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Best Luncheon Buffet 

St. Mary of Victories Church

Attending the luncheon buffet at St. Mary's of Victories Church is like going to an urban parish picnic in the middle of the workday. Situated just south of the Arch, it has become popular with downtown workers -- lawyers, civil servants, judges and anyone else in search of home cooking. There's the inevitable comparison with St. Raymond's Maronite Church and its famous Wednesday luncheon; according to one buffet buff who frequents both, "St. Raymond's has more politicians, though St. Mary's is more serious about food." The lavish spread is cooked and served by a dedicated group of volunteers whose common purpose is to contribute to the upkeep of the beautiful old church. Except for the Hungarian entrée, "every thing is cooked Southern-style," says longtime volunteer Peggy Downen. Chicken and dumplings, usually served once a week, seems to be the favorite. Also, leave time for a tour of the church, ably conducted by Walter O'Farrell. He'll show you the grotto, reminiscent of Lourdes; the massive pipe organ; and the upper tier where the Franciscan sisters of St. Mary's slept during the cholera outbreak of 1866, having given up their own beds to tend to the patients in the adjacent hospital. St. Mary's Church was built in 1843 and for many years had a school and hospital attached. The hospital, still called St. Mary's, moved west to Clayton Road, and the defunct school now serves as the dining hall for the buffetgoers. The Hungarian connection stems from the local Hungarian Catholic community, which received permission from the Archdiocese to reopen the shuttered church in 1972, under the banner of St. Stephen of Hungary Parish. The buffet was served routinely on Sundays after Mass, but a year ago it was expanded to include Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On a recent visit, the fare consisted of goulash, mashed potatoes, candied yams, baked ham, corn niblets, green beans, cole slaw, green salad, frontier salad (cucumber and onions), a spinach soufflé, rolls and eight different kinds of pie and cake. The line moves right along, and the price of $6 buys you a drink and all you care to eat.

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