Review by Scott Cherry Photos by Matt Barnard
It’s eye-popping, that’s for sure.
The new Nola’s Creole & Cocktails visually is stunning with five different dining areas, each with its own motif and all with the idea of giving customers a 1920s-1930s New Orleans vibe.
The restaurant is the vision of Brett Rehorn, who also owns the elaborately decorated Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, a little to the east of Nola’s on Cherry Street.
Rehorn also was an original partner in the long-closed Bourbon Street Café, another Cherry Street restaurant whose space now is occupied by SMOKE Woodfire Grill.
“That all started in 1996,” Rehorn said. “I had been a mechanical contractor and didn’t know the restaurant business. I sold out of Bourbon Street and opened Kilkenny’s in 2002, but I did love that Cajun food.
“When the Gray Snail (Saloon) closed, I came to look at the property, and the first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, yeah, Cajun.’ The property manager said other people were basically looking at it to keep it similar to what it had been for 25 years. I told him it needed to be something totally different, and we would gut it and make it something new.”
We dined there recently with a couple who has been visiting New Orleans every year for more than 30 years. We made reservations in the gentleman’s name — right now, reservations are a must during peak dinner hours — and were seated in the Prohibition Room.
That room seats about 40 and is decorated with black-and-white photos of apparent gangster types from the ’20s and ’30s. Rehorn would tell me he found the photos online, and they actually were Australian gangsters, but who’s counting?
We shared two appetizers — crab cakes ($16) and fried alligator ($16) — plus a bowl of turtle soup ($10) while zeroing in on our entrees.
The first appetizer featured two blue lump crab cakes with a white wine sauce, a simple yet delicious start to the evening. The platter of alligator included chunks of tender alligator that had been breaded and fried, several sweet and moist hush puppies, some spicy slaw and a spicy remoulade dipping sauce, a mayo-based sauce with Cajun seasonings.
Our friends said the turtle soup was lighter in color than what they had in New Orleans, but they were impressed by the amount of meat in the broth, which also included tomatoes, spinach and a hard-boiled egg.
Our entrees included crawfish étoufée ($13), voodoo chicken ($18), pork chop ($16) and a filet ($28).
The big bowl of étoufée was loaded with plump, clean-tasting crawfish served over rice with a fairly thick, light roux.
The voodoo chicken featured a fried chicken breast with Cajun seasonings topped with shrimp and crab mornay sauce, a silky-smooth and delicious white cheese sauce.
The 12-ounce porterhouse pork chop was grilled to medium and topped with a spicy apple sauce, and the tender, 8-ounce center-cut filet was cooked to a nice medium-rare.
All but the étoufée came with a choice of two sides. Among our favorites were the fried corn on the cob, red beans and rice, sautéed green beans and maque choux, a traditional braised corn dish.
Almost all of the dishes have some spiciness to them, but few are over the top.
“We are serving a lot of different people and kind of shoot for a 5 out of 10,” Rehorn said.
“We can’t take the spice out, but we can add it. If you want to kick it up to an 8 or 9, just tell your server.”
Nola’s has full bar service, including a variety of old-fashioned cocktails and 12 beers on tap, including Nola’s French ale provided by Tulsa’s Cabin Boys Brewery.
It can be a little tough to hear when the restaurant is full, but bouncy jazz music plays in the background.
The handsome bar area has old-fashioned tin ceilings, three high-backed booths, 16 bar stools and a center table for a group to gather. The French Quarter is an enclosed patio with plantation shutters, a view overlooking downtown and seating for 70.
The main dining room has big, red wall banquets that seat at least six diners and a row of four-top tables down the center of the room. It is decorated with colorful prints and rows of bookshelves. The Napoleon room has a table for six in a swanky, French-style ambience.
All manner of antique items are found throughout the rooms, such as atomizers in the women’s bathroom (I’m told) and personal temperance pledges from the Prohibition era. The men’s room has framed pages from an old book, “The Shadow Bottle,” that extols the evils of alcohol.
“It took 10 months to do the renovations, but I think it was all worth it,” Rehorn said.