French cuisine can be elegant, revered and even intimidating, but it can also be soulful and easy. Le Lyonnais, with its French comfort food concept, offers a more relaxed approach. Newly open in the Downtown space that was home to Sonoma Grille for 12 years, Le Lyonnais is the newest collaboration from restauranteur Yves Carreau and The Big Y Group (Poros, Seviche, Perlé).

Inspiration for the Penn Avenue restaurant comes from the time-honored recipes of Carreau’s hometown in Lyon, France. Many of the recipes have been in his family for generations. “It’s the food I grew up with and most of our menu is inspired by that,” says Carreau.

Lyon, the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseilles, is highly regarded for its cuisine as well as for producing some of the world’s greatest chefs. Sandwiched between the Burgundy and Rhône Valley wine regions, Lyon has a long history as a favorite stopover for travelers between Paris and the Riviera.

“Traditional Lyon fare is very simple and homey, hence the ‘comfort food’ label,” says Carreau. Similarly, his intention with Le Lyonnais is to offer a menu that is “simple, casual and approachablenot your average French restaurant experience.”

Many of the dishes have a deeply personal connection to Mr. Carreau: “My Mom used to make Quenelle Lyonnaise every week. It was one of my favorites and is now one of our bestsellers. It’s a Walleye pike dumpling baked in lobster sauce.”

The restaurant’s beef bourguignon recipe is a special treasure passed along to him from a favorite aunt who recently passed away.

Le Lyonnais features classics like a hearty cassoulet, onion soup gratinée and a selection of tartines (open-faced sandwiches) and salads. Macaroons, cheese plates and crepes highlight the dessert menu.

Carreau hopes diners will welcome the casual French eatery as a simple and affordable alternative in the vibrant Cultural District. “The neighborhood is filled with young people who don’t want to spend a lot, but still want to go out,” he says, adding, “We always have a kicking happy hour.”

Le Lyonnais’ happy hour menu features small plates including a Parisian Style Hot Dog, and deep discounts on beer, cocktails and wine, including a house sangria. It runs weeknights from 5 to 7 p.m. and later in the evening on Saturday from 9 p.m. until midnight.

Le Lyonnais (947 Penn Ave., Downtown) is open for lunch, Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., and dinner Monday – Saturday 5 – 10 p.m.