New Orleans’ Camellia Grill Serves Up Unique Experience If Not Much Vegan Fare

No trip to New Orleans should be without a visit to the landmark eatery, The Camellia Grill. (Note: at the time of this post, their website included home page photos, but was still under construction). When you go, you must arrive via a streetcar ride down St. Charles Avenue. If you visit during the cold months, be sure to bundle up. Streetcars aren’t heated, at least the one my family road wasn’t.

If you follow this blog, you know that, for the last two years, my family has made a very special pre-Christmas trip to New Orleans. Last year, we rode the streetcar for old time’s sake, but didn’t get off at The Camellia Grill, to which I remembered going as a child. But, this year, though we went by car on our way out of town, we did stop for a late breakfast. While the time of day indicated “brunch,” this is no brunch-serving establishment. It’s quite a “greasy spoon” lunch counter despite its Colonial southern mansion facade with its name in pink neon printed across the entablature.

Hardly a bastion of veganism, The Camellia Grill serves up a dining experience so unique that’s it’s worth any protein sacrifice. Formerly surly waitstaff that hurled rolls at each other have been replaced by quite the opposite.

Getting a seat on a busy December morning was an adventure in itself. There’s a system. But it’s pretty loose. You have to jostle your way to the head of the line to leave the number in your party–not your name, mind you–with the hostess. Then you maneuver back outside to wait a remarkably short time considering the crowds. Just when it seems like she couldn’t possibly keep track of all of the comings and goings, you are motioned forward. But it’s not to take a seat at the continuous double-U-shaped counter with its floor-mounted stools. Rather, it’s to perch on one of the identical L-shaped couches in the corners of the rectangular space. After another short wait and, again, just when you think your party has been forgotten, the correct number of stools open up, and you are motioned to join the other diners. This sometimes requires that folks scoot down a seat or two, or that parties be split up if amenable. No one seems to mind, as it’s all part of the convivial experience.

If anonymous entrances and exits are your preference, you can check that at the door because every diner is greeted exuberantly by his or her waiter, complete with whatever that server’s particular shtick happens to be. Professionals, all, they keep up a surprisingly unobtrusive repartee, astutely reading their customers for just how far they can go, as they banter with them, the grill meisters and their fellow waiters.

I enjoyed my plate of fresh, thinly sliced tomatoes with crunchy and plentiful, albeit a little greasy, hash browned potatoes washed down with a cup of hot tea. And, okay, I couldn’t resist a few of my sister’s extra-crispy fries (served with her perfectly grilled Reuben Sandwich).
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Vegan Indian/Pakistani Food in Two Shakes (French Quarter, New Orleans, LA)

Two shakes of “Salt-n-Pepper” that is.

I discovered this restaurant last year on my family’s now-annual pre-Christmas trip to New Orleans. Both years we have stayed at the Chateau LeMoyne on Dauphine Street in the heart of the French Quarter. (Don’t let the fact that this hotel is owned by Holiday Inn deter you. Built around a pair of lovely courtyards, it feels as authentically “French Quarter” as any establishment there. We love the budget price–but beware the taxes and the tres cher parking price tag–and my sister and I love the room we’ve shared both years: No. 454 with its exposed brick wall.)

An avid walker, I circumnavigate the Quarter each morning in a series of right turns by setting off east down Dauphine Street, turning right on Barracks and following it to the French Market. There I turn right again and head to Jackson Square where I access the river walk and continue along the Mighty Mississippi to the Aquarium. There, I turn right again, cross the street car lines to Canal Street, take another right, and enter Canal Place (a tres luxe shopping mall) for my daily hit of soy milk via a decaf latte at Starbucks. (Being a vegan in search of protein in New Orleans has its challenges.) From there, I head up Iberville Street to Dauphine, where I take another right back to our hotel. There is no place I would rather be than the French Quarter on a given morning.

At 400 Iberville is a tiny restaurant called Salt-n-Pepper. I’m sure there is a story behind that name, but I don’t know what it is, as this little joint is an Indian/Pakistani restaurant that also serves pizza. Last year, I only perused the menu in the window with interest. This year, in the early afternoon, after finishing some Christmas shopping for my mom at Pottery Barn in Canal Place, I was famished. So, knowing that we didn’t have dinner reservations until 8:30, I went in and ordered a pakora appetizer which I ate sitting on the steps of a building across the street.

For about $3.50, I was served easily twice as many pakoras as I could even eat. (Knowing they wouldn’t keep well in our hotel room, I left the other half sitting on the steps in hopes that a hungry foraging animal would find them. But, alas, they were still there the next day. I hope that means there aren’t hungry foraging animals in the French Quarter.) The large branching veggie fritters were served with a tiny and super-fresh side salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and bell pepper along with a thin yogurt sauce which I didn’t realize was included or I would have asked that it be omitted.

During the very short wait for my pakoras to be fried, I engaged the friendly proprietor about the difference between Indian and Pakistani food. He explained that, essentially, Northern India and Pakistan are very similar in culture, cuisine and language, while Southern India differs dramatically.

Though the pakoras weren’t the freshest and lightest I’ve ever had–they had been pre-cooked and were refried to order–they were still satisfying with a subtle and appealing spicy heat that was cooled down perfectly by the crisp and cool side salad. Goat notwithstanding, I look forward to sampling more vegan items from the Salt-n-Pepper menu.

Photo Credit: Humid Beings
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Happy [Vegan] Holidays from Bayona Restaurant in New Orleans!

I left home on Tuesday, December 22, bound for New Orleans, LA (NOLA), to meet my family for two nights in one of our favorite cities before going to my childhood home in Laurel, MS, where I am now. (My husband and I celebrate Christmas apart, with our respective families, but then meet somewhere for our own holiday…see below.)

The days leading up to my departure were so full, as are everyone’s this time of year, that I ran out of time to post a Happy Holidays greeting before I left, nor a recipe or two. And now I have even more recipes to post that I’ve created while here: an addictive one for spiral bread (my favorite pizza dough filled with olive paste, caramelized onions and fennel, roasted peppers, and homemade tofu “cheeze“) and one for pears poached in red wine topped with caramelized onion and a rosemary-scented wine reduction. But, alas, I find myself without necessary cables or flash drives to upload photos.

So, since I also find myself with blogging withdrawal, I’ll post some Internet pix and miscellaneous related posts about discoveries on our trip plus some great vegan boots until I return to VA. I’ll be away for another week, including a trip to Miami to meet my husband and two of our good friends. (Oh, how I miss my dogs…and my husband, but I’ll see him Wednesday!)

Though known internationally for its cuisine, New Orleans is hardly a vegan haven. However, one of the city’s best restaurants, Bayona, is on the same street as our hotel, the Chateau LeMoyne, and just a couple of blocks away at 430 Dauphine Street. Chef Susan Spicer is more than accommodating of those with special diets, including vegans. My recommendation is to inform the hostess that there is a vegan(s) in your party when you make your reservation and let Chef Spicer work her magic, or rather voodoo. Last year, during my family’s first pre-Christmas trip to NOLA, she prepared something delicious that involved radish cakes. This year, the sumptuous dish of pineapple, asparagus, mushrooms and a beautifully balanced sauce over fragrant “Jazzmen” rice was Asian-inspired.

If your travel plans take you to New Orleans, I can’t recommend Bayona highly enough. Unfortunately, the restaurant’s website at has a lapsed account as of today. But try it at some point in the future and, in the meantime, try this link for a dining guide listing and review.
Wherever you may be this holiday season, laissez les bon temps roulez!

Photo Credit: from the Epicurean Wine Council’s website
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