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Lucas School House Courtyard Restaurant


By Linda Jarrett

Food seems to always taste better when it’s eaten outside, or “al fresco.” St. Louis summers aside, diners flock to a shady patio and flickering candles.

The Lucas School House Courtyard Restaurant, 1220 Allen St., in historic Soulard, raises the al fresco dining concept a notch.

Al fresco and historic make a winning combination. Built in 1898, the building was a school for the St. Lucas Church next door, originally St. Pauls-Friedens Church, which was built in 1886. The church purchased the property in 1913 and remained there through the mid 1950’s. It went through a series of owners until Jameson Development purchased it in 2004.

Owners Dan and Mia Jameson converted it to an event and concert facility in June 2006. The restaurant opened May 1.

“Launching the restaurant was a natural step in the evolution of what we’ve been working towards... essentially, creating a unique stand-alone entertainment complex with a great and welcoming atmosphere for everyone,” Jameson says.

Despite being located on the busy corner of Allen and Gravois, the courtyard evokes the feel of a cozy urban escape. Umbrellas cover the tree-lined courtyard which can easily accommodate 70 diners.

And this is where General Manager and Executive Chef Christopher Roussin plies his trade under the discerning eyes of his audience.

Roussin, a St. Charles native, comes from a large family and credits his love of cooking to regular family gathering centered on food and conversation.

When he was in grade school, the family moved to Redondo Beach, Calif., where he got his first job that whetted his appetite for a future career—shucking oysters.

“It was for a small upscale restaurant,” he says. “Even though it was a terrible job and I cut my hands quite a bit, I loved it! That’s where I developed my love of seafood.”

Although Roussin’s family moved back to St. Charles when he was a senior, he stayed and finished school. He then returned to the area where he attended and graduated from Lindenwood College (now University) with a degree in Communications. Deciding to follow his love of cooking, he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York where he graduated with honors.

Then it was back to Los Angeles where he was a private chef for such celebrities as Madonna, Nicholas Cage, Cameron Diaz and David Geffen. And, no, he does not “dish” on any of these people other than to grin and say, “They’re nice!”

The high life was not enough to keep him in L.A. and Roussin moved back. “I missed my family. It was time to come home.”

After being executive chef at the Forest Park Boathouse and taking time out to care for his father who had a triple bypass, Roussin sent a resume to the Lucas School House, where it so happened that the Jamesons were looking for a chef.

An advocate of a lighter, healthier way of eating, his menus emphasize fresh fish and grilled meats enhancing the natural flavors of the dishes instead of covering them in heavy sauces.

“I want to use all Missouri has to offer,” he says, “from great beef to wonderful produce, and that is something our menu will always reflect.”

He also believes in the concept of “slow food,” the theory being advanced that people need to slow down and enjoy their food, and also that food should be local and environmentally beneficial.

“I think people are eating a little simpler now because of the availability of good foods like local produce and meats,” he says. “Food evokes certain emotions. I love preparing something for someone and seeing that first look on their faces when they take that first bite. It’s so enjoyable because it does make it worthwhile.”

Roussin also likes to mill around the customers and make sure they are enjoying their dinners which he prepares from an open kitchen on the patio.

With his penchant for seafood, Roussin makes sure his fish dishes take front and center.

“At lunch and dinner, we have excellent sea mussels, all fresh, steamed with a white wine, olive oil, butter, garlic and tarragon,” he said.

One of the lunch favorites is the Shrimp BLT with BBQ Shrimp, Baby Greens, Applewood Smoked Bacon, and Tomatoes on Focaccia with Avocado-Lemon mayonnaise ($9).

Some of Chris’s signature dishes include Poached Oysters on the Half Shell with Fennel Crème Sauce, Black Caviar and topped with a Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche ($18), Pan-Roasted Pompano w/ Grapefruit and White Wine Reduction, Flash-Fried Arugula with Tomato-Avocado and Sun-Flower Sprout Salad ($16), and Grilled Baby Lamb Chop with Balsamic Glaze, with Fig and Cherry Compote and topped with Crumbled Maytag Bleu Cheese ($19).

To complete the repast, the School House features Grilled Banana Bread topped with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream ($5.50).

Brunch-lovers need to check out the School House where diners can find everything from that southern classic Shrimp and Grits $9.95) or Biscuits and Gravy ($7.95) to a Tomato Florentine or Steak and Cheese Omelet (both $12.50). Or try a Schoolyard Slinger—an amazing concoction featuring a Fried Egg, Country Potatoes, Andouille Sausage Gravy and Cheddar Cheese over Buttered Biscuits ($8.95).

Diners are not confined to the outside. Inside, 150 can be seated and enjoy music in the upstairs Concert Hall or the downstairs Lounge which, incidentally, used to be a gymnasium and a classroom.

This is one school that satisfies all tastes!

TALKINGPoints


The Lucas School House Courtyard Restaurant
1220 Allen Ave. (Corner of Allen and Gravois avenues)
St. Louis, MO 63104
(314) 621-6565

Brunch: Sunday – 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lunch: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.

 

 

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