Like most pubs nowadays, Cameron Bar and Grill has flat screen TVs. There's a neat row of them over the bar in back, and two more tucked discreetly into corners of the dining room. But it's an entirely different set of visual images that set the mood: sepia-toned photographs of Cameron Village in its early years, blown up to wall-spanning size. Depicting '50s vintage cars and people in trim suits in front of stores whose names have since vanished into memory, the pictures are reminders that Cameron Village was an important community gathering place long before it became the trendy shopping center it is today.
It is this merging of past and present, set against an understated backdrop of mahogany woodwork and ivory walls, that gives Cameron Bar and Grill the inviting feel of a neighborhood pub that has been around for decades, not months.
That same spirit guides the menu, whose time-spanning embrace includes both onion rings and quesadilla; meatloaf and chicken Florentine; club sandwich and grilled portobello with roasted red pepper mayo on a Kaiser roll. You're sure to find something that hits the spot, regardless of whether you're old enough to tell which of those vintage cars in the photos are Studebakers.
Feeling retro? Bacon-wrapped scallops, tossed in a light teriyaki sauce, ought to do the trick for starters. Or maybe an old-fashioned chicken salad with grapes and almonds on a bed of greens, garnished with fresh fruit.
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A salad of mixed greens with strawberries, candied pecans and feta should satisfy modern palates. And the appeal of steamed shrimp, Buffalo wings, and spinach and artichoke dip -- all done very well here -- is timeless.
Entrees are similarly varied and, with few exceptions, well-prepared. Cameron Steak, which features a soy- and pineapple-marinated filet with homemade mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, has the twin virtues of being properly grilled to order and being available in both 8-ounce and 4-ounce versions. Fish on Greens, which serves up the fresh fish of the day, grilled or blackened atop your choice of entree-sized salad, is another light main course option. Grilled salmon on a spinach salad with bacon, hard-boiled egg, walnuts and goat cheese dressed in a warm vinaigrette certainly left me feeling happy and healthy.
At the other end of the spectrum are a rib-sticking meatball sub, a half-pound burger and meatloaf, which is less dense than most in texture but satisfyingly beefy. Classic mac and cheese is a natural choice for a side dish with this one. If the macaroni is a bit dry, as it sometimes is, a splash of jus from the meatloaf will fix it right up.
Thankfully, such slip-ups are rare in the kitchen. It's another story in the dining room, however, where the level of attentiveness can vary considerably depending on which server is assigned to your table.
A separate section of the menu is devoted to Italian entrees, a fact that should come as no surprise once you know that the restaurant's owners are the De Martino family, who also own Café Tiramisu and North Ridge Pub in North Raleigh. Certainly, anyone who has eaten at the estimable Café Tiramisu won't be surprised that the eggplant Parmesan at Cameron Bar and Grill is on a par with the best you'll find in an area restaurant.
Brothers Richard and Rodolfo ("RD") De Martino share most of the day-to-day duties of running Cameron Bar and Grill, as well as the similar but smaller North Ridge Pub. But fans of their father, Paul De Martino, will be glad to know that the family patriarch still makes the lasagna. Piccolo Mondo, the restaurant where De Martino earned a stellar reputation as chef/proprietor for two decades, has been closed for 15 years now.
It's gratifying to know that his lasagna is one of the traditions being kept alive at Cameron Bar and Grill.