Opening in a spot once occupied by the Dallas outpost of the New Orleans institution Brennan's, NOLA Brasserie brings the taste of the Crescent City back to downtown in a 1968 skyscraper re-purposed as a Westin Hotel. From a kitchen anchored on the southwest corner of the property, chef Robert Cormier dishes out authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine developed during his 33 years of cooking in the bayou country surrounding his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana.
“My grandmother only spoke French,” he explained with a distinct Cajun accent, his voice gravelly from years yelling in the 20-plus restaurants he has opened. “The recipes for corn and crab bisque and gumbo are family recipes from Helen’s Cajun, the first joint I worked at growing up. It’s all fresh, and a batch of gumbo can take near four hours to make.”
With framed Louisiana-themed images clumped together along the walls, jazzy brass band tunes, a sizeable bar and a tin-styled ceiling, the place would be right at home in the Big Easy. The menu is adapted from the original Marigny Brasserie of New Orleans but with Cormier’s flair. All food is made from scratch and bought from South Louisiana; this includes tasso ham (southern Louisiana specialty), beans and andouille sausage for his red beans and rice. He prefers to pay more for Louisiana crawfish because he wants to support the state's farmers, including the likes of his family, who still raise mudbugs.
A fresh crab and crawfish cake was slightly browned on one side for crispness, and a small dab of Cormier’s secret remoulade added zest. The gumbo had a rich, smoky flavor from the crab, shrimp and crawfish roux topped with rice and a crawfish fritter. Among the fresh seafood are the barbecued shrimp and grits, which, unlike most things barbecued in Texas, aren’t wood-smoked. The shrimp are sautéed then bathed in a semi-spicy sauce made of wine, butter, lemon and Worcestershire, then served over creamy rosemary grits. The Big Easy portion of the menu is where you’ll find New Orleans favorites such as a fried shrimp and fried green tomato po’boy partnered with slaw and remoulade sandwiched between French bread straight from Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans. A hand-cut rib eye, Louisiana fried catfish, blackened red fish, inventive burgers and muffalata pizzas are also on the menu, and on Fridays he serves crawfish étouffée made from a recipe that's a century old.
Beignets are coming soon on a brunch menu that rolls out in May, along with a crab cake Benedict, spicy crawfish deviled eggs topped with fried oysters and sriracha aioli, endless mimosas and a massive $20 bloody mary.
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