The Shrine Restaurant in Belleville is best known for offering eight housemade soups Monday through Saturday.
"That soup bar was out there in 1973 when I came, so I just carried on the tradition," said General Manager Chuck Schumacher, 63, of Smithton.
Today, about 70 percent of lunch customers go for the soup and 31-topping salad bar.
"We're also known for our Sunday brunch and our holiday buffets," Chuck said. "On Easter and Mother's Day, we typically serve 2,000 guests (each day)."
Of course, the restaurant's busiest time is around Christmas, when the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows turns on more than a million lights for its outdoor Way of Lights display. The holiday buffet is available every night for 40 to 45 nights.
"I figure in the 40-plus years I have been here, we have served about six million meals," Chuck said. "That includes our main dining room and 10 banquet rooms."
Beyond buffets, the menu lists salads, appetizers, sandwiches, wraps, steaks and pork, seafood and chicken entrees.
Homestyle meals such as Chicken and Dumplings, Yankee Pot Roast and Fried Chicken are served for both lunch and dinner.
"It's all made from scratch, all the way down to the sauces and fillings," said Kitchen Manager Greg Piasecki, 34, of Belleville. "We probably make eight salad dressings. The most popular are the ranch and Caesar and raspberry poppyseed."
The Shrine Restaurant is in the shrine's Visitors Center.
The 130-seat dining room is lined with a wall of windows. A covered patio with wrought-iron tables, old-fashioned street lights, hanging baskets and a fountain overlooks woods.
"You can be sitting here and see a deer gallop across the lawn," said Chris Diel, guest services and marketing manager.
The restaurant's history goes back to 1958, when the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate bought 80 acres of blufftop property off Illinois 15.
They wanted a place to hold the 15,000 to 20,000 people who were showing up for their annual novina, formerly at St. Henry's Preparatory Seminary.
"Then they started adding devotional sites," said Chris, 45, of St. Louis. "And then they built the hotel, restaurant and gift shop to accommodate the pilgrims who were coming from across the country and all over the world."
In 1973, Chuck was a 22-year-old groundskeeper with fast-food experience and a couple of culinary classes under his belt when he took over as general manager. He had a staff of 15, compared to 85 today.
Chuck is gradually retiring, but he points out his management team is made up of employees with 10, 20 and 30 years of service.
Greg joined the staff 12 years ago after working at Casa Gallardo, Houlihan's and Michael's on Main.
"I did a little training with Marcel Keraval at Cafe de France in St. Louis," he said.
Speaking of France, one of restaurant's desserts is housemade creme brulee.
Evening specials for two are available from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Customers can order beer, wine and cocktails.
"Probably the biggest compliment we hear is that you can cut our roast beef with a fork," Greg said. "We've had customers try to extract that recipe for years."
At a glance
What: Shrine Restaurant
Where: 442 S. DeMazenod Drive in Belleville (off Illinois 15)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Seating: 130 in main dining room, 600 in 10 banquet rooms and 40 on patio
Information: 618-394-6237 or snows.org/restaurant
On the menu
Strawberry and Pecan Salad -- Fresh strawberries, mandarin oranges, sugared pecans, shredded provel cheese and romaine lettuce with housemade raspberry poppyseed dressing, $7.49
Triple Decker Turkey Club Sandwich -- Toasted sourdough, tender turkey, sliced Cheddar, bacon, lettuce and tomato with smoky bacon mayonnaise and choice of side, $8.99
Yankee Pot Roast -- Tender chunks of roast beef, carrots and green beans braised in demi-glace sauce served over smashed potatoes, $9.79
Salmon with Cucumber Dill Relish -- Seared salmon filet garnished with fresh cucumber dill relish and choice of one side, $13.99
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin -- Two petite pork tenderloin medallions wrapped in bacon, pan-seared and covered with a sweet bourbon glaze and choice of one side, $9.99