If you love New Orleans, but haven’t managed to tear yourself away from the French Quarter long enough to explore the local terrain, you’re not alone. In fact, a majority of the nearly nine million people who visited New Orleans last year didn’t stray far from Bourbon Street.
But if you travel less than an hour north, just across Lake Pontchartrain you’ll find tons of things to do, see and taste in St. Tammany Parish.
There is a haven of family attractions, some upscale B&Bs, as well as countless acclaimed restaurants and unspoiled bayous. So next time you head down to “N’Awlins,” take some time away from the beaten trail. You’ll find that the good times keep rolling, even outside the city limits.
New Orleanians have been recreating on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain since the antebellum years, when the locals flocked to l’autre cote du lac (the other side of the lake) to take advantage of the fresh air and prosperous lifestyle that resulted from its fertile banks and transportation routes. In 1956, with the completion of the 24-mile Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, the driving time from New Orleans was greatly reduced, transforming the sleepy towns of St. Tammany Parish – Abita Springs, Covington, Folsom, Lacombe, Madisonville, Mandeville and Slidell – into bedroom communities for the Big Easy. There’s so much to do, from taking a bike ride along a stretch of the 31-mile, rails-to-trails Tammany Trace, to taking a swamp tour through the pristine Honey Island Swamp in search of gators. Good restaurants and first-class accommodations make the Northshore the perfect choice for a day trip or weekend getaway. For more info on attractions and all things Northshore, visit louisiananorthshore.com
Now for the really important question – what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Here’s a list of 10 great places to wine and dine across the Lake. Try one, try them all. Either way, you’ll be oh so satisfied.
If you’re in the mood for a cold beer and some tasty, New Orleans-style pub grub, check out Abita Brew Pub located at 72011 Holly Street. The perfect place to sample popular brews like Turbodog,
Purple Haze and Andygator, you can also enjoy dishes like Jambalaya Ryan served with Crawfish Cornbread, a Blackened Shrimp and Avocado Salad, or an Andygator Crawfish Cake appetizer with fried tomatoes and topped with the pub’s own signature sauce. The food is tasty, the prices are reasonable and the nearby brewery offers free tours and tastings in its official visiting room. Founded on humble ground as a once tiny operation, today Abita is one of the largest craft brewers in the U.S., with beer selections available in 46 states.
Operated by Liz Munson, stop by this comfort food emporium at 2500 Florida Street and order a hearty helping of authentic New Orleans cuisine for breakfast or lunch. Try the Napoleon Fried Green Tomatoes topped with shrimp and crawfish cream sauce, or the Grilled Cheese Sandwich with crabmeat and bits of asparagus, on homemade buttered brioche – it’s so good you won’t even hesitate to contemplate the calories. And, Chef Michael Cheek recently opened his own casual eatery, Mac’s, on Boston St. in Covington. Be sure to keep your eye out for him; he’s definitely going places.
Chef and proprietor Zac Watters may only be 27 years old, but he’s a veteran of NOLA’s Stella and Café
Adelaide, and now owns his own place – Zachary’s, at 902 Coffee Street in Mandeville. Named “Chef to Watch” by Louisiana Cookin’ magazine, Watters delivers upscale, aesthetically pleasing dishes and has a flair for flavor and plating. Personally, I love the Shrimp Corn Cog and highly recommend trying it – an appetizer of fried Gulf shrimp coated with a smoky Andouille and cornmeal batter, and served with an orange mayonnaise sauce. If you’re looking for seafood, the house specialty is the Redfish Zachary, a local fish topped with a rich mushroom and crabmeat cream sauce over angel hair pasta. The only downside? There aren’t many seats in this charming little cottage, so be sure to reserve seating ahead of time.
Housed in Covington’s historic train depot at 517 N. New Hampshire, LOLA is a casual lunch hotspot by day, and an upscale bistro on the weekends. This past summer, chefs and owners Keith and Nealy Frentz were named King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood, and Nealy recently appeared on the Food Network TV show Chopped, where she was a finalist, only just losing to the chef de cuisine from Aria in Las Vegas. Creative riffs on traditional fare include a Red Bean Hummus with bacon marmalade, the fried Oyster Evelyn served with marinara and mozzarella, and the Gulf Shrimp & Grits, topped with local mushrooms, smoked bacon and parmesan cream. And, if you somehow mange to save room for dessert, be sure to try a red velvet cupcake – they’re delicious.
At 501 E. Boston Street in Covington, Del Porto has consistently been praised as one of the best Italian restaurants in the New Orleans area by the Times-Picayune. Chef couple and two-time James Beard nominees, David and Torre Solazzo oversee restaurant operations. The menu includes Tuscan and California-inspired Italian selections with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. A recent swoon-worthy favorite is the House Made Cavatelli with fennel sausage and local broccoli. My recommendation? The Salumi Board, which includes a selection of house-cured meats, seasonal pickled veggies and homemade mustard, is a must-try.
A Travelocity Editor’s Pick run by proprietor Kerry Blache, this sweet, charming cottage in old Mandeville at 544 Girod Street features a vast selection of tea, as well as an accomplished kitchen, headed by Michael Blache. Saturday morning is a great time to come for breakfast – start off with fresh scones, followed by the Crabmeat Supreme Omelet, with smoked salmon, asparagus tips and smoked Gouda cheese.
Chefs Kirk Dunbar and Daniel Bourgault run the show at Palmettos on the Bayou, a popular destination restaurant and party setting thanks to its series of decks overlooking the beautiful Bayou Bonfouca. Located at 1901 Bayou Lane, the kitchen’s creativity is evident. Try the specials like Grilled Salmon with crispy paella, and the signature Catfish Bonfouca with creamy blush sauce. Or try the Sugar Cane Pork Chop served over a delicious pasta mix of corn, crab and orzo. Palmettos also hosts a highly popular Sunday brunch. It’s a great bargain at $19.95 and there’s live music in the afternoon with local faves like Big Daddy O.
Located at 25020 Hwy 190 in Lacombe, what makes this picturesque, yet understated favorite, stand out? Before your entrée, enjoy the homemade pate with hot French bread. Mentored by acclaimed chef and owner, John Besh, chef Erick Loos uses ingredients sourced from local farms and out of the restaurant’s own kitchen garden. The menu encompasses Loos’ sophisticated take on French cuisine and changes frequently, but if you’re lucky, a stew of local oysters and Jerusalem artichokes awaits, served with garlicky bruschetta. The Wild Boar Pinwheel Ravioli with local tomatoes and basil is divine, as is the Slow Roast Chappapeela Farm Duck Breast, served with red cabbage, spring rolls and plum sauce. And for dessert, try the mouthwatering Ricotta Filled Crepes.
Head to 1851 Florida Street in Mandeville to try this local hotspot that received some much deserved
praise and national attention thanks Guy Fieri on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Chef and owner Louie Finnan serves up traditional New Orleans seafood and Creole Italian fare in mammoth proportions. The original “Redhead Lady” in question is the chef’s mom, who always encouraged him to pursue his dreams of a culinary career. Coincidently, Louie is also married to a redhead, Ginger Finnan, who runs an artsy jewelry boutique attached to the restaurant. Breakfast is popular here, with dishes like the Shrimp & Spinach Scramble, the French Market Benedict and the Garden District Omelette.
Chef Joey Najolia and his wife Brandi first met while working at La Provence. There, they decided to open their own French New Orleans-style bistro at 3051 E Causeway Approach in 2007. The classically trained chef combines the flavors of the Gulf Coast and the Mediterranean with dishes like Pan Roasted Quail, Seafood Stuffed Eggplant, and Veal & Pork Cannelloni with homemade pasta. Brandi runs the front of the house and is responsible for the thoughtful wine list.
Be sure to put a visit to Louisiana’s Northshore on your list…you won’t be dissappointed!
Renee Kientz serves somewhat as the ‘Voice of Louisiana’s Northshore’ and works for the St. Tammy Tourist and Convention Commission. But, she’s really a New Orleans native and passionate foodie at heart. She welcomes visitors to the Northshore with insightful advice on where to dine, and helpful tips on how to eat like local. Here is her brief Louisiana culinary lexicon to help you decipher local menus.
Forget shrimp on the barbie. Here, shrimp is left in the shell and submerged in a garlicky, peppery butter sauce. It’s messy. It’s fattening.
It’s okay – live a little.
A long sandwich on crusty French bread, the poboy isn’t the same as a sub or a hoagie. Choose from a variety of fillings like fried oysters, fried shrimp, and roast beef (featuring long-simmered beef, sliced and slathered in gravy). Order it “dressed,” with lettuce, tomato and pickle.
Picture this: several layers of ham, salami and provolone cheese, topped with
chopped olive salad, and served on a large, round, crusty Italian bread. Pronounced moof-a-lotta, this sandwich is a delicious handful and usually serves two or more people.
Though gumbo has popped up on menus across the U.S., you’re not likely to get the real thing outside of south Louisiana, unless it’s cooked by a transplanted native. A dark, flavorful soup, real gumbo takes time to cook and requires a little voodoo to do properly; most gumbos are variations on two themes – seafood, and chicken and sausage. Served with rice, it can be light brown or dark as swamp water.
A New Orleans classic, turtle soup these days often is made with chicken (so ask your server if it’s the real thing). The dark, flavorful soup is typically enhanced by a dash of sherry added at the table.
COCHON DE LAIT
Suckling pig is a favorite at Cajun family celebrations. Moist and flavorful, it’s tender and, at its best, redolent of garlic. The cochon de lait poboy is a favorite at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and rarely served in restaurants (but occasionally you get lucky).
Beth D’Addono is a food and travel writer who writes regularly for publications including Southern Gaming and Destinations, Southern Living, AAA Traveler, Wells Fargo Conversations, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Daily News, Taste, Jewish Exponent/Inside Magazine, Inside Jersey Magazine, Orbitz, smarterliving, and others. Her books include Must Sees New Orleans (Michelin), Access New Orleans and Access Philadelphia (Harper Collins), and she is the co-author of “City Tavern Cookbook” (Running Press) and “Impress for Less! Finally, Terrific Recipes from the Finest Restaurants that You Can Really Make At Home (Wiley & Sons). She is proud to call New Orleans home.