My wife, Colleen, and I revisited New Orleans, a favorite destination of ours, to escape the chill of the northeast. One day, we wound up chatting over lunch with a local couple, Jim and Anne, who suggested we check out the restaurant scene across the lake, in St. Tammany Parish. Known as Louisiana’s Northshore, the parish has long been popular with New Orleanians seeking outdoor fun and green spaces, but in the past few years it has become a culinary destination, as well.
Up for adventure, we made our way to the Northshore via the 24-mile-long Causeway bridge, the world’s longest continuous bridge over water. Once across Lake Pontchartrain, the scenery had changed and we found charming towns interspersed by forests of towering pines, oak and cypress. Some visitors come to explore nature, renting kayaks and bicycles. Others hunt treasure in the area’s antiques stores and boutiques. But everyone comes to eat.
Jim and Anne had recommended a little place called LOLA so we headed there for lunch. Operated by a husband-wife chef team, both of whom had previously worked for world-renowned Brennan’s in New Orleans’ French Quarter, LOLA is known for upscale comfort food and something else: it’s located in the town’s historic train depot and the kitchen magic happens in an actual caboose.
Sitting in the charming, sun-lit dining room, Colleen ordered a muffuletta, the famous New Orleans sandwich piled high with ham, salami, provolone cheese and olive salad. I dug into a “Hot Mess,” a cheesy, herby sandwich featuring Chisesi ham, pimento cheese and veggies on house-made focaccia. We were stuffed but had to sample LOLA’s notoriously good hummingbird cake. We had no problems having our cake and eating it, too.
We worked off lunch by wandering through the district’s shops and places like the H.J. Smith’s Son General Store and Museum, operated by its fifth generation of Smiths. We checked out fine regional art in galleries and at the St. Tammany Art Association, and learned about the Three Rivers Art Festival, held every November. The juried two-day show, now definitely on my list, features the works of more than 200 artists, from 20 states, set up along several blocks of scenic Columbia Street.
Ready for a treat, we stopped at Hoodoo Ice Cream, just around the corner. They specialize in handmade ice cream made with locally-sourced cream and a wonderful variety of creative flavors that change weekly. I asked for a recommendation, and the employees said that we absolutely had to try either the Creole Cream Cheese or Bananas Foster ice cream. After a sample, I decided that my choice, the Creole Cream Cheese, is a local favorite for good reason. Deliciously tangy and sweet at the same time, the creamy texture made it wonderfully refreshing. And the waffle cones added a welcome crunch to our treat.
Getting hungry, we talked about food. I was all set for a lengthy “what’s for dinner?” conversation, but Colleen was ready. Apparently, she’d done a little research on our drive across the lake.
“Del Porto Ristorante. It’s run by an award-winning husband and wife chef team, and is known for using local ingredients,” she said. “And they make their own pastas.”
Sounds good to me.
Del Porto sits on Boston Street in the heart of Covington and like the town itself, exudes casual elegance. Glass-and-steel lights hang from the high ceiling, windows look out on a street scene that showcases the graceful lines of the restored Mission-style Southern Hotel, where we’d be spending the night.
When our food arrived, fragrant steam was rising from my perfectly flaky grilled yellowfin tuna. Lemon-whipped potatoes complemented the fish beautifully. Colleen savored her garlic and rosemary chicken, which we learned was sourced from nearby Good Food Farm.
The chefs are known for their support of local produce and of the Covington Farmer’s Market, held just blocks from Del Porto. The freshness was evident.
The next morning, we made our way to the Covington Farmer’s Market for our own look at the Northshore’s bounty. “I wish we were going to be here longer and had a kitchen!” Colleen said in appreciation of stalls full of gorgeous, picked-that-morning produce and an array of prepared foods: regional specialties like stuffed artichokes, Delta tamales, and Creole cream cheese. We wandered, drinking dark Louisiana coffee, sampling Italian fig cookies and listening to live music played in the gazebo in the middle of it all. We bought souvenirs—amazing local raw honey and blueberry jam—before heading to cute and quirky Abita Springs, just 10 minutes east of Covington.
At Abita Brew Pub, we chatted with friendly locals and tasted almost everything on tap. It’s the original home of Abita Brewery, which outgrew the space a long time ago and moved a short way down the road (and offers popular, free tours). The pub is a great spot to try Abita’s numerous brews. In the end, I went for the Macchiato Espresso Milk Stout, a rich, creamy, sweet, coffee-flavored beer with a nice balance of hops. Colleen ordered Abita Pecan, made with hops from the Willamette Valley and pecans from Louisiana.
As we sipped our local craft beers, I thought of Jim and Anne, who had prompted our St. Tammany side trip. They told us we’d find authentic Louisiana, and great food, and we did. We clinked in their honor.
Visit St. Tammany and discover authentic, delicious Louisiana!