If your memory serves, on my EastWich tour I stopped at a place in Philly called Beck’s Cajun Cafe and had the “Trainwreck Po’ Boy” for lunch. (Three links in one sentence? Am I selling out?!) It was a fantastic sandwich to be sure, but the more traditional idea of a Po’ Boy, Louisiana’s native, bayou-style sandwich, is created with either fried shrimp or fried oysters. Now, I’ve had a ton of shrimp po’ boys, but I’d never found an authentic creole/cajun restaurant in the ‘Burgh… that is, until NOLA exploded.
NOLA (on the square) is a delightful and screamingly authentic N’Orleans restaurant in Downtown’s Market Square (hence the “on the square” part). The atmosphere is thick with warmth and contentment, while the air is thick with cajun spices. And the food? Impeccable. If you took one look over the menu, you might think you were sitting in a cafe on Bourbon Street.
Which leads us to the Shrimp Po’ Boy I sampled the other day. Made up of, “Abita battered Wild Caught Shrimp, Fresh Baguette, Cajun Slaw, Spicy Papaya Ravigote”, it’s got the classic ingredients of a good shrimper: a variation of slaw, a cajun-styled spread (in this case, the ravigote, which today is almost universally cut with dijon mustard), and good, fresh baguette. These guys are doing it the right way.
In the flavor department, everything worked perfectly. The shrimp were larger than typical po’ boy shrimp, which I actually liked because on your typical shrimp po’ boy, the little guys fall out constantly. Here, the jumbo size (combined with being entrenched in the ravigote) made sure they stayed put, and the batter was very light, staying out of the shrimp’s way in terms of taste. The cajun slaw meshed well with the ravigote, creating one tangy, crunchy, spicy concoction. Usually, the ravigote would simply be a cajun-style mayonnaise; here, the papaya gives it a little extra sweetness. which works well together with the cool component of the slaw.
And, of course, there is the baguette. While there’s no question that the bread was delicious, I did have one qualm with it: not enough crunch. Normally, as I’ve described, I like the ‘wich bookends to have a little shape to them: not too rigid, but enough so that the sandwich doesn’t feel flimsy and so that the texture is enhanced that much more. I don’t think the sandwich suffered necessarily, it just could’ve been improved with a little toasting of the baguette.
Overall, though, NOLA gets my vote of confidence. They’re doing something that Pittsburgh needed desperately: providing good, authentic, N’Orleans cuisine. There’s no question that there’s another NOLA po’ boy in PittWich’s future.