Photo By Margo Smart
I broke my New Orleans confinement a few weeks ago when I ventured over to Abita Springs and Covington with a friend for an overnight stay and some restaurant exploration. We started our adventure on the outdoor deck at the Abita Brew Pub with snacks, including crisp fried artichoke hearts served with a ranch dipping sauce; Southwest eggrolls combining cheese, corn, black beans and grilled chicken in a crisp wrapper; and blue crab claws sautéed in a New Orleans-style barbecue sauce finished with Abita amber beer and fresh rosemary.
Thus fortified, we climbed aboard bicycles better suited for children and set off down the St. Tammany Trace, which is blissfully canopied in old-growth foliage and cypress trees that lend a bright, fresh fragrance while dropping the temperature by 10 degrees.
We made fools of ourselves over the course of 10 miles or so on the too-short bicycles, laughing until our sides cramped, and then repaired to Artigue’s Abita Market to assemble a dinner to be enjoyed on the porch outside of our rooms at the Abita Springs Hotel. The small grocery is spectacularly well stocked with house-made goods like andouille, boudin, head cheese, pork rillettes, chicken salad and a riff on pimento cheese. The wine and beer section is an absolute revelation in such a small space.
The next morning we headed to Covington for lunch at Lola, long a favorite. Opened in 2006 across the street from the St. Tammany Parish courthouse, the restaurant is situated in a building that once housed the city’s historic train depot. The tiny kitchen is in an actual train caboose where husband-and-wife chefs Keith and Nealy Frentz create fine Southern cuisine with local produce and Gulf seafood. Excellent soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods make this a casual hot spot. At the time of this writing, service was offered via call in with guests welcomed to eat on the raised wooden deck, which is shaded by a large Bradford pear tree.
Nealy says they will consider re-opening the dining room they can seat at 50 percent capacity.
“I don’t want to call our employees back in until they can actually earn a living,” she says.
I sincerely appreciated this sentiment and left a generous tip for my take-out-eat-on-the-deck meal of blue crab arancini with lemon-truffle aioli; the LOLA salad with bleu cheese and candied pecan brickle; and a blackened wild salmon salad – all of it deftly prepared with great pride. It must have killed them to serve this high-tone cuisine in Styrofoam cartons.
I begged Nealy to plate up (on a real plate) her favorite thing on the menu, and she appeared with a pile of Glory: a boneless fried pork chop bearing a perfect, shaggy crust cradled between two generous pieces of house-made cheddar bread and dressed with American cheese, a mustard-mayo blend, shredded lettuce, a slice of ripe Creole tomato, a house pickle and jalapeño.
It is calling me back.
The gorgeous, two-year old Abita Springs Hotel reopened its doors to the public after statewide stay-at-home rules were lifted in mid-May. Built in a beautifully restored 1890s home, the hotel offers peaceful and stylish accommodations. The five-room hotel is limited to a maximum of 10 guests and combines the luxurious feel of a boutique hotel with luxurious linens, gorgeous bathrooms and thoughtful amenities – right down to a clothing steamer. Rooms overlook lush hotel grounds, a charming courtyard garden and one of Abita’s famed artesian springs. The St. Tammany Trace runs through the front yard and a limited number of complimentary bikes are offered. With five unique rooms awash in natural light the hotel has created stringent, comprehensive cleaning guidelines to ensure safety and peace-of-mind for guests and staff. Visit the hotel website for specific details on sanitary procedures and a contact-free stay. Use the booking code “STAYCATION2020” to receive 10 percent off on all reservations.
Abita Brew Pub,
72011 Holly St., Abita Springs,
The Abita Springs Hotel,
22088 Ann O’Brien Lane, Abita Springs,
Artigue’s Abita Market,
22069 Highway 59, Abita Springs,
517 N. New Hampshire St. Covington,