Sunday, August 8, 2010

Totally Tasty Find: Beignets at Nola Cafe

My daughter is home from college this week, on break between summer and fall semesters at the recently ranked No. 1 party school in the nation, University of Georgia.  With that kind of parental-pride-inducing competition (insert collective sigh here from parents, administration and academia), we try to show her a good time when she visits dear old Mom and Dad in Tampa. 

What better way to entertain your partying coed than to take her to a museum!  No, really.  She appreciates art, and since none of us had ever been to the Salvador Dali Museum, we went to St. Petersburg Tuesday to check it out.   A fascinating collection, even if Dali is not your artistic cup of tea, it's located in the happening heart of St. Pete.  If you know St. Pete, you know that "happening" is a stretch, but at least it is situated in an area of town near the water, the pier, and an assortment of shops and restaurants.  After touring destination Dali, we wandered over to the waterfront, Beach Drive specifically, and stumbled upon Nola Cafe.

It was about 3 p.m., an off time in the restaurant world and, as expected, the place - located in Parkshore Plaza among other eateries and shops - had a single diner reading a newspaper.  A smiling server, probably the manager, and the only employee I saw besides a cook who wandered outside for a break, told us to choose any table and then came to greet us and take drink orders.

A cursory glance revealed an inviting coffee shop atmosphere, roomier than most, with an L-shaped bar available for diners who opt for counter service or for a front-row seat to view the plasma television.  The environs are warm, the chairs are comfy, and a New Orleans theme is reflected in the music, menu and cans of Cafe du Monde coffee and a few other food-related items exhibited for sale.

Listed on a chalkboard near the coffee bar were the day's specials, which included vanilla French toast, catfish po' boy and lobster bisque.  Among Big Easy favorites on the lunch and dinner menu are jambalaya, po' boy sandwiches, gumbo, and red beans and rice.  Sandwich wraps, soups and salads are also available. 

Since my philosophy is to stick with the restaurant's theme, I ordered a bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo.  Mostly andouille sausage cut into a small dice, the gumbo was flavorful with a dark roux and a pleasant, smokey heat, but contained only one strip of chicken along with scant white rice.   For $9.99, it wasn't exactly a meal.

A few puny slices of unremarkable baguette were shared among us.  Dieting Hubmeister had a lackluster house salad, comprised solely of lettuce, tomatoes, and croutons.  The grilled chicken topper he added to it didn't help this lame effort, which was so boring it came with bottles of oil and vinegar. 

My daughter chose the lobster bisque, which she lapped up, and my son had a roast beef po' boy, the most impressive-looking plate on the table.  Juicy, shredded roast beef was served on a long French roll with an accompanying romaine lettuce-based salad.  The beef was topped with fresh diced tomatoes, the bread smeared with mayo. 

What we ordered next were the highlights of this late lunch, and appropriately enough, they are highlighted in a box on the menu.  Somebody once said always order the dish the restaurant puts in a big box on the menu because that's the item the restaurant is most proud of.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  If it's something I like I'll order it, and in this case it was not a problem to order:  drum roll, please...beignets.
Cafe au lait and beignets are worth a visit to Nola's in Tampa or St. Pete.

We shared an order consisting of three fluffy fried pillows of dough covered in a blizzard of powdered sugar.  Straight from the fryer and into our mouths, those, and the cafe au lait chaser - half chicory coffee and half hot milk - were a scrumptious combination. 

When I asked our friendly server what coffees they offered and she answered, "Everything, because we are mainly a coffee shop," I did a mental head slap.  A more attentive look at the menu indicated a lengthy list of coffee drinks.  Hello!

Nola's is okay for a sandwich or bowl of soup, but the real reason to stop in is for coffee and beignets. 

Restaurant Info:
Nola Cafe & News Stand
300 E. Beach Drive N.
St. Petersburg, FL

301 W. Platt St. #C
Tampa, FL

Nola Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. wow!! I LOOOOOOVE beignets!!!!!!! Thanks for posting about them!!!!!! I've only had them at cafe du monde and they reminded me of something my grandma (mom's mom) used to make almost every time we visited her (even though we technically lived in the same city, we did not see her that often... she was always somewhere else, she was definitely not your typical grandma who liked to stay home and cook for people and entertain family)