.

A few unwritten rules before embarking on your first trip to Mary’s Diner: speak up, listen close, don’t be afraid to ask for onions with your hash browns and bring a friend.

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