The Lovett family is synonymous with Alton.
Alton resident Merry Lovett had 18 siblings, 15 who are still living, and when you throw in children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren, that number balloons to nearly triple digits.
Imagine the work invested in a family dinner? That’s why Merry and her family decided to open Lovett’s Snoots, Fish, Chicken and More on Aug. 14 at 234 E. Elm St. The problem was the demand put a stranglehold on the small, carry-out location, so on Jan. 31 Lovett’s moved to 2512 College Ave. with booths and stools for patrons to have the option to dine in. It called for a menu expansion, too.
Lovett’s specializes in soul food, which provides a niche for fans of the cuisine. There aren’t any other soul food restaurants in the Greater Alton area. It is the epitome of family-owned. With the size of the family, everyone helps out and Merry said they’ve all had lots of practice.
“Our family is so big it’s like every time we had a gathering it was like working at a restaurant,” Merry said with a chuckle. “To make large quantities, that’s very simple for us. I can’t even cook small. Everything I cook is on a large scale.”
Merry said it really began with her father and a picnic he hosted that showcased plenty of good ol’ family recipes.
“He had a picnic every August and our family would come over from St. Louis and other places and it got to the point where it got bigger and bigger,” she said. “It got so big we started to have fundraisers for it. The fundraisers started over on Phinney Avenue, where my dad lived. They started in the garage and every two years we had this, and we’d start at 11 a.m. and at 4 p.m. you’re supposed to be done, but there was no way because people just kept coming ... I’m observing all of these people and I’m like, ‘We need to get a building for this.’ That’s how all this got started.”
Lovett’s has a big menu, from breakfast items served from 8-11 a.m., along with appetizers, sandwiches and dinner options served the remainder of the day. Some choices are pretty unique, like the snoot sandwich, which is Phyllis Lovett’s recipe.
Snoots are simply a cut of pork from a pig’s nose and cheek area with a crunchy consistency like pork rinds. It is a St. Louis-style barbecue tradition and a soul food staple. At Lovett’s the snoot sandwich is swimming in barbecue sauce and served with two slices of white bread.
I am a huge food connoisseur and decided I had to try this quirky dish. I ordered the snoot sandwich and fries and it was served to me without silverware. I just dug in and quickly had a mess as the bread sopped up the rich, sweet sauce and the slivers of snoots fell off the bread. I’ll eventually get the hang of it, because I would eat snoots again.
They had a crunchy texture and a great flavor and the sauce at Lovett’s was very good. I suggest trying this signature dish. The fries were also freshly cut and seasoned for a sensational taste.
“Our specialty is snoots,” Merry said. “But we have rib tips, chicken, fish — my favorite is the blackened catfish — and we have chicken and shrimp alfredo, pizza and we have a lot of carnival food like pizza fries.”
Not finished, I had to check out another unique staple at Lovett’s on the dessert menu — fried Kool-Aid. It arrived in the shape of a waffle and was sprinkled with powdered sugar. It kind of reminded me of a funnel cake, only better, with the Kool-Aid flavor popping with each bite.
Merry assured me there or no tricks, it is aptly named, but she refused go into details about its creation.
“I can’t give away all the secrets,” Merry said, giggling.
Stop by and try it yourself. And don’t miss Soul Food Sundays with collard greens, sweet potatoes, baked mac and cheese, dressing, sweet potato pie and an old family recipe for peach glazed chicken.
Check out Lovett’s on Facebook and stop by seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. You’ll be sure to meet a member of the family preparing your food.
“Everybody comes in on a volunteer basis,” Merry said. “We just like being together. It’s like a family reunion, but it’s every day.”