It was a race between us and a bus of senior tourists to make it to the lunch line for The Lion House, one of Salt Lake's most venerable eateries.

Of course, the seniors won, but we actually didn't mind too much. For one thing, we had a great conversation with those nearest us while we waited. For another, the staff at The Lion House keeps things moving right along, so despite the busful of folks in front of us, our wait wasn't too long.

The Lion House, in the basement of Brigham Young's historic home in the heart of downtown, serves its food cafeteria-style, with meals including two sides and a roll. Selections change daily, but a few things stay the same — mainly the Lion House's fragrant, buttery rolls and its pies, which are similarly delightful.

On the day we visited for lunch, the place did boast a significant number of seniors and tourists, the demographic you'd most likely expect to find there. But there also were a bunch of downtown workers having lunch, a group of teenage girls, a heavily pierced, black-wearing couple and others who showed Salt Lake City's growing diversity. Guess retired folks aren't the only ones who hanker after those rolls.

There are no kids' meals at The Lion House, but the staff offered us an extra plate so that our two youngest daughters could split the roast beef lunch, a plate of fork-tender beef with a gorgeous outer crust and nice marbling, plus mixed veggies and mashed potatoes with beef gravy. This meal stood up well to the chafing dishes that are part of eating at The Lion House.

I wish I could say the same for my meal, the stuffed pork chop. Though the chop was generously sized and its stuffing flavorful with herbs and onion, its time in a chafing dish had made the stuffing too soggy and the chop too dry. The mashed potatoes were a consolation, however: steamy, creamy and freshly mashed, with a light chicken gravy.

I should have had the salmon, which my husband ordered. It withstood the chafing dish beautifully, arriving at our table perfectly flaky, pink and moist, with a fresh dill sprig laid on top. With it he had mixed veggies and a mild, soothing rice pilaf.

My toddler isn't big enough for a meal of his own but too big to eat off my plate. So he had his own roll and a small cup of chicken soup with thick, chewy noodles. He also had a fruit cup with a variety of fresh-cut fruits: grapes, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries and pineapple.

The kids also enjoyed trying the "old-timey" sodas — cream, raspberry, black cherry and sarsaparilla — that The Lion House serves.

Dessert is a highlight at The Lion House. I had chocolate cake, layered with cream and frosted with thick, fudgy icing, but my favorite is the pie. Any kind, really, because the key to Lion House pies is the delicious, flaky crust, which makes whatever accompanies it taste sublime. We had chocolate cream, one of our favorites with its rich, silky filling, and the apple pie, sprinkled with sugar to make the crust just that much better.

Soup $1.99-$2.99, salad specials about $5-$6, sides $1.30, entrees $7.95-$10.95, desserts $1.99.

Rating: ***

Where: 63 E. South Temple

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 363-5466

Wheelchair access: Accessible; however, narrow doorways and tight cafeteria line complicate access

Also: Space and catering available for meetings, receptions, parties, etc.

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: [email protected]