Food & Drink

Review: NOLA Seafood and Spirits Brings The Big Easy to Baltimore

Housed in the Cross Street building once home to Ryleigh’s Oyster, NOLA offers a host of New Orleans-inspired cocktails and cooking.
A Sazerac and a Cross Street Hurricane. —Photography by Justin Tsucalas

New Orleans is more than a city. It’s a world-renowned mecca for Cajun and Southern cuisine, the birthplace of jazz, and a destination for party-seekers from age 21 to 101. New Orleans is a town, true, but more than that, it’s a feeling.

That joie de vivre is precisely what co-owners Ricardo Jones and Matthew Lasinski hoped to capture when they opened NOLA Seafood and Spirits in Federal Hill last October. The restaurant and bar, housed in the Cross Street building that once was home to Ryleigh’s Oyster, aims to fulfill Baltimoreans’ Big Easy fix with a host of New Orleans-inspired cocktails and cooking.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the space, which retains Ryleigh’s framework but has been updated with stylish marble bar tops and other aesthetic touches, is the tunes. Music defines New Orleans’ sense of place. When we walked in on a cold night in December to the band Gramatik’s funky “Just Jammin’,” we knew we were in the right place. We sat at the bar and were handed a leather-bound folder that contained a plethora of laminated menus and a pad of paper ones for the raw bar.

Many drinks on the cocktail list will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s been to Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. The Cross Street Hurricane packs a punch just like the original one from Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street that inspired it. There’s a Sazerac available, with the classic combination of rye whiskey and absinthe. We sampled several libations. Our favorite was the Raspberry Beret, made with gin, lemon juice, raspberry-rosemary syrup, and ginger ale. We couldn’t help but fantasize about taking a refreshing sip on a sticky Southern afternoon. A coffee Old-Fashioned was also well-made, but only contained a tiny hint of coffee. We could have used a little more jolt.

The food menu was shaped in part by New Orleans native Donnie Stykes, who is a friend of the owners. All your Creole classics are here—jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice, and a number of po’ boy sandwiches. We tried a bunch of appetizers and found the gumbo to be spot-on. The Mardi Gras Mambo shrimp, grilled shrimp tossed in house-made sauce served with really good French bread, were tasty, too. Other dishes fell short. The charbroiled oysters were overwhelmed by the bath of butter and Parmesan and Romano cheeses that topped them. And while an entree of salmon stuffed with crabmeat and crawfish was serviceable, the accompanying Cajun rice was bland. That’s a sin in any town, but especially so in the Crescent City.

New Orleans-style music is played on the sound system until about 10 p.m. on the weekdays and 11 p.m. on the weekends, when a DJ usually takes over. The scene can get lively, our bartender told us. Which is kind of the point, because, as Jones told Baltimore after the place opened, “I don’t know one person who doesn’t love New Orleans.”