The Pride of Louisiana

Lola’s café excels with down-home cooking and passion

Louisiana native Lola Pokorny stands guard over her Holsum Lofts restaurant like a mother hen with a newly hatched brood of pullets. “I am proud of the fact that a lot of my customers are from New Orleans, or Louisiana natives,” she tells me, “and they come back again and again.”

I admire her pride and passion. This has been a bittersweet year for the Louisiana crowd. The Saints won the Super Bowl, and then came disaster—the horrendous oil spill—and so there go Gulf seafood prices, straight through the ceiling.

Anthony MairLola

Anthony MairLola’s softshell crab platter with sweet potato fries and low-country greens.

I wonder if Lola will be able to continue her Friday crawfish boil. It’s one of many reasons to visit. No matter what, Lola’s is an important boost to the ever-improving downtown dining scene. I have heard Mayor Oscar Goodman, who doesn’t eat pork or shellfish—two stalwarts of this cuisine—heartily agree.

I like to come here for a late lunch, after the lawyers, civil servants and art crowd has thinned down. The walls are a pale green, and there are watercolors of trolley cars and similar Big Easy paraphernalia. The best tables, in good weather, are on the small outdoor patio—that’s the way to escape the constant zydeco music.

In more ways than one, Commander’s Palace this is not. “Most of what I serve,” she says, “is my take on Louisiana cooking. Taste seven gumbos and you’ll get seven different versions.”

Well, maybe.

Starting with a cup of Lola’s delicious, rice-topped roux gumbo is a must, and if you want to turn up the heat, several hot sauces are on hand for that purpose. I’m completely hooked on Lola’s invention, a dish she calls Crawpuppies. They look like hush puppies but they taste like crawfish. If that ain’t a perfect food, what is?

Charbroiled oysters stirred some controversy with my dining group because they come off the flames topped with cheese, sizzling on the half-shell. I’m proud to say I’m an unabashed fan. If you must, there is a perfectly respectable crab cake here as well, but that you can get anywhere.

The best entrée, for me, is a toss-up between bronzed catfish with grits and the shrimp étouffée, a thick, brown, murky ooze. I’d like to give the jambalaya another try. The day I ordered it, there was no flavor, as if it had been cooked too quickly.

If you fancy your po’ boy, the oyster, roast beef or shrimp versions all fill the bill nicely, and they come on Leidenheimer rolls that Lola flies in from her home state.

Red beans and rice, available either as a side or entrée, could use more sausage, but the flavors marry well.

If you like fried foods, the Combo Plate—a mammoth platter of shrimp, oysters, a crab cake and a huge hunk of fried catfish—is the ticket. The Mylanta costs extra.

The desserts are phenomenal. Lola bragged on her Famous Bread Pudding as “the best you’ve ever tasted,” and she was right. There is also a terrific, gooey Louisiana chocolate cake with a “secret ingredient,” plus other worthy choices such as banana pudding and sweet-potato pecan pie.

How ’bout dem Saints!

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