NOLA. While this word might conjure up images of New Orleans, Chef Dan Kardos and the owners from Southport Brewing Company had more than just New Orleans in mind when they put together the concept for NOLA Oyster Bar. Think East Coast shoreline cuisine, and all you love about New England, mixed up with inspiration from the creole stylings of good ‘ole New Orleans. Based on this eclectic mix, it should be no surprise the menu is heavily focused on seafood, which is great because Chef Kardos happens to be straight from Fairfield County’s own seafood mecca, The Whelk.
We live on seafood in the summer, so you best believe we were excited to hit up this new restaurant with some of our favorite friends, Mike and Kelley (with two e’s, get it right). Being majorly early, like early bird special, eat with the blue-hairs early, we sat down at the bar for some pregaming. Although they had a nice beer selection, we decided to start with some cocktails. Kristien, Mike, and Kelley all started with Leenie’s Lemonade, a cocktail with Hangar 1 Maine blueberry vodka, fresh muddled mint, lemon, and simple sugar. The lemon flavor hit first, but then you got nice notes of blueberry and mint. Awesome and refreshing, not overly tart or sweet. Dan had to be different and tried the French Quarter, made with rye whiskey, cardamaro, and old-fashioned bitters. This has a classic kind of flavor and is a great choice if you love rye. Because we were the first people at the bar for the day, the manager treated us to his soon-to-be-famous (by the time we write this it should already be famous) oyster shooters. You’ll find this on the happy hour menu, but it just might show up on the regular cocktail menu soon too. This shot is similar in flavor to a Bloody Mary with some kick and an oyster waiting for you on the bottom. Very refreshing and a nice way to usher in our meal.
Kristien and Kelley ordered some more cocktails and Dan and Mike switched to some of the eight beers that they have on tap. After all this successful pregaming, we headed out to our table to chow down. By then, we kinda already knew what we’d order from their Greens, Not So Small Plates, Entrees, and Sandwiches menu. The four of us would share the poached lobster + cornbread waffle, pulled pork sliders, CPA beer braised mussels, clam poutine, shrimp & grits, fried oyster BLT, the burger (Mike devoured it), and the buttered grits and Brussels sprouts on the sides menu. Damn, that sounds like a lot as we write this! That doesn’t even include a few dishes that Chef Kardos sent out to us to try, nor dessert. At least it was four people and not just us, right? ;)
Before the heftier stuff, we started with some Washington oysters that came with a nice and oniony, slightly tart mignonette. The sauce and oysters were excellent together. Chef Kardos also sent out a shrimp cocktail with a spicy cocktail sauce (which all cocktail sauce should be) that we dug. We were also given the hamachi crudo to try. This was thinly cut fish with a healthy dose of sesame oil, white soy, scallions, salt, and ginger. The crudo was excellently balanced in salty, toasty, bright, and fresh flavors.
Here is the rest of our meal, broken down in easy to digest bites—easier than it was for us to digest all of this food… errrr you get the point:
Poached lobster + corn waffles: the sauce is buttery, the cornbread waffle is fluffy and sweet, and the lobster is just perfect. We’d order this again any time. We only wish it were a bit bigger–definitely for sharing with only one other person because it’s so yummy!
Pulled Pork Sliders: the pulled pork was delicate and nicely balanced with the coleslaw, all served on a grilled bun. Mike’s a big fan of pulled pork and said that he loved it. So, it’s a definite must for BBQ fans.
CPA Beer Braised Mussels: the toast it came with was buttered, spicy, and beautiful (look, you always need toast with the broth), while the beer in the broth comes through nicely. The mussels were perfectly cooked…another great dish from Chef Kardos.
Clam Poutine: holy crap. Our favorite of the night! We love this take on poutine, the Canadian classic with gravy, cheese, and fries. You get a fattiness from the cheddar, a smokiness from the bacon, and the brininess from the clam gravy. Plus, those fries were perfectly crispy and a nice vehicle for all the goodies on top.
Cornmeal Fried Oysters: we’ve never been a huge fan of collared greens, but the oysters were tasty. They were breaded nicely with some herbs. The mayo added just a hint of a kick for that finishing touch. This was collectively our least favorite dish of the night though.
Shrimp + Grits: the shrimp was cooked perfectly and had a nice char on it playing off the spicy pickled jalapeno. Bringing it all together was some creamy grits with smoky and delicate ham. Kelley confessed that it was so good, “I could rub it all over my skin.” And that’s why we love her.
Norm Bloom’s Fried Oyster BLT: the bread is soft, the oysters were perfectly fried again, and there was a nice kick from the mayo. This was a light and fresh sandwich that Kristien loved.
Fried Brussels Sprouts: sweet, caramelized nicely. The pistachio adds crunch, while the bacon adds that rich, sexiness to this side. A must order if you love sprouts and your veggies.
Peanut Butter Pot de Creme: the creme is fresh and thick, close to a pudding. The peanut butter really came through making this a great dessert.
Creamsicle: our waiter suggested that we try this drink that shows up on the dessert menu. Oh, and what an awesome way to end the meal. This mixed drink was made with Captain Morgan’s, was creamy, and really did taste just like a creamsicle. In the wrong hands, that drink can be dangerous…very, very dangerous. :)
Wow, so yeah, that’s everything we ate. Man, we’re full just writing this. We are happy to say though, that all four of us walked away with a really positive first impressions of NOLA. The food and drinks are as equally creative as they are well-executed. The service was on point, too. We’d most definitely go back, so of course we recommend you check it out too!