The Country Store Series: Erwin's
Country stores have been an integral part of our country, a little slower-paced, full of community, old friends, and great things happening—they were truly a “happy spot.” You miss that about life now…everything is so fast-paced. We drive with tunnel vision to get the things we need and then come home.
Cypress is taking a look at what has become of the “old country store.” We will start out this series with a peek inside one of my favorite happy spots, Erwin’s Restaurant on Bride Road (just outside of Covington).
Jeff Erwin explained, “this place has been in business for over 100 years. First, it was my Great Grandfather’s store, then we started cooking on the weekends. It was never intended to be a real restaurant, it just grew this way...we didn’t even have a real kitchen, just a grill. I built a room around it after I tried to cook outside in a thunderstorm one weekend.”
It’s not hard to find a reason why things “just grew that way.” It’s real food that tastes real good. “We don’t microwave and we don’t deep fry,” Erwin continued. “We use our own recipes on sauces, spices, and we make our pies from scratch. People don’t cook like that anymore—it’s uncommon cooking.”
Their menu has evolved over time; foods that were once specials have been added because customers requested them again and again. And the taste is completely unique. Meat is cooked over firewood from trees that fall on their farm fields over the winter. The vegetables are mostly fresh from the farm: green beans, yellow squash, mashed potatoes with caramelized onion, tomato slaw, fresh sliced tomatoes, black eyed peas, broccoli casserole, spinach casserole, and squash casserole, among others. The pies with mile high meringue include lemon ice box, coconut, caramel, peanut butter, and chocolate pie. The rolls are served warm with honey butter.
Homemade recipes for sauces and spices have come from a splash of this and a pinch of that over time, including ‘The Stuff,’ which has evolved into a much requested seasoning while cooking. For those who are addicted, there’s a jar on the table to add to your food. “People have come to Erwin’s, tasted it, and bought a jar to take home with them,” Erwin explained. “People love it—they say, ‘We want some of that stuff that’s on the table,’ and that’s the way it has grown.” The Stuff is now being shipped as far away as Canada and to many other states.
In addition to the food, the old, original store building is warm and inviting. When you walk in, you can feel the decades that have been celebrated wash over you. Flowers from Erwin’s garden greet you with a happy nod and the decor is anything but what you would expect. Jeff Erwin likes to travel, and along with the Tipton County photos and history on the walls, you can peruse artwork from Tahiti, China, Peru, the Amazon rainforests, Colombia, and Morocco. The decor is always changing—something new, something old, just a change of perspective for a piece, it’s always a delight. Erwin is also very proud of the many photos of his family from older times working on the family farm. “We farm, we have the cleaners; the restaurant has never been our sole business,” Erwin finished.
The restaurant is open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and occasionally on other nights for special occasions. The cooking begins at 8 a.m. on Thursdays by making all the desserts, then they spend the rest of the day making vegetables for the next three nights.
“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 relative's house. They eat and then they stay and visit.” You do stay and visit, because it feels good—like Thanksgiving without the stress and mess! Erwin said there are usually people waiting to come in before 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 four 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 cafés used to do.”
Don’t expect fast food, however, because your meal is cooked when you order it, not pre-cooked and then microwaved. The flavors, oh, the flavors, they do tell the story of being fresh!
For more information, go to the website: dineaterwins.com or erwinsrestaurant.com, and check them out on Facebook: @erwinscovington
4464 Bride Rd