A Weekend Hotspot

Fast-paced and full of diners, Erwin’s is a hidden gem in Covington

 

Story by France Gasquet

Photography by Echo Day

      One does not just happen upon Erwin’s, it is a destination after all.

 For those uninitiated to Erwin’s, the saying, “it’s worth the drive”, is definitely true. It takes merely 10 minutes from the square in Covington, but the first time you make the trip, especially if it’s in the cold darkness of winter, it seems a little longer.

 

    The meandering road turns a corner and right before your eyes is Erwin’s, a literal bright light in the darkness. The building became a restaurant about 15 years ago, but it’s been a place of business for as long as anyone can remember.

     The interior design is a mix of owner Jeff Erwin’s travels, Tipton County history and whimsy. On display is exotic artwork and the like from Tahiti, China, Peru, the Amazon rainforests, Columbia and Morocco, just to name a few. A mirror in the dining hall is a keepsake from the old Cris’s store in Covington. Different types of chandeliers are scattered throughout the restaurant, serving not only as function, but also conversation pieces.

     Erwin sits in a booth and talks about the history and what a day is like working in this beautiful restaurant.

 “My great-grandfather, this was his store. This was his farm,” he said. “This has always been here; we never planned it.”

 As much as they loved the restaurant, Erwin’s is not the business in which they depend for a living.

 “We farm, we have the restaurant and then we also have the cleaners in town.”

 The restaurant is open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Erwin begins on Thursdays by making all desserts and then spends the rest of the day making vegetables for the next three nights.

 He said it made sense to him to open the doors Thursday, as he was here getting ready for Friday rush.

     “We set up on Thursday, because the mob comes at 7 p.m. on Friday night,” Erwin explained. “We serve around 400 people on the three nights a week that we are open. I think people think of Erwin’s like they went to their relatives’ house. They eat and then they stay and visit.”

 He said there are usually people waiting when the restaurant opens.

     “They come earlier in the winter and later in the summer and they come from everywhere, Dyersburg, Memphis, Brownsville, Halls, Somerville. We serve until 9:30 p.m., but most of the time, we’ve finished by 9 o’clock; you can tell when it’s slowing down.”

     The waitresses are family and, in fact, most of the staff is related. Instead of having sections, the waitresses rotate tables and there are a couple of busboys who help.

 “We have three waitresses for the restaurant. We can seat 160 people at once,” said Erwin. “It’s service you don’t get anywhere else. It’s what little cafes used to do.”

     The menu has stayed the same since opening 15 years ago, he said, and it consists primarily of steaks, fish and seafood. The restaurant cooks to order and doesn’t fry anything because Erwin prefers to keep things the way they’ve always been done, which includes grilling over a fire pit with wood from the farm.

     The vegetables are mostly from the farm and fresh: green beans, yellow squash, mashed potatoes with caramelized onion, tomato slaw, fresh sliced tomatoes, black eyed peas, broccoli casserole, among others. The pies, which Erwin makes himself, include lemon ice box, caramel and peanut butter and chocolate pie. Rolls are served with honey butter.

    Life is supposed to be about the journey, not the destination. But make sure this restaurant is a destination in the journey, for this restaurant is definitely worth the lovely drive.