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Eating and cycling along the Northshore's Tammany Trace 

Tour de Chow

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Of the many great reasons to hop on a bicycle, one that becomes apparent while pedaling along the Tammany Trace is a real sense of entitlement to calories. This one-time rail line-turned-recreation trail is a haven for bicyclists, joggers and skaters, stretching 28 miles from Covington to Slidell. My own goal on a recent trip was far more modest. I just wanted to get some lunch in Abita Springs, the first official stop from downtown Covington, its distance a mere 3 miles and change.

  I girded myself well for the challenge. The Tammany Trace is dotted with places to eat, especially of the type where cyclists in moisture-shedding clothing aren't likely to offend house dress codes. My ride on this hot Wednesday in May began at the Covington trailhead, one of a series of accommodating rest centers built from former rail depots along the route. This one also hosts the Wednesday edition of the Covington Farmers Market (Saturday's is held two blocks from the trailhead, across from Covington City Hall).

  As a collection of bluegrass pluckers and fiddlers set up in the bandstand, a dozen or so food and farm vendors offered their raw and prepared wares from card tables under a shady awning. Raphaela Alvarado layered a tostada with a spread of cheese and poblano peppers, which I washed down with a tall cup of pineapple water for a grand total of $5. English shortbread with a dollop of fresh lemon curd from British baker Georgie Myrtle provided a sweet second course.

  It was a solid start to the day, but when Abita Springs materialized up the Trace, 20 long minutes later, my interior lunch bell started ringing. The Trace runs straight through the center of this historic hamlet, where the dense cluster of restaurants looked to my hungry eyes like an outdoor food arcade. I weighed options including pasta and salads at the Abita Café, sacks of boiled crawfish from Abita Seafood, a farm stand selling the last of the season's strawberries, Italian dishes from Mama D's Pizza and fried chicken from Artique's, the grocery that recently replaced the long-standing Rauch's market.

  I remembered Abita Springs is famed for the restorative powers of the local artesian water, which also fuels the suds from Abita Brewing Co. Clearly, after 3 miles of pushing pedals, a pint of civilization's most popular energy drink was in order. From an umbrella-covered table outside the Abita Brew Pub (the brewery's onetime home, now a restaurant), I watched other cyclists zoom down the Trace as I had crab claws prepared in the buttery style of barbecued shrimp and a glass of potent doppelbock, one of the small-batch Abita brews served from the rainbow of taps here.

  The ambitious could soldier on another 9 miles to Old Mandeville, where the trailhead is close to many casual cafes, like the Good Earth Market & Cafe with its excellent grilled fish sandwich and avocado turkey wrap. Instead, I embarked for the return ride to Covington, intent to kindle appetite enough for one final snack back at the end of the line.

  There's a profusion of breakfast and lunch cafes near the Covington trailhead, like Mattina Bella, Beck 'n' Call and Lola, which is housed in a historic railroad siding where the patio overlooks an old marooned caboose. Then there's Columbia Street Market, where the deli serves wheatgrass shots and vegetarian lasagna. It was the outdoor tables at Calypso Patio Bar & Grill that lured me in, though, where the view of other bikers riding along the adjacent Trace provided a comforting reminder of how I'd earned this plate of shrimp nachos and another Abita.

click to enlarge The Abita Brew Pub serves as a biker-friendly watering hole and - energy booster for riders along the Tammany Trace - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • The Abita Brew Pub serves as a biker-friendly watering hole and energy booster for riders along the Tammany Trace
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