Restaurant Review: Camellia Café

Camellia Café has been pleasing palates in Baldwin County since 2006, first in Daphne and now in its new location in Fairhope. The move to downtown Fairhope in December of 2010 doubled the customer capacity at the esteemed eatery, but most nights seating is still at a premium as it is considered a spot to see and be seen. The tony interior features sophisticated, smoke gray walls dotted with chic Alabama art. A big bar that runs most of the length of the restaurant is one of the major advantages provided by the venue change, says owner and chef Ryan Glass. The “foot traffic that Fairhope provides” is another. The move required a complete remodeling of the current location — and, Glass says, he’s not quite done yet. A 500-square-foot expansion is in the future plans; a renovation Glass says he hopes will include a small, private dining area and another restroom.

The menu features fresh and flavorful fare, often with a bit of fancy French flair. Steak tartare, done exceptionally well here, is a splendid example. It’s a signature starter and a true culinary classic seldom seen or served elsewhere. Oysters are another specialty and the menu usually includes several choices from different locations. (A recent sampling featured bivalves from Apalachicola, Fla.; Watch Point, Va.; and Blue Point, Conn.) Glass also showcases local ingredients including produce from the Allegri Farm Market and vinegars from Perdido Vineyards. Popular menu picks include the showy tomato salad served Napolean-style, seared flat-iron steak, braised lamb shank and the Southern staple, shrimp and grits. Desserts include ricotta cheesecake, a warm bourbon pecan pie and in-house-made sorbets. There is an impressive and extensive wine list – or you may bring your own for a $30 corkage fee. Sunday brunch is served on some special occasions.

On the Menu

Belgian Endive Salad
Tart pairs with sweet in this creative salad. Endive leaves, strewn with paper-thin slices of Granny Smith apple, are sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts, bits of dried apricot and soft, creamy nuggets of blue cheese.  It’s all well dressed with a light, sprightly vinaigrette.

Steak Tartare
A slightly coddled quail’s egg and a scattering of  capers crown a plump, pretty, pink mound of top-quality, seasoned  raw filet of beef — ground just before it’s ordered. Served with toasted baguette slices.

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Scallops with Lobster Oscar
Succulent, sweet lobster, scallops, sliced fingerling potatoes and haricots verts are lavished with lush béarnaise sauce and capped with salty, fried capers and snipped chives.

Sorbet Trio
Fresh, frosty scoops of fruit sorbet, served in a martini glass, are topped with several shards of candied lemon zest and accompanied by a cookie or two. (The flavors change to feature seasonal fruit.)

Camellia Café  •  5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Tu – Sa. •  61 N. Section St.  •  928-4321  •

Sallye Irvine

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