My last visit to the Camellia Grill was on my daughter Bridget’s 16th birthday. Marvin waited on us and made a big deal about everything, taking special care to offer Bridget some words of wisdom. When we left he gave us the trademark knuckle tap and said "word." That was 10 days before Katrina hit, almost 2 years ago. The Camellia Grill was not seriously damaged by the hurricane, but the former owners didn’t bother to reopen and no one could understand why. About a year ago people started leaving little love notes to their old friends at the Grill. I wrote a blog post about the melancholy feeling that induced.
A few months ago some new owners took over and announced a reopening. The outside was obviously not going to change, but what about the inside? Would they keep the seats in the corners where people waited to move to the counter? Would the pie boxes with angled mirrors survive renovations? And, most importantly, would people like Marvin continue to work behind the counters?
The Camellia Grill officially reopened on Friday, but it was a special event not open to the general public. Today I went to the Grill with Becky and Charlotte. We had to wait in line, which was fine. Some out-of-towners behind us became impatient and started grumbling about going to McDonalds instead. Obviously they didn’t appreciate the significance of the Camellia Grill. No one bothered to enlighten them and they left. Which was also fine.
The line moved quickly, and soon we were allowed inside where we could once again feel the heartbeat of this unique New Orleans landmark.
To my great joy, everything looked the same. The walls are still pink, the floors are still beaten, and the Mickey Mouse clock on the wall is still covered with 40+ years of kitchen soot (it also still fails to display anything remotely close to the correct time). Marvin is back in his section of the counter, laughing and jabbering incessantly, and handing out knuckle taps to the comers and goers. My chili cheese omelet with fries was absolutely perfect. Not because it was cooked to perfection, but because it was served in a timeless corner of paradise.
There are new love notes on the front window of the Grill, and I studied them all carefully. They each tell an important story, but Mike G says it best. For those of you stuck out of town here is some video footage to tide you over: