NOLA

24 Market Sq. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 471-9100nolaonthesquare.com

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No, not the one actually in NOLA. The one in Pittsburgh. And sadly there’s no relation. Emeril has nada to do with this one. That said, strangely enough, this one held its own for a place not exactly born on the Bayou.

Inside, the décor is heavily influenced by that Memphis-meets-garish 80’s style with bright blues and purples mixed with vibrant triangular details that seem to make no sense other than to scream “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!” Of which I beg to differ. But cutting them some slack, I get the theme. I mean, after all, it’s not like Mardi Gras is laced with subtleties. But apart from the walls and the dated ambiance, the service is friendly and lightning quick having us, a party of five (without the parental tragedy), in and out in under 30 minutes during the height of the lunchtime rush.

And in those 30 minutes they managed to pack in a few head-turners like the kale salad with chunks of cantaloupe, Cajun sunflower seeds and ricotta salata all dressed in a grilled watermelon vinaigrette.

Or better still, the turkey Cubano, piled high with warm roasted turkey breast, home brined pickles, Jarlsberg, sweet pepper jam and creole mustard. I’m not too sure how Cajun a Cubano is, but I’m pretty damn certain it was fabano. And so were the generously seasoned fries served with it, but be sure to ask for their honey mustard to dip them in. It’s homemade and homazing.

But then NOLA pulled a NO-NO when it came to the highly recommended blackened catfish, a dish I normally love the whiskers out of. But this one lacked the true kick any self-respecting blackened dish should have. And while it might’ve been deemed spicy by local standards, it is a true bottom-feeder amongst dishes by the same name.

All in though, I have to give NOLA props. Not necessarily on its Cajun cuisine per se, but for the little creole influences that yielded dishes way better than I ever expected from Steel City.

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The Ultimate Guacamole

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When it comes to great guac, I have to admit I’m a bit of a priss. Okay, so I’m prissy in general as a rule, but only as it pertains to good food. As for the complexity or simplicity, I whole-heartedly appreciate both. But when it comes to guac, I have to say I kinda prefer the fuss. No simple old mashed up avocado will do for this cat, oh no, no, no. You gotta earn my lovin’ with a little magic in your mush. Below are three of my favorite magicians.

The Ninth Door – Denver, CO

This is the most inventive guac of the three, and more inventive than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It starts with an avocado cut in half, then they flash fry it with a little panko and fill the divot where the pit use to be with pico de gallo. The end result is so unforgettable you’ll hear Natalie Cole singing in your ears while your mouth and your eyes are still busy recovering from the rapture.

ABC Cocina – NY

Jean Georges always seems to find a way to take the basics and turn them into brilliance. From caprese salad to foie gras terrine to guac he really knows how to make you feel like you’re tasting something again for the first time. The dial here is a simple one, however, simply adding sunflower seeds to the green stuff and serving it up along side a wonderful grapefruit salsa and oversized, fresh-baked chips.

Rosa Mexicano – New York, NY

For the purists, I offer up the remarkably fresh, table-side prepared guac at Rosa. I’ve been to hordes of other places that try to do the same, but somehow it always pales by comparison. I’m not sure how or why, but whatever they’re doing, they manage to pull it off at every location too. Also, one of the things I love most about it is that they customize the heat. You like spicy, they throw in more jalapenos. You like crazy spicy, just ask for habaneros. That’s what I do and it’s guac-a-holy-mole!