May 30, 2015

A commoner dines at Camellia Grill, New Orleans

I have to admit I’m more than a little embarrassed – and frankly a little ashamed – that it’s been almost three weeks since my last blog post. 

Let’s remedy that by picking up where I left off on my most recent trip to the Big Easy – the day the April and I explored the Garden District.  Afterwards, we hopped back on the streetcar to have a late lunch at one of my favorite spots along the St. Charles Avenue line – the Camellia Grill

The Camellia Grill has been an institution in the Carrollton neighborhood since it opened in 1946.  And I doubt they’ve changed much of the decor or their business model since.

You probably can’t miss seeing a line of people waiting outside of the signature white building near the corner of St. Charles and Carrollton, where the streetcar “bends” away from the river.  Once you finally get in, you’ll feel even more like you’re stepping back in time because of the old-school diner layout and the counter seating that snakes through the room.  And even then, you’ll probably still be waiting on another bench inside until a couple of counter seats open up.  But even with the additional wait, it’s worth taking in all the action at the counter and behind it. 

And there always seems to be a lot of action going on.  The place certainly has a lot of character … and characters, as in those working the grills and taking your orders.  Whoever you meet when you visit here, chances are they’ve been going at it a long time.  And once you place your order, it’s shouted to the other cooks in a language maybe only the Camellia Grill crew fully understands.  They make diner service a show for the customers and an art form to watch. 

I'm assuming that's not just one order of hash browns.  
And watch is what you’ll do, as they somehow manage multiple orders at once on the stainless steel service stations in front of you.  Plus, since breakfast is served anytime, they’re dealing with a pretty large variety of omelets, burgers and other sandwiches all on the grills at once.       

It's always busy busy behind the counter at Camellia Grill.
I’ve always found the staff at Camellia Grill friendly and entertaining.  Most of them genuinely seem to love what they do.  Just don’t expect a lot of time to chit chat or hang around once you’ve eaten.  They’re always busy and ready for you to make room for the next customers who are waiting on you. 

Decisions, decisions ...
For all the theater that you might see between the cooks and the customers, the real stars of Camellia Grill are on the menu.  At first glance, it’s your typical diner burgers and sandwiches, dinner plates and breakfast fare with a few New Orleans-themed specials added to the mix.  But they do it all extremely well.  I’ve never been disappointed with anything I’ve ordered here. 

As an aside, the burgers have achieved legendary status through the years, including making it on Jimmy Buffett’s list of 10 Best Cheeseburgers in Paradise (I have the liner notes of his box set to prove it).  He’s probably more of an expert on the subject than I am. 

The April digs into a Doc Brinkers Special.
Based on my past experiences, I encouraged The April to order the Doc Brinkers Special, mainly because it provides a little bit of everything worth trying here if you’re going to go the burger route.  It’s a juicy double cheeseburger with grilled onions on rye, with sides of cole slaw and their greasy diner-style chili.  To me, it’s the perfect combination of tastes to complement a first-time visit here.  And yes, The April concurred. 

A half-eaten Hickmen's burger.  I had to be reminded to take the picture before it was gone.
I branched out on this visit and tried the Hickmen’s burger – I’m a sucker for the combination of sautéed mushrooms and onions with Swiss cheese.  As usual, the burger was juice-dripping good with every bite. 

Pies on standby.
By the time we had finished our burgers and split an order of fries, we were stuffed, which is a shame since the pies at Camellia Grill are absolutely worth saving room for.  You can see them in the fridge above one of the prep areas just tantalizing you.  The best way to get a slice, though, is warmed on the grill with a scoop of ice cream (their pecan pie served this way is nothing short of amazing!). 

One final word of caution:  If you need to use the restroom while you’re there, don’t expect the most modern of facilities.  And you will be meandering through a maze of kitchen space and storage to find it.  But remember, you’re in New Orleans, and most of these buildings weren’t built with bathroom facilities for the masses in mind.      

At the end of the day -- or at least at the end of the streetcar ride -- I think every trip to Camellia Grill is a worthwhile addition to any time spent exploring New Orleans beyond the French Quarter.   

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...