Those who’ve been around Atlanta awhile may remember the ahead-of-its-time East Atlanta Village fresh pasta restaurant, Pastificio Cameli, from George and Joe Cameli — two brothers from Nebraska who went on to open Cameli’s Pizza locations in Poncey-Highland and Little Five Points.
Recently, George Cameli converted the upstairs of the two-story L5P Cameli’s into a retro bar and restaurant, dubbed Arcadia, that looks much further back in time.
Think swag lamps, string art, vintage album covers on the walls, and vinyl playing on a pair of turntables, and you’ll get an idea of the bright orange and lime green ’70s vibe Cameli is going for.
The throwback menu from chef Sarah Case features the likes of sloppy Joes, tuna noodle casserole, bacon-wrapped meatloaf and baked beans at dinner, and griddlecakes, biscuits and gravy and a kitchen sink creation called “The Rustler” at weekend brunch.
Oh, and the old school cocktail menu, with drinks such as a fresh-squeezed Harvey Wallbanger, is printed on the labels of 45 rpm records. The yellow adapters that are in the centers read, “Drink like you’re a kid again.”
Recently at Arcadia, Cameli, a woodworker who did most of the remodeling job himself, talked about the concept and design. As it turns out, the name has nothing to do with the ’70s, except that Arcadia is the name of the street in Omaha that Cameli grew up on.
“For me, the space sort of revolves around comfort and things that you grew up with,” Cameli said. “When you walk in, you recognize certain things, and it brings you back in time. Maybe it’s the old ’70s stereo receiver or you see the string art and think, ‘Oh, I forgot about that.’ ”
For Case, who started at Cameli’s 12 years ago and worked her way up from cashier to chef, Arcadia is more like her first restaurant, with the first menu she designed on her own.
“It mostly comes from food memories,” Case said. “That’s the thing that ties this place all together. The idea of growing up. I’m from Iowa, a Midwestern kid used to Suzy Homemaker casseroles and white bread. The most exotic spice in my mom’s cabinet was oregano.”
But if Case’s dishes have a simple, homespun character, they aren’t necessarily easy to produce. In fact, almost everything is made from scratch, including all-beef brisket hot dogs and little smoked franks, breakfast sausage patties, and the grape jelly that tops the French toast Monte Cristo.
“I like that the menu is all stuff your mom would make you, but it’s not the way she would do it,” Case said. “Everybody really likes the fried pork chop, but the thing that makes that different is that it’s gluten-free, including the breading and the gravy.”
Because Arcadia is designed to be a neighborhood bar where people can gather and linger over drinks, the dinner menu is served until 1 a.m. most nights. And some of what guests are ordering during the wee hours has surprised Case.
“Two of the things on the menu that I thought nobody would order have been the best-sellers,” Case said. “The big late-night thing has been the sloppy Joe. And the other one is the tuna noodle casserole. That’s really fun.”