Metro-East Living

The Grille’s owner likes ‘the awe effect’ that great food has on O’Fallon diners

The Grille at The Mansion

Chef Jerry Conway talks about The Grille at The Mansion located in O'Fallon.
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Chef Jerry Conway talks about The Grille at The Mansion located in O'Fallon.

Abraham Lincoln once dined at The Mansion, and it was a claustrophobic stop on the Underground Railroad, but the owners of The Grille at The Mansion are looking to the future now.

Kathy Cox sees brides and their grooms enjoying a relaxed daylong celebration with great food just to their liking. Jerry Conway sees an ever-evolving menu featuring diverse cuisine.

“Other chefs tell me I have a unique ability to create things,” Jerry said.

Lately his creations are of the stacked variety — like Chilean Seat Bass stacked atop mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach and served with lobster sauce. It’s stacked with a tortilla holding tequila lime shrimp, and asparagus spears rise up the sides like the outer frame of a skyscraper.

“I like the awe effect,” he said.

That “awe effect” is one he knows how to achieve, after being a chef at the Hyatt in St. Louis and at Disney World in Florida. Part of it is having a kitchen staff that he trusts and is as creative as he.

“The guys I have back there ... the best I’ve had in a long time,” he said.

Jerry wants them to experiment and explore, saying “I’ve been doing this too long to have an ego the size of Texas.”

Staffing can be a trouble spot, he said, but he and Kathy are happy with their staff now. He’s had a chef who did some things that aren’t readily accepted in Southern Illinois, like raw meats. He’s found that a first interview will help weed out chefs who won’t make his cut — like the hopeful who didn’t know sauce basics.

He likes to inspire his staff and happily takes their suggestions for mashed potato variations. He doesn’t just want garlic mashed potatoes, so they’ve tried loaded baked mashed potatoes, smoked cheddar mashed potatoes, buffalo mashed potatoes and more.

One thing Jerry and Kathy, who are engaged and will be married at The Mansion someday, wanted to ensure was that they offered a seafood restaurant that has steak, not a steak restaurant with seafood.

“I do more seafood than steak, stuff nobody else has in the area,” Jerry said.

The distinction is important to them, and even turned their manager, Anthony Cardile, into a diner who enjoys seafood.

While Anthony says “you never go wrong with filet mignon,” the blue marlin is something he’s come to appreciate.

“I don’t like fish; and I eat this every time,” he says.

For Kathy, her favorite appetizer is the flaming coconut shrimp.

Kathy’s focus is the weddings. For those special occasions, The Grille shuts down to all other business for the whole day.

“You have the place from morning ’til night,” she says. Brides and their wedding parties might arrive at 8 a.m. and head upstairs to a suite outfitted with comfortable wingback chairs and a television. There are movies to relax to while the bridal party gets ready, and windows that overlook the patio where the guests gather. If they want, they can explore the house, including the dining room that Lincoln ate in, and peer at the moving stairs at the very top of the house that runaway slaves would crawl into.”

She said not having a limited time allotment makes the day much more relaxing for the bridal party. Jerry said there are no package deals; each wedding is customized for the couple.

For one wedding, that meant three roasted pigs — “you know, with the faces on,” Kathy said — in a nod to the groom’s heritage. For an upcoming wedding, that means seafood gumbo for the bride’s Louisiana roots.

“But the groom’s allergic to shellfish,” Jerry said, so there will also be beef stew.

At a glance

  • The Grille at The Mansion, 1680 Mansion Way, O’Fallon; 618-624-0629; https://www.thegrilleatthemansion.com/
  • Menu: Varies. Appetizers such as flaming coconut shrimp are $10; entrees start at $24 and the beef wellington is $55. Seafood is dependent on market availability.
  • Seating: 158
  • Bar: Full bar, with bottles of wine from $30 to $220; a Louis XIII cognac is $175 a shot (or $90 for a half-shot)
  • ADA compliant: Yes
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