What do you get when you open a Cajun restaurant in Malta, home of Global Foundries, which produces nano- (“small”) tech chips? Nanola Cajun American Restaurant. (Get it? Nano plus New Orleans, La.?)
Off Northway Exit 12 just north of the Malta rotary on Route 9, the eatery was opened by Shane Spillenger nearly two years ago after renovating the former Malta Home Design Center. From Route 9, Nanola resembles a large deep red roadhouse with pine green trim, a deck in front and a large parking area in front and on the side. Inside, the restaurant opens into a smallish weathered panel dining area, and then a large bar/seating space.
Gail and I were there primarily to sample the Cajun offerings scattered among the more standard pub fare like Tex-Mex appetizers and burgers. Because we had each sampled alligator in the past (market price), agreeing that the meat tasted like chicken and chewed like latex, we passed on this appetizer and instead opted for a cup of soup. Gail went for the Daily Special of black bean with tortilla and corn ($2), and I chose the Gumbo du Jour ($4), with chicken, andouille sausage and red and green peppers over dirty rice fortified with black and red beans.
WHERE: 2639 US 9, Malta, NY 12020, 587-1300, www.nanolamalta.com
WHEN: Monday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday 11am-2am, Saturday noon-2am, Sunday noon-11pm
HOW MUCH: $46.00 without alcoholic beverages, tax or tip
MORE INFO: accessible, large parking lot, major credit cards accepted, noise level and music permit conversation
Gail’s soup was gentler than my gumbo, which packed a lot of heat, and was thick enough to hold a spoon upright. Both could have stood alone as meals.
Unable to resist Nanola’s Muffuletta ($10/quarter, $25/whole round), we ordered the smaller portion to sample. The gargantuan sandwich was packed with 3 inches of meat and cheese (mortadella, salami, ham, prosciutto, mozzarella, provolone, smeared with olive/pickled vegetable tapenade) and served with house-made Saratoga chips. The menu promises that anyone who can consume an entire muffuletta gets it for free. Gail and I shared a quarter and still had some to take home.
Although we do not include alcoholic beverages in our reviews, Gail and I chose a refreshing, low alcohol Shock Top Lemon Shandy to cool off the sizzle of the Cajun spices. It worked.
At this point, we were both full, but we had already ordered entrées. Gail’s red beans and rice was moderately spicy, with several links of andouille sausage ($9.50). The dish was substantial in size and balanced in flavor.
Partly because I love the name I ordered Etouffee ($10). Stemming from the French word meaning “smothered,” the dish tends to be a little thicker than a stew. A mound of dirty rice at one end of an oval dish was surrounded by a blend of red, yellow and green peppers, celery, onions and parsley (the basis for much Cajun cooking). The vegetables were still identifiable, flavors mingling but the result did not degenerate into mush. I could have requested additions of chicken of sausage, but the dish was sturdy enough to stand on its own with sufficient heat to make my taste buds sit up and take notice but not numb my tongue.
For dessert, what Créole/Cajun meal could end without beignets and strong coffee? We added deep-fried ice cream to cool any remaining hotspots on our tongues. Though I might have preferred espresso or coffee with chicory, server Amie assured me their coffee was strong and hot and it was. The five powdered beignets ($4) were warm, neatly arranged on an oval dish and fastened in place by a little dabs of raspberry sauce. The miniature pillows of heaven deflated with warm sweetness as soon as they were bitten. Deep fried ice cream ($4), a wonderful contradiction of terms, had a crispy coating, was drizzled with caramel sauce and crowned with whipped cream and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Happily superfluous.
We completed our unhurried meal just as action at the bar got livelier, spurred on by a young female singing guitar player who began the evening’s entertainment. Music is featured frequently at Nanola.
We’re already planning our next visit. I’m eager to sample the jambalaya, cried catfish and po’ boys. If we are in a less adventurous mood, there are more traditional pub items like fried pickles, oysters, tex-mex dishes, burgers and sandwiches to select. Dinner for two including soup, entrées, a muffuletta, two desserts and two non-alcoholic beverages, without tax and tip, was a reasonable $46.
Gumbo is the official cuisine of the state of Louisiana. Creole seasoning generally includes, but is not limited to, onion and garlic powder, dried oregano, basil and thyme, black and white pepper, paprika and salt.