I wasted no time, and called Audrey to ask her where she wanted to have dinner. By the time I arrived home, she'd narrowed it down to "not pasta", which was liberating but not particularly helpful. I recalled seeing Scott McKeen mentioning that the chef at a new creole place in our neck of the woods had 'Cajun cred', and pretty soon we were driving down to Nola, Creole Kitchen and Music House on 118th avenue at 124th street.
Nola is not a very large place, which is part of its charm. Dark tables and napkins complemented by wooden chairs in funky colours, and a generally understated decor the rightfully keeps the focus on the small stage. We got there just about 6:00, just in time for local singer-songwriter Martin Kerr to start his set.
I am always prepared to take live dinner music with a fairly substantive grain of salt, but listening to him warm up and do his sound check with The Beatles "Blackbird", I began to pay more attention to his clear and evocative voice and the nimble confidence with which he played his six-string. He began with Jack Johnson and rolled into a couple more covers before unleashing his own material, which I have to say is quite good, and we ended up buying both of the CDs he'd brought. I found myself wondering what would bring such a talented fellow to Edmonton from the U.K. via China and Virginia, and he told a charming story of how he'd met a girl from Edmonton while living in China, and how she contacted him in Virginia and told him "I've been thinking about who I'm going to marry, and I think you're my best prospect." She showed up in Virginia unannounced, but it wasn't until he came to visit her here in Edmonton that he realized she was right, and has lived here now for 6 years, and was a top 16 finisher on Canadian Idol a while back.
While I enjoyed his original compositions like "Fireflies" (about the Virginia visit) and "Undiscovered Geniuses" (which you can hear on his website) the most, the sound quality is better in this YouTube duet covering one of the saddest songs ever, Tracy Chapman's "Fast Cars".
We weren't altogether hungry so we ordered from the Lousiana-styled tapas menu, and enjoyed seafood hush puppies, coconut shrimp, dry Cajun wings and grilled Andouille sausage served with small slices of garlic baguette and with a brilliant mustard. For dessert we shared a delicious and savoury-sweet bread pudding which left us sated but not stuffed.
I also appreciate that they keep beer from local breweries like Yellowhead on tap, and greatly enjoyed the Zombie Apocalypse red lager from one of my favourites, Amber's Brewing. Some of Nola's signature cocktails, like the Cajun Caesar and Louisiana Lemonade, are available by the pitcher, and I could see this being a wonderful place to spend an entire evening with friends.
Alas, we had things to do before picking up the girls, so we couldn't stay to hear all girl cover band The Red Hotz who were coming on at 9:30 and playing until close, so we left during Martin's break. 4 small tapas plates, a dessert and a pint set us back less than $60, even with tax and tip, and the service was prompt and pleasant (and almost uncomfortably young!), so I hope we get an opportunity to return before long. A number of different restaurants and clubs have tried to make a go of it at that corner, the most recent being Rusty Reed's House of Blues, and it's a tough business. If you get a chance, please drop in to Nola, and maybe help support some local and travelling artists as well.