One meal in New Orleans: Camellia Grill
The original Camellia Grill, in New Orleans' Carrollton neighborhood, was established in 1946 and basically hasn't changed since. Even after closing for 20 months following Hurricane Katrina, it reopened in April, 2007 with the same stools, same counter, same waiters and same griddle that patrons had been accustomed to since the Truman Administration.
The French Quarter spin-off of the same name and same menu, which opened at the corner of Chartres and Toulouse two years ago, is a virtual carbon copy. There are no tables, just a communal counter running parallel to a pair of open-faced griddles. If you can cook it on a flat-top or a deep fryer, Camellia serves it: triple-thick omelets, with the egg whipped in a milkshake maker; juicy burgers, pulverized to maximum tenderness via spatula; breaded catfish on a buttered bun ...
I attempted to order the Word Special -- double hot sausage with lettuce, tomato and mayo on a hero roll -- before Ricky, our waiter, recommended an upgrade.
"You want cheese and a runny egg on that?"
"We call that the 'hood special' because that's how they make it in the corner stores."
You trust a guy like Ricky in a place like this. He yelled "hood special" to the chef -- who somehow manages a dozen orders at once with no written meal tickets -- and I was 10 minutes away from the greatest breakfast sandwich of my life.
Later, when the carnage was complete and the only thing left on my plate was a few shreds of mayo-coated lettuce, I decided that my final memory of this first trip to New Orleans would be Camellia's chocolate pecan pie.
I shouldn't have been surprised that the slice Ricky cut came out of the refrigerator and straight onto the griddle, right into the spot just vacated by an order of steak and eggs. Juices were co-mingled. Caramelized onions were accidentally spilled on top. Years of hash brown residue were absorbed. Ricky applied the a la mode by default.
Get beignets at Cafe Du Monde if you must. I'll be at Camellia Grill for another helping of that pie.
-- Ian Kay / Cut4