In May of 2015, Camellia Moree, owner of Camellia’s Country Store and Restaurant, opened up a “country cookin’ place” on the corner of Lucas Ferry Road and Nuclear Plant Road, where Athens meets Tanner. She is no newcomer to folks in our area, as she had previously operated the restaurant in the same location, Marie’s Country Store, as well as had a successful catering business. For several years she had a contract with TVA to provide “home-cooked” food for employees. She would work around the clock during an outage, sometimes only getting 30 minutes of sleep. “We were all in it together,” she said. When the day came that Camellia was offered a new opportunity, she says she was “cryin’ like a baby, ‘cuz we were like family.” Wherever Miss Camellia goes, she “builds her a community.” “I’ll be back, you just hang on,” she told her “TVA-ers,” and they knew, God willing, she’d be true to her word.
“Life happens,” as they say, and during this tough time, she also lost her dearest friend and head cook, Peaches Walton. Even talking about it all these years later brings tears to her eyes, and there is a monument to their friendship hanging on the wall right next to the kitchen. The current location became available in May of last year, and it is a pleasure to announce that business is brisk, and the word is spreading.
By way of background, Camellia grew up in Andrews, SC, in what she calls the “low country.” Her parents operated a BBQ place for 30 years, have since passed, and it’s still going strong. She learned a number of things beside how to cook for a crowd from her parents. The first and most important thing they taught her was, “Ya gotta love your customers,” she told me. Her parents also told her that if you “Be good to your customers, and cook good food, you won’t have to worry about customers.” She has certainly followed that advice, and when I visited during lunch hour, the place was packed. The Fire Marshall will let her have a few over 60 seated at any one time, and as one of her servers told me with a happy sigh, “It’s like this every day.”
Hard work is obviously another component for success, and Camellia’s is open from 5am to 1:30pm, Monday through Saturday, with the help of staff who are as dedicated as she is. She also says, with a charming blend of firmness and shyness, that she is “funny about good quality food.” She is simply not going to cut corners, and, for example, the biscuits are made from scratch, and that’s just that.
She went on to tell me what they have found to be customer favorites, and the day I was there, two gentlemen, one from Huntsville and one from Madison, were glad to have made the trip just to get the “real deal.” Camellia says her signature piece is pork chops, which are served on Wednesdays. “On Friday, we have catfish,” she said. Other specials include fried chicken, BBQ chicken, ribs and salmon patties, and one client says he comes “just for the chicken.” There is meatloaf from an age old recipe, and the day I had lunch, my BBQ chicken fell right off the bone. Because I was sitting in the corner working mostly out of sight, I licked my fingers with abandon, and I don’t think anyone could have blamed me!
Camellia’s also serves the sides one would expect to find paired with a home cooking café. There is mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, collard greens, sweet tea, and then there are the desserts. They vary from day to day, but include caramel pecan delight pie, Elvis Presley cake, Sundrop Cake, blackberry wine cake, chess pie, and she has recently gotten requests for her chocolate gravy over biscuits.
I asked her why, when there are a number of home cooking places in North Alabama, should I come to her. She was thoughtful, and then said, “We have good quality food, and we put the love into the food.” She went on to say, “We like to laugh and joke with our customers, and make them feel at home.” I will also add that they’ll cry with their customers, too, as I had just received the news that a very dear friend, (who would have felt right at home at Camellia’s), had suddenly passed, minutes before our appointment. I was conducting this part of the interview through tears while we sat outside on the picnic bench, and when we were finished, Miss Camellia gave me what one friend describes so well as a “proper hug.” If you are looking for a café that is also a community, as well as a wonderful caterer, then come and join the people who make the drive from Pulaski, Priceville, Florence, Huntsville and Madison to get country cookin’ at Camellia’s.
Camellia’s Country Store and Restaurant
18025 Nuclear Plant Road
Athens, AL 35611
Hours: M-Sat 5am-1:30pm
Facebook: Camellia’s Country cooking
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner