Posted by Doug
My wife and I wandered into LOLA on a recent Saturday night and enjoyed a very nice evening and a lovely Malbec. LOLA is the pride and joy of Keith and Nealy Frentz, a 40 seat restaurant in old Covington, Louisiana. The building that houses LOLA is the city’s’ historic train depot. The kitchen is in an actual train caboose. All the original doors and brick make this restaurant very unique. LOLA is a favorite hangout for local business people, courthouse staff, lawyers, and the occasional juror. Mary and I frequent the restaurant for lunch, but Keith and Nealy have recently re-configured the place, making the most of the space, and have a dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights.
Keith was born and raised in Covington, Louisiana and Nealy was born and raised in Southern California, then moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. Keith and Nealy both graduated from the prestigious Johnson & Wales University with degrees in culinary arts. They both held Sous chef positions at world famous Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street in New Orleans. Like so many things NOLA, Hurricane Katrina played a major role in their dream to open their own restaurant. They evacuated to Covington and a year later opened LOLA, quickly becoming an important part of the revitalization of old Covington. Nealy and Keith also own and operate the only food truck in the Covington area, LOLA Deux. The big red truck can be seen at Covington farmers market, local concerts, festivals and even private parties..
In six short years Nealy and Keith have racked up some big awards and recognition. In 2009 they were both awarded the “Chefs to Watch” from Louisiana Cookin’ magazine. In 2011 they finished 3rd in the Louisiana Seafood Cook off, sponsored by the Louisiana Seafood & Marketing Board. They attempted the same cook off in 2012 and won 1st place, being crowned King & Queen of Louisiana seafood. They went on to represent Louisiana in the Great American Seafood Cook and placed second. Nealy and Keith live in Abita Springs with their daughter Ella and three dogs. Nealy is expecting their second child any day.
It turns out that LOLA for dinner has become a “reservations required” venue. That’s pretty unusual on the north shore and New Orleans in general where so many good restaurants are to be found. But, it’s a sign of the quality of the experience at LOLA. We were invited to eat at the bar, which doubles as a foyer. There are four seats at the bar and a high boy with two more. We chose the table and met some very interesting people in the process.
Our bartender/server, Paxton Fellers, turns out is a banker by day, working as the Business Development Officer at one of the few local banks left in New Orleans. Paxton was pouring the 2010 vintage of Bodega Colome Estate Malbec, so I had a glass, then another.
Bodega Colome is nestled in the Calchaqui Valley, 7500 feet above sea level, in the Argentine northwest. It is one of the highest vineyards in the world with a unique soul deriving from the soil and the climate. Founded in 1831, it is one of the oldest existing wineries in Argentina. In 2001, it was acquired by the Hess Family Estates. Bodega y Estancia Colome's is committed to the biodynamic agriculture principles outlined by the researcher Rudolf Steiner.
I started my meal with the soup du jour, a lovely vichyssoise with lump crabmeat. A cold soup may seem out of season, but winters in Louisiana are pretty mild and I was wearing shorts earlier in the day. The aroma from the white truffle oil drizzled on top immediately hit my nose. The spice from the cayenne pepper in the crab boil infused into the crab meat made an extraordinary counterpoint to the mild and sumptuous base of potatoes and leaks. It was one of those dishes that you can’t stop eating and that leaves you wanting more.
Next course, and the point of the Malbec, was the lamb shank with mascarpone grits and braised collards. Now, we are talking about three of my favorite things all on the same plate. The grits were rich and creamy, almost like a risotto or creamy polenta. The collards were tender and delicate and almost creamy themselves, with a sweet flavor that was a unexpected. The enormous portion of lamb shank was fork tender and juicy and full of rich, robust flavor. The wine was a perfect paring. The soft tannins and strong fruit aromas complimented the mascarpone and sweetness of the collards perfectly. The lamb was delicate enough that a firmer Malbec could have overwhelmed it, but this is an exceptionally well rounded wine. This is a wine I will look for in the future and well justifies the 91 points from Wine Spectator.