Restaurant Name: The Camellia Grill
Ambiance: Classic Diner
Name of Burger Ordered: The Hickmen's
Price of Burger(s): $7.99 + $1.99 for regular fries
Size of Burger: 6 oz
The Camellia Grill is Naturally N'awlins. The old-fashioned classic that opened in 1946 gives you everything you want in a NOLA diner. After the clock strikes midnight, few places hit the spot better than Camellia Grill (provided you can get a seat!). This place is always packed with tourists and locals alike, and for good reason. There's nothing like stepping off the street car and smelling those delicious greasy grill smells from the curb.
We took the recommendation of one of the delightful servers and went with the Hickmen's Burger. The burger was tasty, and definitely good for diner fare. The only thing that held it back from being a premier burger (and earning a higher spot in our Burger Meet rankings) was the quality of the ingredients, which were mostly plain ol' grocery store bought items. That said, not every burger needs to have farm-to-table tomatoes, gruyere cheese, and Kobe beef (and all under $15, please). Sometimes a basic, classic burger that is served the same in 2017 as it was in 1960 is exactly what you're looking for, and Camellia Grill knocks this out of the park.
The Hickmen's: 6.99
Remember what we said about store bought ingredients? Enter the biggest offender. The bun. We could stroll into any grocery store in any city in the country and find a comparable bun. BUT, once Camellia adds a coating of butter and toasts it on their sizzling griddle, it turns a generic store bought bun into something worthy of this classic burger.
Have you ever eaten at a BBQ joint and ordered just the "burnt ends" of the brisket? Camellia Grill would be wise to give an option to just get the burnt ends of their burger! The griddle top leaves an unbelievable outer char that is full of crispy, crunchy goodness. If Camellia scraped off that char and served us that alone we'd be happy. The one downside: once you get to the inner part of the burger, it could use a bit more seasoning.
Bun to Meat Ratio: 8.5
The 6 oz flat top patty is grilled thin, but with a bun that's just as thin it's a match made in bun-to-meat ratio heaven. We wouldn't be upset if they added juuuust a little more thickness to the patty, and that likely would have earned them the elusive perfect 10 in the bun-to-meat ratio category. If we were members of the Camellia Grill R&D team, this is the first experiment we'd run. And hey, we could be wrong. But likely not.
Standard Toppings: 7.5
The Mushroom-Swiss Burger is a classic combo that always satisfies. Camellia does it well, offering up an ample portion of sautéed onions (one rater ordered them on the side and got an entire plateful). The mushrooms likely came from a can, but they were plump, and full of juice. We didn't add bacon to this burg, but we actually DID order another bacon cheeseburger to split (but not rate), and the bacon was excellent. Negative points for charging $0.85 cents to get our burger (lettuce, tomato, mayo). Lame.
Continuing the unfortunate theme, the fries are your typical store bought bag fry. Even more unfortunate, there wasn't speck of seasoning on them. In fact we think we saw the saltshaker instinctively slide away from the fry basket as if it the poor little guy knew there was a restaurant policy against putting any seasoning on the fries. This said, the staff cooked the "recipe" about as good as they could given the ingredients, and the fries came out plump, crispy, and piping hot. Note to all restaurants out there: hot and crispy can disguise a lot of weaknesses when it comes to fries!
Camellia Grill serves up a greasy spoon burger that's just what you'd expect from a diner. An important thing to remember: Burger Meet rules limit raters to TWO (alcoholic) beverages when rating burgers to maintain the integrity of their rating. It would be fun/interesting/a possible train wreck to do a few late-night Burger Meet ratings that require a five drink MINIMUM, and compare those ratings to our sober scores.
*Immediately adds this to the list of future Burger Meet ideas...
There's a good chance Camellia Grill would see one of the biggest rating jumps if those parameters were put in place, as it's the perfect spot that you want to be pulling a receipt out of your pocket from the morning after a memorable night.
We tested them with more than a couple of substitutions and they still nailed it.
$8 for a diner burger + $2 for fries certainly isn't steep for what you're getting, though you may be paying a slight premium for the Camellia Grill name. But you know what? That doesn't bother us one bit. Local staples like Camellia Grill are becoming harder and harder to find in a lot of cities. So for the entertainment + nostalgia value alone, we'd pay a $10 cover charge to sit at the counter and not eat a thing.
Our first perfect 10(!!!) in service! And frankly, they deserve a Spinal Tap-esque 11. Let's address the food-related service first, where Camellia's staff goes completely above and beyond. We ordered several burgers on the Camellia's menu: although we rate ONLY the best burger a restaurant offers, oftentimes our burger eyes get so big when we see all the options, that we order a bunch of extra burgers to make sure we get our fill). Totally necessary. Obviously. Unprompted, our server halved all the burgers so we could easily share. He also gave every rater their own "sampler" plater, that included a serving of each of the different types of burgers that we ordered. Simply fantastic.
This is the type of red carpet treatment that gets a spot a perfect 10. But what takes Camellia to an 11 is the charm of its staff. Do you know the backstory of the name of every item on the menu? We do now! If you ever have a friend in town for a very short amount of time and you want to show them why NOLA locals are a special, one-of-a-kind breed, you take them to Camellia Grill. Even with the passing of legendary fist-bumping waiter Marvin "Word" Day last year, the rest of the staff continues to deliver the smiles.
We always find it tricky to separate the returnability factor based on the burger alone from the returnability factor based on the overall experience. But we will try (hard) here. Ignoring the history and charm of this local historical landmark, if you're craving a classic diner burger (and in New Orleans there's certainly a need for late-night burger joints), this is definitely one worth getting your hands greasy for.
Want to see how Camellia Grill ranks? Check out the Burger Meet rankings.
Want to see how these rank overall? Check out our RANKINGS.