Day Tripping - Feb/March 2018
- story and photos by Lisa Monti
It’s close, it’s comfortable and wonderfully walkable. Stroll through the historic downtown area packed with quaint shops, galleries and fine restaurants. but it's not Bay St. Louis déjà vu, it’s Covington.
There’s something easy-going about a day trip to Covington, Louisiana and more than likely it’s because the welcoming Northshore city shares quite a bit with Bay St. Louis.
It’s the seat of government for St. Tammany Parish, the same status the Bay holds in Hancock County. There is scenic frontage along the Bogue Falaya and the Tchefunte rivers, making the waterfront connection.
And it’s part of the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area, which some might say also encompasses our own Hancock “Parish.”
The strongest common thread, though, seems to be its historic downtown district with an abundance of antique shops, fashion boutiques, outstanding restaurants, ancient oaks, festivals, artists and galleries.
There’s even a colorful old hardware store with a quirky collection of merchandise that’s reminiscent of the fabled Mauffray’s in downtown Bay St. Louis. And, yes, there’s even a Second Saturday Art Walk.
At only an hour’s drive away, Covington is a convenient destination for a day of shopping for furniture, clothes or jewelry, eating meal in a fine restaurant or a casual one and admiring the work of local artists and craftsmen. And there are coffeeshops and bars in the mix for a quick break from strolling and perusing.
Walking through Historic Downtown Covington can easily take up the bulk of your visit, checking out the shops, antique stores, galleries and specialty retailers along stretches of streets including Columbia, Boston Street and Lee Lane.
Antique stores, like ours, are stuffed with items from floor to ceiling, and some start with merchandise in the side yard and on the porches of small old houses turned into shops. The variety is broad: books, jewelry, toys, linens, cookware and cookbooks, everything under the sun.
Owner Linda Keenan knows the Covington-Bay St. Louis connection first hand. “We get people from Covington all the time here in the Bay St. Louis shop,” she said, noting that Covington also has a strong arts community with many special events celebrating the arts throughout the year.
The family-owned business, open daily except Sunday, has been open since 1876 so they know something about what people want or need. Wandering through the cluttered aisles brings back childhood memories of the late Alden Mauffray, the owner of the hardware store on Beach Boulevard, who directed customers to what they were looking for with scalpel-like precision, including how many steps to take to reach the desired item.
Chef Jeffrey Hansell’s Oxlot 9 is located inside the beautifully restored Southern Hotel. Chef Hansell grew up in Waveland, where he still has loads of family, and graduated from St. Stanislaus.
He went on to graduate from the Culinary School at the University of Southern Mississippi and worked at Commander’s Palace and other top kitchens across the country. He’s been featured twice in “Best Chefs of America” and “Best Chefs the American South” and was nominated as Food & Wine Best New Chef 2014, representing the Gulf Coast.
Hansell said when he and wife Amy settled in Covington, it reminded him of Bay St. Louis before Katrina, especially “the great old downtown, lots of art, lots of good food and a great quality of life.” He sees familiar faces from home often in his highly touted restaurant. “At least once a week I see someone I knew growing up,” he said.
It’s easy to find something to eat in Covington, not so easy to pick and choose. The city has an impressive collection of great casual and sophisticated restaurants that can be reason enough to make the trip.
On this visit, we tried a new-to-us place for lunch - Gallagher’s Grill - with a reputation for its old-school menu that plays up local seafood and steak, plus great service. Two specials - the blackened drum with paneed eggplant and crawfish corn maque choux and the seared scallops with shrimp and roasted red pepper risotto - earned Gallagher’s two new fans. It’s closed Sunday and Monday.
If you plan you day trip for a Wednesday or Saturday, you can shop at Covington’s chef-worthy farmers market for prepared foods, baked goods, farm fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, honey and much more, with live musical entertainment as lagniappe. The market sets up two different locations, but whichever day you pick, you’ll find something to your liking.
827 Walker Alley
Covington, Louisiana 70433
H.J. Smith & Sons General Store and Museum
308 N. Columbia St.
Covington, LA 70433
Savoye Originals Gallery
405 N. Columbia Street
Covington, LA 70433
428 E. Boston St.
Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
509 S Tyler St.
Covington, LA 70433
11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-10:30 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday
Covington Farmers Market
Saturday 8 am-12 pm at 609 Columbia St.
Wednesday 10 am-2 pm at 419 N. New Hampshire