One of my favorite places to be in Eastern North Carolina on a Saturday morning is Lovick’s Cafe in Kinston. Located on Herritage St., a stone’s throw from the NeuseRiver, Lovick’s is the kind of place where everybody feels at home. When you walk in the door, you’ll find the joint hopping—every table full, customers shouting greetings to old friends across the room, sassy line cooks giving orders like field generals, and waitresses running with insouciant flair back and forth between the kitchen and the dining rooms, of which there are three, plus a counter.
Established in 1942 by Milton Lovick and now operated by his great-grandchildren, Lovick’s serves heaping plates of pancakes and bacon, salty country ham and rice, fluffy biscuits stuffed with fresh country sausage, grits and red-eye gravy, and all kinds of other country-style breakfast dishes. You’ll also discover good company there—young and old, black and white, factory workers, farmers, and downtown lawyers. All come to Lovick’s to revel in the good food and good cheer.
And the waitresses—don’t even get me started. They’re not just the kind of servers who call you “honey” or “sweetie.” I mean they do that, too, bless them, but they also ask after your momma, your kids, and what’s troubling you if you’re looking a little haggard. They seem to believe that there’s not much that country ham and grits served with a smile won’t cure. These are ladies who understand the human soul.
They’re also thoughtful. When I was there a couple days ago, my waitress grew worried that one of her other customers’ food was getting cold while he was visiting with a friend on the far side of the dining room. She put his plate back under the hot lamp until he got back.
The whole place has a wonderful community feeling to it. One wall is covered with Little League baseball plaques won by teams sponsored by Lovick’s. There was an announcement near the cash register for the upcoming reunion dinner for the Kinston Fire Department (6 PM, May 30, at King’s Restaurant). A Lion’s Club poster announced that you can donate your old eye glasses and hearing aids to people who need them while you’re at the cash register.
And then there are the “dough burgers.” Lovick’s is famous for them. They’re a fried patty of beef, flour, onions, and salt and pepper served on white bread. I was told that they’re one of those Great Depression dishes concocted to fill the belly without emptying pockets. Hard times or plush, Kinston’s residents have sworn by Lovick’s dough burgers for generations. At lunch the line for them can be out the door.
These days, dough burgers are usually associated with the Deep South, where, I’ve heard, there’s even kind of a “Dough Burger Belt” in North Mississippi. If that’s true, I don’t know how they got toHerritage Street all those years ago, but the word in Kinston is that that Milton Lovick and a pal invented the restaurant’s recipe more than 60 years ago.
Formerly one of the largest tobacco markets in the world,Kinston has been struggling of late. On Herritage Street though, you can start to see some signs of a renaissance. A block north of Lovick’s, there’s a very fine fish market, the Reynolds Seafood Company, and the Lenoir County Farmers Market, next to the river, is a bustling place on a Saturday morning. There’s also a passel of other interesting-looking businesses up and down the street now—some new; some, like Parrott’s Hardware, revitalized. And nobody—and I mean nobody—could have breakfast at Lovick’s Cafe on a Saturday morning and not be filled with a sense of hope and optimism.
Lovick’s Cafe is located at 320 Herritage St., Kinston, and is open for breakfast and lunch six days a week, closed Sundays. The restaurant also serves breakfast Tuesday evenings from 5 to 8 PM. For something really special, get a copy of Sarah Bryan’s new Moon North Carolina travel guide here and look up Kinston: her architectural tour ofQueen Street, a block east of Herritage Street and the center of the city’s old business district, is one of the book’s many little treasures. Breakfast at Lovick’s and a romp down Queen Street would make for a very fine morning.