Del Porto Ristorante
501 E. Boston St., Covington
A classic Tuscan approach to robust roasted meats, house-made pastas and a light touch with seafood are the enduring hallmarks of this modern Italian restaurant. Preparations are straightforward, though still multidimensional, with a balanced interplay of fresh herbs, the right hit of oil or a dash of spicy heat. The seasons play out through this approach, recently with tender ravioli plumped with greens and glistening with carrot-infused butter. If you’re in downtown Covington in the late afternoon, make any excuse to visit the small plates-style happy hour (Tue.-Fri., 4:30-6 p.m.). A rapid renovation last fall has added more room to the handsome, window-lined dining room.
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$
25020 Highway 190 E., Lacombe
The archetype of the French country inn, this Lacombe landmark has long made the trip over Lake Pontchartrain feel a little like a trans-Atlantic journey. The image is more than skin deep. John Besh’s crew has been developing the small-ag potential of the exurban property since taking over from founder Chris Kerageorgiou in 2006, and now you can see the actual farm beds and pens that supply some of your supper stretching back behind this homestead of a restaurant. Rabbit, rack of lamb and the roasted duck all fit the rustic mode well, though chef Erik Loos works a contemporary style across the menu. Grouper, crusted with brown butter, is set off by green garlic and citrus, for instance, and the oysters “ooh la la” sizzle with crab fat butter and saffron. Though very expensive at dinner, the three-course table d’hôte and brunch menu are relative bargains to build a visit around.
Dinner Wed.-Sun., brunch Sun. $$$$$
30160 Highway 51, Akers
You don’t have to travel very far to get a good fried seafood plate in these parts, and with very few exceptions everyone has to log some mileage to get to Middendorf’s. What makes the prospect more than worthwhile is the signature style with seafood that has evolved over its eight decades in business, crossed with a setting that has lately evolved into a waterfront getaway (on some summer weekends it can feel like a roadhouse restaurant for people arriving in boats). I’d feel cheated if I left Middendorf’s without a taste of its famous razor-thin fried catfish, but that isn’t the end of the story. Bring company to sample broadly through the barbecued oysters, stuffed flounder and grilled frog legs, and spend some time on the waterfront pavilion before you even think about the return trip home.
Lunch and dinner Wed.-Sun. $$$
428 E. Boston St., Covington
Opening an ambitious restaurant inside a boutique hotel in the center of a small town sounds like a daydream for a harried chef. But since Oxlot 9 debuted last summer in the Southern Hotel, chef Jeffrey Hansell has been making this vision a reality. His menu draws from a broad array of distinctive Southern modes, with contemporary Creole playing an important role but not necessarily the primary one. Oysters in puff pastry and fried frog legs take on refreshingly original aspects, and even the cheese board is dressed up with regional selections. The well-heeled social scene that has gravitated here spills boisterously from the restaurant’s small bar to the hotel’s beautiful lounge, across its patio and sometimes even though the lobby. Good thing there are rooms available upstairs.
Dinner Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$$$$