Nola’s Creole & Cocktails brings the Big Easy to Cherry Street
Nola’s Black Bayou Jambalaya Cakes
As I took the steps down from the Nola’s Creole & Cocktails stately entryway and walked through the speakeasy-style door leading to the main dining area, a sense of curiosity germinated in me and began to bud. It became clearer to me that this curiosity was stemming from something akin to déjà vu.
It felt like I was stepping foot into a classic New Orleans restaurant, a million parties ago. A restaurant I’d never actually seen or set foot in—but, rather, one I’d dreamt.
Nola’s officially opened on April 16. The building, located at East 15th Street and South Peoria Avenue, was completely renovated to make way for the vision of a Cajun/Creole restaurant with elements of a speakeasy-style cocktail bar.
To first set eyes on the interior of Nola’s Creole & Cocktails is to experience flashbacks to lost time in the French Quarter. French décor, tin tile ceilings, black-and-white ceramic tile floors, and numerous Big Easy accents evoke time spent indulging—dining, drinking, decompressing, dancing, and daydreaming. Nola’s recalls the vibe and visuals of iconic haunts like Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Brennan’s, and Napoleon House. But Nola’s is all sparkling new.
“I’m kind of looking forward to dirtying it up a little,” joked Jay Howell, Nola’s front-of-house manager.
“We want people to feel comfortable in anything from flip-flops to a tuxedo,” he said.
Howell says Nola’s aims to offer fine dining and service, but also to be a place where people can “come in and feel like they’re at home, not like they’re at Grandma’s house.”
I went with a friend on a Sunday around 2 p.m. We were seated near the bar area in a plush booth with tall green velvet seatbacks. Following a tipoff from our cordial server, I ordered the Cabin Boys Nola’s French Ale—made by the Tulsa brewers exclusively for Nola’s to complement their menu. The slightly cloudy, amber-hued beer was lively yet complex, with fruity farmhouse ale notes and flavor essences of banana, walnut, and butterscotch.
For an appetizer, we indulged in the crawfish rémoulade, a symbiosis of rich and chewy crawfish meat tossed in a zesty, scalliony rémoulade sauce, draped over a pilaf of crunchy, garlicky fried green tomatoes. The crispness of the ale echoed the crunch of the tomatoes, and the chewy chunks of crawfish added depth and ground. Rather than plowing through, I savored this dish slowly.
For entrees, we tried the Lobster Mac and Cheese and the Gri Gri Shrimp with Cheese Grits. The former consisted of soft white macaroni interleaved with bite-size morsels of lobster in a creamy cheese sauce and topped with crispy breadcrumbs. It wasn’t much to look at, but it revealed a hearty backbone of lobster flavor. It was hard not to shovel spoonfuls into my face.
The shrimp and grits dish was a smooth, fluffy bowl of ludicrousness. The seven grilled shrimp that adorned the entree were coated in a savory brown gravy that oozed into the folds of the pillowy pile of perfectly-cooked grits, which also contained corn and pieces of Cajun sausage.
Under strong recommendation by our server, we ordered the bread pudding. Nola’s huge-slab version of the beloved New Orleans dessert consists of rowdy chunks of brown bread baked into a cinnamon-spiced, buttery, custardy, raisin-dappled confection. Atop the pudding was a cloudy, caramel-colored pool of sugary glaze. Raw and refined, decadent yet deliberate, this desert conjured up the same impressions I imagine a French toast would give me—if that French toast had been through grad school.
Next time I visit Nola’s I plan to try their craft cocktails. As Howell explained, their cocktail menu was “babied by our bar manager Erick Dyer and was painstakingly put together.
“He’s making his own tonics and bitters and mixers, and his own Irish cream, and his own amaretto. … Some of these drinks took hours to put together, if you look at the base ingredients,” Howell said.
Nola’s owner Brett Rehorn also owns Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, another favorite Cherry Street bar and eatery. Like Kilkenny’s, Nola’s is open from 11a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. Howell says that ideally, as with Kilkenny’s, the Nola’s kitchen will eventually be open till 1 a.m. But for now the staff is taking it one day at a time, observing the customers’ responses to the newly opened establishment, perfecting the dining experience, and having fun bringing the spirit of the French Quarter to Tulsa.