New Orleans Getaway: NOLA Restaurant

Driving from the airport it hit me—we were finally in New Orleans. Our vacation had officially begun, and we were ready to hit the ground running. After a quick wardrobe change to adapt to the Louisiana heat, we took off with no sights in mind and found our way to Bourbon Street.

It was the early afternoon and there were plenty of people out alongside us. Our first stop was to experience a New Orleans staple—the Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s.

We took a seat within the pigeon-filled courtyard and each ordered the signature drink. Served in a tall glass by the same name, a Hurricane is a sweet cocktail made with light and dark rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice, grenadine and lime juice, then garnished with a cherry and orange slice. After one of the 26-ounce drinks, we took off along Bourbon Street for our next destination. *Fun fact: Pat O’Brien’s serves their Hurricanes in a souvenir glass that you can keep. Or you can return the glass and get back $4.

After some more exploring and daiquiris at Fat Tuesday, we were starting to get hungry. As we traversed the less crowded streets within the French Quarter, we stumbled upon NOLA Restaurant on St. Louis Street. When we first walked in, I felt woefully underdressed, but the hostesses welcomed us and our daiquiris into the restaurant and sat us on the top floor of the dining room.

Once we got situated, we realized this was one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants. According to our server, the restaurant underwent renovations and transformed from a white-table linen fine dining establishment to a more casual restaurant. While the décor may have changed, I found that the menu was still high end, but not pretentious.

NOLA Restaurant dishes out Creole flavors, with a blend of Acadian and Southern cuisine. The innovative menu puts a unique twist on several dishes you’d typically find on local menus, to create a one-of-kind dining experience.

To get a larger taste of NOLA Restaurant’s menu, we ordered three of the Socials (appetizers) to share. We quickly realized that when it comes to spice and heat, Louisiana does NOT play around (a theme that stayed consistent the entire trip).

From the Social section of the menu, we ordered Crispy Louisiana Alligator and Mama’s Stuffed Chicken Wings. There was also a selection of specials, both Socials and entrées, to choose from, so we picked the Prince Edward Island mussels.

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I didn’t eat much of the Crispy Louisiana Alligator. In such excitement to order, I neglected to read that the gator bites are tossed in a Kung Pao sauce that does not pull any punches. As you bring a piece up to your lips, you immediately get smacked with the smell of chili pepper. As I braved a bite that burned my mouth and my insides, I took a moment to savor the double-tenderized alligator. If you’re like me and can’t handle a lot of spice, this is your warning. The heat from the Kung Pao sauce lingers, so I suggest ordering a side of ranch to cool you down.

The Mama’s Stuffed Chicken Wings are a dish that have been on NOLA Restaurant’s menu since the very beginning. Imagine if you took an egg roll and shoved it into a chicken wing. Some brilliant culinary mind thought of this, and thus Mama’s Stuffed Chicken Wings were born. A large, deboned chicken wing is filled with pork, shrimp, egg noodle, celery, mushroom and seasoned with Emeril’s personal brand of “essence” (BAM!). The first bite of the crispy chicken skin is met with the juicy egg roll-style inside.

While I can find mussels on a number of menus back in Coastal Virginia, we were practically salivating over the Prince Edward Island mussels served as that evening’s special. NOLA Restaurant often uses PEI mussels in dishes, preparing them a number of different ways. That night, they were served in a rich, buttery white wine garlic sauce with angel hair pasta. Once we had finished the dish, Elyse and I were using the mussel shells to scoop up any remaining sauce—a desperate attempt to savor every last drop.

At the end of our meal, we were more than satiated. I’m so glad we aimlessly wandered and found our way to NOLA Restaurant for our first meal in the city.

NOLA Restaurant is located at 534 St. Louis Street, New Orleans.