The song by Kenny Rogers, Twenty Years Ago was actually written about my hometown in south Mississippi. Today the downtown of my childhood, which was once the pulse of the small town, is struggling to stay alive in a world of big chain stores that sell a little bit of everything for less There are however, small towns which have tapped into strategies that are not only keeping their downtowns alive but assuring that they thrive. In a series called Downtown Small Town, I’d like to highlight some of those places. One method of survival, it would seem, is that communities whose downtowns offer QUALITY dining, art, entertainment and shopping are being supported not only by locals, but by people from nearby communities as well, and those “anchors” are helping to sustain other small businesses in the downtowns areas. Old Town Hall and Café is just such an establishment.
Uncontrived ambience, delicious southern cuisine, soft live piano music, original art, and an abundance of genuine southern grace are offered at the Old Town Hall and Café. The charming dining spot is located on the town square of Covington, Tennessee, and yes, the café and the boutique next door occupy a space that was the original town hall, built in 1878.
It’s all Homemade! Whether it’s delicious stuffed bell peppers, yeast rolls or scrumptious desserts, all of the cooking is done in-house, serving “from scratch” recipes that have become customer favorites. Along with an extensive selection of sandwiches, including several hamburger combinations and an eclectic selection of salads, such as Bouquet of Salad, an inclusive plate of pasta, chicken and fruit, there’s a different unique entree and soup every day.
Southern hospitality is alive and thriving at Old Town Hall and Café, with easygoing cordiality imparted by Nancy Peeler and her upbeat staff. Everyone dining at the lunch spot is made comfortable and welcomed, and Nancy and her employees are competent but unaffected. It’s easy to see why the café is a regular stop for local business owners and other residents, but a destination spot for out-of-towners like me, who just happened upon it and want to return.
Curb Appeal, Curb Appeal, Curb Appeal! Although in the case of the Old Town Hall and Café, the food speaks for itself, the mood of the quaint eatery makes dining special and relaxing. I was searching for a lunch spot in the downtown area, and the curb appeal of the café drew my eye immediately. While curb appeal is vital, atmosphere is critical in a restaurant, and as I opened the door I found a space which quietly said, “come in, relax and enjoy a delightful meal.” Simple elegance is served not only in the form of the delicious homemade fare, but in the unpretentious décor which makes the room inviting and tranquil. Well thought out linens cover each table, a fresh flower arrangement atop each.
Soft ambient light is furnished with an array of table lamps carefully placed around the room, and spots highlight paintings by local artists displayed on exposed brick walls. The soothing atmosphere is further enriched by the soft music provided by pianist, Andrew Wolle several days a week.
If you can’t make it for lunch, throw a party! The café is open for lunch Monday through Friday, and the first Saturday of each month, but the attractive environment is available to rent for receptions, business meetings, luncheons, showers and parties. An all-encompassing menu is available to those wanting food provided when they rent the room, and catering is another feature of the restaurant which makes party giving a whole lot easier no matter the location. From tomato feta appetizers to shrimp and grits, the extensive menu has something for every taste and occasion.
I once spent an entire summer on a campaign to locate the best coconut cake in Memphis, and gained 15 pounds in the process. My first encounter with Nancy was her arrival at our table with an assortment of pastries which included fabulous coconut cake. Many of the desserts appear on the menu every day, but there is often something new and special when Nancy or her chef wants to experiment with a new recipe.
Hope springs eternal for the revival of downtowns in small towns. My theory that quality almost always survives was confirmed in Covington, Tennessee, where a small top-notch eatery is contributing substantially to the success of the downtown area.