WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Lola is one of the two or three best of a cluster of restaurants near the St. Tammany Courthouse. When trials break for lunch, the cafe fills with a noisy line for its refreshingly, light menu. At dinner, the same room is transformed into a quiet, romantic bistro. And the food heads well upscale. It’s so appealing that this little place draws a large number of regulars every Friday and Saturday night.
At lunchtime, the emphasis on freshness–even the bread and desserts are homemade–goes beyond what one encounters anywhere around New Orleans outside the gourmet realm. Sandwiches, salads, and soups are well-made from very pretty ingredients. On the two nights Lola is open for dinner, the chef-owners call on their past culinary history and serve a surprisingly imaginative, polished short list of contemporary Creole dishes. Once again, everything is made in house from scratch.
Keith Frentz and Nealy Crawford, married to each other, are both chefs. They worked together at Brennan’s until the hurricane, then took a chance in opening Lola in the old railway depot in the center of Covington. The business that came from the courthouse is enough to thrive on, but the couple wanted to stretch a little. They began serving dinner twice a week, the word got out that the stuff was better than anyone expected from a glorified sandwich shop, and it became hard to get a table.
The building’s past is obvious both inside and out. Brick walls with plank floors and big old sliding doors make the atmosphere for the main dining room. Smaller rooms and a tiny bar are in the other spaces. The old station platform is used as a deck for dining when the weather is nice.
Soups of the day (the spinach soup with mushrooms and the shrimp and corn bisque are especially good).
Daily plate specials.
Oysters Rockefeller and Casino.
Butternut squash ravioli.
Fried eggplant with goat cheese and Creole sauce.
Artichoke and lima bean puree.
Pan-seared scallops with fried green tomatoes.
Black drum with pecans.
Shrimp and grits.
Veal Maggie (panneed, with crabmeat and capers).
FOR BEST RESULTS
Make a reservation for dinner. The restaurant is small and fills unpredictably. Avoid the lunch crush around noon.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The homemade bread is good but we wish they had some French bread, too.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +2
- Outdoor tables, drinks only
- Open Monday lunch
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations honored promptly
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
When I served on a jury pool a few months ago, I was struck by the number of restaurants in the neighborhood of the St. Tammany Courthouse. It exceeds by far–in both number and quality–what’s available in New Orleans. Enough so that the area is worth visiting even when you don’t have a traffic ticket or a divorce or a murder to work on.
This little restaurant–charming for its old train station setting–goes well beyond even these standards. Its dinner customers treat that service like a secret. Covington residents don’t want Lola to fill so routinely that it becomes tough to get a reservation. Indeed, many has been the night when I and no doubt others wished this menu were available more often than twice a week.