By Alison Grizzle
Some of my earliest childhood memories of Lovoy’s restaurant entail “Aunt Anne” sitting at the cash register and the red-and-white checkered table cloths with the paper placemats that made for great coloring tablets. My family often reminds me of the night there when I drew a picture for the president – a sketch of the White House with a picture of grits on the dining room table.
For years, I ordered the baked manicotti. Once the plate hit the table, it was only minutes before it was clean. The plate was not only clean of the manicotti but also all of the sauce, which I would sop up with the basket of garlic bread that was delivered with every meal. One of the great things about Lovoy’s is that the meal was never a surprise. I always knew that it would be exactly what I expected and would never be a disappointment.
As I grew older and learned that variety added a bit of spice to the restaurant experience, I started to explore other dishes and have found just as much pleasure from the Italian sausage and green peppers, ravioli, and baked lasagna. I also learned to slow down and not hoard all of the garlic bread. Regardless of my order or my eating strategy, Lovoy’s has never left me dissatisfied.
Lovoy’s has a long, rich history in Homewood and is truly part of the city’s tradition. The restaurant recently moved to SOHO, and their recent facelift has given the restaurant a fresh, classy look while maintaining the high-quality, delicious food that we have all grown to expect.
I must be honest: I was a bit nervous that the move would take away some of the enjoyment that surrounded my usual visits to the restaurant of my childhood. Over the years, my friends and I have shared much fellowship and many laughs at the tables of Lovoy’s. Well, I have made a few visits since the move, and the few changes that have been made don’t distract from the family tradition but, instead, help to bring the restaurant into the current decade. They have replaced the plastic red and white tablecloths with nice red and black linen tablecloths; the salad bowls have been replaced with nice small square plates; and the new bathrooms are exquisite. I was also concerned that they would double all of the prices to match the high-class of the new location, but to my surprise, the meals are still extremely affordable. In addition, the changes have not affected the food; I still found the same comfort in the food and the same familiarity. The location is new, but the joy and the feeling is the same.
When Dan Starnes, the publisher of “The Homewood Star,” told me that his third paper would be for Homewood, I knew that I would have to cover Lovoy’s as a restaurant spotlight because to me, Lovoy’s is “Absolutely Homewood.” We all agreed and decided to make a night of it.
We requested that owner, Zac Lovoy, join us for dinner and enlighten us with the history of his family’s restaurant. Lovoy’s originally opened in 1954 downtown on 4th Avenue and moved to its longtime 420 Greensprings Highway location in 1964. Zac discussed at length the emotional struggles that accompanied the decision to move from Greensprings Highway. After hours of contemplation, he heard his grandfather’s voice telling him to look to the future and make the move. To my dismay, I found out that he scouted locations all around the city, including places down Highway 280 and near Patton Creek. But Zac knew that his roots and his heart were in Homewood. He believed that the location in SOHO would be his future. Listening to the story, I lost my breath because I could not imagine Lovoy’s with a home anywhere outside of the Homewood limits. I guess that many people felt the same as I; the new location served 60,000 customers in the first ninety days of business.
Many customers appreciate the distinctive flavors of Lovoy’s food. Zac said that regulars can tell if a special cheese mixture has been changed. At one point, one of his distributors disbanded, and he could not secure a special ingredient. When he finally tracked this ingredient down, customers commented that the cheese had returned to perfection. The recipes used at Lovoy’s are old family recipes that came over from Sicily with his great-grandmother in 1870. In addition, Kim Cook and Nadine Walker have been in the kitchen for 37 years. The meatballs are always the same size because they are determined by the size of Kim’s hand.
When Zac’s father, a former co-owner with his uncle, became ill, he told Zac to go to the fireproof box in the garage and retrieve some wooden bowls and to keep them in a safe place. Zac had no idea what they were, and his father would not tell him. When he grew older, he became interested in some of the old family recipes. As he began to experiment with the family tradition, he found places in the recipe that would call for “a small bowl of” or “a large bowl of” – then he understood that the bowls were the key to truly understanding the longtime family recipes.
Amidst all of the intriguing conversations, we had an amazing dining experience. We began our meal with fried zucchini and baked oysters. I have had the famous oysters numerous times over the years, but I did not know what I was missing by not ordering the fried zucchini. We then had Italian sausage with peppers and onions, stuffed shells with an alfredo sauce, and veal parmigiana. All of it was superb. To be honest, we didn’t do a very good job of sharing because everybody was immersed in his or her own selections. Then it was time for dessert. We had strawberry cheesecake, spumoni and tiramisu.
The cheesecake and the tiramisu both came in a wonderful dessert glass and melted in your mouth. I found out that Zac has these two desserts shipped in on dry ice from an Italian restaurant in New Orleans. This restaurant experienced major problems during Katrina, and he was not able to get his desserts. He sampled many distributors but could not find anyone that offered the same quality of homemade desserts, so he took the items off the menu. A couple of years later, the family called him and told him that they were re-opening and would only be wholesaling to two restaurants, one of which was Lovoy’s. He happily accepted because it was part of the Lovoy’s tradition.
For Homewood residents, Lovoy’s is a tradition that embodies the spirit of Homewood. We are fortunate that Lovoy’s is as much a part of Homewood as Homewood is a part of Lovoy’s.