A Huntsville Area Pop-Up Restaurant You Must Try

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The Philippines is only a 15-minute drive from Five Points. OK, food from the Philippines, but you’ll still feel like you’ve crossed continents at Lovely’s Kitchen, a nifty pop-up restaurant integrated into Reflections Lounge in Madison.

Located behind the run-down Madison Inn and Suites, in the same strip mall as The Station Bar & Grill, Reflections exudes old-school appeal. Like a deleted scene from Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Jackie Brown.”

Lovely’s only serves from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and this weekend-only schedule gives the pop-up extra urgency. That’s exactly what owner, operator and chef, Lovely Robertson, loves. “When you’re open every day, people get tired (of your food),” Robertson told me one recent Sunday. Her hair is swept back in two ’70s length braids. “So the days we’re open, it gives you excitement.”

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Inside the blackout windows of the lounge, past the jazz-themed decorations and a wooden bar, you’ll find Lovely’s. Everything is set up right outside the kitchen door of Reflection, which Robertson essentially uses as a commissary. In front of a group of dining tables and chairs, a row of banquet-style serving trays are lined up on a long table, each silver tray containing a different colorful Filipino dish. There are usually about ten.

Owners Lovely Robertson and Novelyn Gose of Lovely’s Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

Robertson posts some of the ever-changing daily menus on Lovely’s Facebook page. Service is cafeteria-style, priced at $8.50 for one meat, $10.50 for two, $12.50 for three, and $14.50 for four. The sides – fried rice, steamed white rice and a superb Filipino noodle dish called pansit – are free. Soup is also free. You walk along the line and Robertson or her friend Novelyn Gose prepares the requested items for you in Styrofoam shells and bowls.

Want to get there sooner rather than later because I found out about my first visit to Lovely’s/Reflections, address 8694 Madison Blvd. Unit R. I arrived around 1pm and the pork belly dish and pansit noodles of the day were all gone. Luckily, what was left available was great.

The emerald of my meal? Pork kare-kare, a Filipino favorite with tender pork shoulder, green beans, eggplant and spinach cooked in peanut butter sauce. It’s kind of like an improved version of Pad Thai. The Filipino fried rice side is a little funkier than what you get with typical Chinese takeout, with bits (chunks, maybe?) of bacon in there.

Lovely's kitchen

Papaya, ginger, coconut milk, broth and shrimp soup at Lovely’s Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

For the less culinary adventurous, chicken adobo is Lovely’s main course. The Filipino movement for eternal cheeseburger/chicken finger buyers. Lovely’s makes theirs with wings, which are infused with a savory, sweet and tangy garlic sauce. Fun and messy eating. The soup that day was a mixture of papaya, ginger, coconut milk, broth and shrimp.

Good product. But I couldn’t help wondering – and wishing – what I had missed. So a few Sundays later I came back there, this time around 11:30. And I was glad I did.

The pork belly sisig and pansit noodles are worth changing into your pajamas for a bit earlier on the weekend. Sisig was reminiscent of a cooler cousin of chicken salad, in that it focused on a protein (in this case, thin strips of pork belly) in a creamy sauce (tartar sauce and mayonnaise, but not too gooey , with diced peppers and red onion in the mix). Not all pork belly bites are lean for decathletes. But hey, it’s a pig’s belly and you’ve seen a pig before, right?

Lovely's kitchen

Pork kare-kare, chicken adobo, fried rice, and steamed rice at Lovely’s Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

I ate a pitcher-sized pile of pansit. Thin, delicate noodles cooked with occasional bits of chicken, cabbage, carrot, etc. for earthy/savory flavors. Played well with sisig when combined. I also tried sweet and sour chicken wings, which ate as advertised and were just as accessible as the adobo.

Lovely’s service is helpful and smiling. Robertson and Gose are ready and good at giving concise descriptions of the various dishes. (The items on the line aren’t labeled. But that wouldn’t be a bad idea.) They use little to no salt with their food, instead rolling out a shrimp paste, called bagoong, in tiny sauce cups. plastic for guests to add salt. to their own food.

Robertson started Lovely’s because working as a nursing assistant in the age of covid was getting too much. She grew up in the Philippines. Later, while residing in South Korea, she worked in a Filipino restaurant for many years. “I was only a cashier, but I helped in the kitchen,” she says. “So I kind of had all these ideas in my head (for Lovely’s food).” She has been in the United States since 2005, she said.

Lovely's kitchen

The serving line at Lovely’s Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

On my second excursion from Lovely, there was an awesome concoction in the tray at the end of the serving line. When I asked what it was, Gose told me pork blood stew, a name that only made me want to try it. She made me try a sample first, as the blood stew, which contains pork blood, liver, scallions and ginger, may be an acquired taste for some Americans.

I completely crushed my bowl of this hearty, ferric, herbaceous stew. Ginger combines with the ferric, ferrous flavor of blood for an effect that descends like an exotic, ritualistic chili. If I start sleeping upside down on the ceiling, that’s to blame – but vampires are bright and sexy now, so maybe that would get me more dates.

Robertson launched Lovely’s about 18 months ago, initially as a delivery-only option during a more pandemic shutdown period. This allowed her to build a customer base for when she started the dine-in and take-out service at Reflections Lounge in October. His significant other runs the place, which has a karaoke room in the back where you can sing a tune after your lunch if you want. That day, I spared the many tables of other guests hearing my spirited renditions of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” and Madonna’s “Borderline.” They may not be so lucky next time.

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