Pretty Patrons, Average Plates

At a cavernous 8,000 square feet, Lucas Park Grille can pack ’em in by the hundreds. But despite the vast proportions of the restaurant’s physical space, its clientele seems to be drawn from a rather small pool. The young, beautiful, see-and-be-seen crowd makes a good showing here, with urban professionals conducting business over wines selected from an award-winning list of more than 300 bottles. Throw in some out-of-towners that wander in from nearby hotels and conventions, and you’ve got an idea of who you’ll be in company with.

The bar commands most of the restaurant, with a few elevated seating and lounge areas breaking up the massive room into cozier compartments and making it an ideal space for private parties and events. Stone, copper and a couple fireplaces create a rustic sort of refinement.

It almost seems that the scene and buzz centered around Lucas Park Grille is really what this place is about, not necessarily the food. That said, for a place where all eyes aren’t on the menu, the kitchen – led by chef Kyle Patterson – shows potential. In fact, some dishes are rather tasty.

Like the duck leg confit: meltingly good plucked from the bone and dragged through a slick of roasted garlic duck jus. Alongside the leg sits a potato-bacon cake with a crisp sear and fluffy core. It’s rich and intoxicating, not unlike the patrons.

The coriander scallops with quinoa and mango-mint jam are also a fresh and bold small plate; a little jaunt to the tropics on a cold winter’s night. Three scallops are lined up diagonally, sitting pretty with a deep crust and doused with the sweet and zesty jam. The quinoa had a peppery kick and was a light and healthy foil to the buttery scallops. Nearly every table in sight was devouring a plate of the silky bivalves; this is no big secret, but it is a darn good way to start the meal.

Some other small plates, such as a gooey arugula-and-artichoke dip or fried calamari with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce, are a step above most bar and grills’ versions and ideal for sharing.

The large plates, however, were spottily seasoned. I so wanted the thick smoked pork chop to tout a nice salty crust. What I received was juicy with a good char, though it was lacking all that seasoning. The accompanying sweet tomato-basil jam paired nicely with the savory, smoky chop and potato and onion hash, which had wonderful caramelized and crispy bits.

Each element of the ahi tuna, crusted in wasabi peas and served with sushi rice and ginger, lacked seasoning, but was otherwise texturally pleasing. And a braised short rib sandwich was big on aromatic, tender beef but lacked balance. The sandwich was served with a sweet-and-sour coleslaw and blue cheese, but it needed more acid, more salt and perhaps a different bread-to-meat ratio.

A honey-roasted half chicken had a nicely crisped skin and a creamy pomme purée. A lemon-thyme jus added kick and moisture to this otherwise ordinary dish.

For dessert, beignets hit the spot. Served with fresh strawberries and a creamy caramel sauce, the fried dough is tender and steamy. A slice of fluffy cheesecake with a bright raspberry sauce was humble yet luscious.

Service was lax but friendly, which brings me back to what this place is really about. Lucas Park Grille isn’t service-driven. It’s not about putting out the most innovative or mind-blowing food. It’s about the atmosphere, the ambiance and the people. It’s been a hot spot for more than six years and continues to keep the buzz going – and the seats filled – night after night. It’s a neat space in the right location. It has a lively bar scene and the ability to morph into the right setting, whether sharing a bottle of wine in front of the fire or celebrating with hundreds of your “closest friends.” There’s plenty of room for everyone. The food won’t blow you away, but chances are, that’s not why you’re there in the first place.

Lucas Park Grille
1234 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.241.7770

Entrée prices: $13 to $30