Feeding Hungry Souls 

Finding heavenly sustenance at the St. Mary of Victories lunch buffet

Although the Wednesday Lebanese food a couple of blocks away at St. Raymond's Maronite Church is perhaps better known, another downtown church draws a decent crowd to its own ethnically tinged lunch buffet.

Interstate 55 traffic thunders by just a few yards from the front door of St. Mary of Victories, a relic of the days when the surrounding Chouteau's Landing neighborhood was a focal point of the German immigrant community in St. Louis in the middle of the 19th century. The church itself dates to 1843, and it's stunning on the inside, with loads of painting and statuary dating to the church's founding.

After the 1956 Hungarian revolution, refugees who settled in St. Louis adopted the parish as their own. Indeed, the hall in the adjoining building is dedicated to the hero of Hungarian Catholics, Cardinal Minszenty, and features his portrait, Hungarian and American flags, and numerous prints of Hungarian history.

The Monday-Wednesday lunch buffet is only sprinkled with items from the Magyar republic -- usually a chicken or meat dish flavored with paprika or other spices. And, of course, you can end your meal with a dense piece of layered, rolled poppyseed bread or various other Hungarian baked goods, and you can purchase whole loaves, along with cookies and other homemade goodies, off a long table next to the cashier. The rest of the lunch is basic steam-table stuff -- corn, green-beans-and-bacon, spaghetti, mashed and sweet potatoes and the like -- but it's a ton of food for 6 bucks, and after admiring the photos of the church interior during lunch, if you're really lucky, either the church will be open or you can persuade one of the friendly parishioners to take you over for a tour.

St. Mary of Victories isn't easy to get to -- it's at Third and Gratiot, basically due east of the Ralston complex, but Gratiot jogs at Fourth, so if you come at it from Broadway, you have to make a less-than-legal maneuver to get across Fourth Street. Chouteau's Landing itself is fairly rugged (it's no small irony that a building near the church is listed by Lazarus Realty) and street parking is scant, but it really is worth the effort, especially if you're a fan of St. Louis' distant past.

ST. MARY OF VICTORIES, 744 S. Third at Gratiot, 231-8101.

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