NOLA on the Square

NOLA gives Market Square a taste of New Orleans with Creole/Cajun cuisine.

Photos by Laura Petrilla

At last, Pittsburghers can have an upbeat New Orleans experience with nouveau Creole/Cajun cuisine and live music in a colorful, jazzy atmosphere. The recently opened NOLA on the Square is an integral part of the newfound vitality of Market Square.

NOLA is the brainchild of French-born Yves Carreau, executive chef and proprietor, in partnership with corporate executive chef Andrew Hebson. Carreau has a knack for bringing us the right concept in the right location at the right time, having found great success with two Cultural District establishments: Sonoma Grille, a West-Coast kitchen and wine bar, and Seviche, a nuevo-Latin tapas and cocktail restaurant. 

NOLA is located in the former 1902 Landmark Tavern. The partners fell in love with the space upon first visit and felt that it reminded them of New Orleans. “With both the food and the building, we are trying to offer modern touches while respecting old traditions,” says Hebson. “New Orleans has a deep culinary history, and those are big shoes to fill.”

For the restaurant’s interior design, general manager Jerry Fink teamed up with the chefs and Charles Stern, an independent local designer who also did the striking interiors of Sonoma Grille and Seviche.

Sit on the front patio where the hubbub of the restaurant spills onto the square, or have a seat in the gorgeous bar area, where you can admire the beautifully restored tin ceiling, rich woodwork of the bar and the fun, imaginatively tiled floor. After you pass through the bar, you will see the lively, open kitchen. Next, you’ll turn the corner and walk into a surprisingly large, quieter dining room done in red brick and accented by dark wood. Throughout the restaurant, you can view the large New Orleans-themed paintings created by Pittsburgh native August Vernon.

NOLA’s menu features starters, soups, salads, flatbreads, casseroles and entrées; it offers dishes that you might never find in Pittsburgh, such as alligator and frog legs.

The red beans and rice is a great starter ($4, lunch; $6, dinner), with pleasingly firm red beans, white rice and generous chunks of tender smoked-ham shank. Another fine choice is the fried artichokes ($7, lunch; $9, dinner), featuring large, lightly fried artichoke quarters served with a Creole mustard and ranch dressing. 

Although I’ve never really cared for gumbo, I love NOLA’s. The Gumbo Ya-Ya ($4, lunch; $5, dinner) is filled with tender, shredded organic chicken, mild okra, rice and subtle file (sassafras) flavoring. NOLA’s crawfish and sherry soup ($5, lunch; $6, dinner) is extremely rich yet delicious; it’s loaded with sherry, cream and chunks of crawfish. The soups, in my opinion, are much more memorable than the salads I sampled.

Among the sandwich options, I tried the shrimp po’ boy ($12): fried shrimp on a Mancini’s Bakery baguette with a ravigote (oil, vinegar and mustard) dressing. Also available is the Croque Monsieur ($9): smoked ham and Gruyère cheese on grilled, rustic bread served with apple butter and Dijon mustard (on this sandwich, I missed the béchamel sauce typically found in the French version). The steak fries (perfectly spiced with salt and NOLA’s proprietary Cajun seasoning) that accompanied the sandwiches were definitely my favorite part. If you’re not having a sandwich, you can order a side of them for $4.

Among the wood-fired flatbreads, a standout choice is the crawfish and andouille Creole ($11): a generously sized pizza featuring tomatoes, artichokes, tender crawfish, big chunks of sweet and spicy andouille sausage, and melted provolone cheese—all built on a tender crust partly made with a semolina.

I highly recommend the blackened red fish entrée ($22): a simply prepared, blackened white-bodied fish served on beans and rice with an accompaniment of homemade chunky coleslaw. The seafood jambalaya ($25) is like a mini paella served in a cast-iron dish, with rice, shrimp, scallops, locally sourced chicken and andouille sausage; rather than being spicy, I thought the jambalaya had a basil accent.

Throughout the meal, the service was capable, quick and friendly. During each visit, several people attended my table with generous smiles.

In addition to the large selection of draft and bottled beers (including Louisiana’s Abita) and wines that cover all price points (a $6 glass to a $600 bottle), NOLA offers a cool variety of New Orleans cocktails that you’re not likely to find anywhere else in the ’Burgh: Featured mixed drinks include the New Orleans Milk Punch ($8), the Hurricane ($9), Vieux Carré ($10), Creole Julep ($10) and drinks containing absinthe.

The portions at NOLA are large, but if you have room for dessert, I recommend the classic, slightly sweet (and not greasy) beignets ($7).  Another good choice is the creamy bananas-foster bread pudding ($7) served with rum sauce and salted-caramel ice cream. Pastry chef Kerrie Jean McMillen makes NOLA’s treats. Coffee, which is the perfect complement to dessert, is from Nicholas Coffee Co., NOLA’s historic next-door neighbor.

The restaurant has already received an enthusiastic reception from diners, including Louisiana transplants who dine there daily, and is packed during lunch and dinner. The restaurant is especially hopping on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, when there is live music. A nice touch: On nights that bands are scheduled to play, there’s no cover charge; instead, you can make an optional $5 donation to one of two charities: Make it Right, a charity helping rebuild New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, and The National Wildlife Federation Gulf Oil Spill Recovery Fund.

NOLA on the Square Info:
» 24 Market Square, Pittsburgh (15222); 412/471-9100,
» Mon.-Sat.: lunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; bar menu,
3-11 p.m.; dinner, 5-11 p.m.
» Starters, Soups & Salads: $4-$12; Sandwiches: $9-$12; Flatbreads: $9-$11; Entrées: $11-$15, lunch; $17-$32, dinner; Desserts: $5-$10
» Serves alcohol; major credit cards accepted; takes reservations; limited vegetarian options; wheelchair-accessible; no smoking; free valet parking or self-park on street or in nearby garages; gluten-friendly options available; will seat past 10:30 p.m.; offers catering/banquet services; outdoor seating available.

Categories: Restaurant Reviews