After a late night in the quarter and some sluggish traffic on the way back to Metaire I decided to sleep in...until a whopping 6:00am. With my plane leaving en route for O'Hare at 11:20am and my car due back at the rental company by 10:00 I decided to go for a jog, get showered, and pack/checkout early and grab a bite to eat before I boarded the plane. With 6pm reservations at Alinea for The Tour and uncertain lunch plans I wanted something filling that wouldn't take too long but would also provide one last memorable experience of New Orleans...I thought waffles and pie fit the bill nicely.
Hopping into the car and heading eastward I found some sticky traffic due to construction but still managed to arrive in front of the famous Camellia Grill by 8:15. Walking into the small restaurant I found both the facade and the countertop layout to be particularly "homey" and pleasant. With four servers behind the bar and three open stools at the dead center of the action I waltzed up and sat down only to have the two chairs next to me filled seconds later by another couple and a subsequent line begin to grow - it was 15-20 deep by the time I left at 9:15.
Greeted promptly by my server, a short African American fellow wearing a badge that read "Sleepy" I chuckled at his low voice, smooth demeanor, and tired looking eyes. While the name may have fit his look, it most certainly didn't fit his efficiency as he moved quickly around the bar serving multiple persons in multiple seats without missing a beat. A menu placed in front of me and water and coffee filled I was told to "gimme a holler when you're ready" and Sleepy went off to serve other diners.
Browsing the menu didn't take long but watching the expert grill man was definitely a distraction worth watching as he worked griddle, grill, and waffle irons rapidly. Sipping my coffee I have to say it wasn't the best of the trip, but for the price it most certainly wasn't bad with it's heavy chicory notes balanced by a bold chocolate and woody undertone. Catching Sleepy with a nod of the head he came over to gather my order, checked off the boxes, and passed it on to the cook.
Sitting back and watching the show that is the waiters at Camellia I have to say I was amused - it is rare to see people look like they're having so much fun working together, especially with such efficiency...it reminded me of Dottie's in San Francisco or The Griddle in Los Angeles, but more culturally oriented and humorous....though perhaps more choreographed. Watching the look on his wife's face as my neighbor received a gigantic omelet with chili and a chocolate shake for breakfast was another great treat while I waited a short 15 minutes for my first dish to arrive.
Brought hot off the waffle iron (irons that look to have been through a war in addition to the hurricane) and placed before me with a "there ya go - and here's the cane syrup, ignore that maple stuff" my pecan waffle looked quite unlike the fluffy buttermilk waffles I was familiar with but moreso like a 50/50 mix of dough and pecans - crisp, golden, and flat. Topping the waffle with the liquid butter (recommended by another server over the hard butter) and the cane syrup and proceeding to take a bite I was surpised by the texture - fluffy and nutty to mastication and actually quite delicious on its own, but even better with the syrup and butter. Not overly filling on its own despite its large plate size I was quite happy with the waffle - though it had no chance to trump what followed.
After taking a seat and ordering more waffle I'd asked if the Pecan Pie was available so early in the morning to which sleepy said "it's never too early for pie" and while eating my waffle I watched sleepy cut a sizable slice from the refridgerated pan and hand it to the grill man who subsequently placed it top down on the hot buttered grill and allowed it to cook for approximately 5-6 minutes until the buttery pecan and cinnamon smell was evident even at my seat. Flipping it off the grill onto a plate and passing it off to Sleepy he noted "HOT PIE COMING THROUGH" loud enough for all to hear. Presenting the plate to me he said "Hot Pie - but it looks naked...what this needs is some Ice Cream!" Chuckling and nodding my head in affirmation Sleepy pulled out an icecream scoop and placed an enormous scoop of vanilla right on top of the pie exclaiming "WHOOMP - There it is!" Melting rapidly atop the scorching pie the icecream quickly cooled the dish and taking a bite I was quite impressed by both the smoothness of potent vanilla ice cream and the buttery cinnamon essences of the pecan pie. Eating slower as the pie began to cool I was more impressed by the lack of "filler" and the plethora of pecans as well as the buttery crisp crust...from now on I think pie at breakfast will be a vacation requirement.
Thanking Sleepy and his cohorts for a great experience I picked up my bill and made my way to the door where you pay a friendly lady who chalks up the tab based on the checkmarks. Given the option to tip on my credit card or pay the server cash I simply put another 20% on the card and made my way to the street with a big smile on my face – and a smile on the face of the people waiting in line for a seat. Hopping in the car and making my way to the rental car agency I was glad to have experienced Camellia Grill – a sweet ending to a great trip.