Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Inheritance Valley Vineyards Closes Doors

I just found out tonight that the owners of Inheritance Valley Vineyards, Tim and Kendell Wendell, decided to close down at the end of last fall. They were the smallest producer on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. They wines will be missed.

For fans of their product, Rustle Hill Winery in Cobden bought out their remaining stock.

For now, watch and see what will be missed on the wine trail. The winery opened in 2003 after producing their first wines in 2002.

Tom's Place Owners Celebrate 15th Anniversary

It was a $10,000 night last Thursday at Tom's Place as the owners celebrated their 15th anniversary at the historic roadhouse eatery north of DeSoto. Five Danish master chefs (the owner Lasse Sorensen is Danish) each prepared one course of a five course meal to 80 guests who paid $125 each for the event.

The Southern has the story.
Each course was painstakingly planned out among the chefs using traditional Danish ingredients, but Sorensen said the catch in planning the menu was that no chef could use ingredients featured in one of the other courses.

The result of the planning was a Danish Cod prepared by Jan Sorensen, Lobster Mousseline by Lasse Sorensen, Black and White Winter Salad by Lars Kronmark, Roast Guinea Fowl by Kurt Kjaer Jensen and Apple Lady Pompadour by Gert Sorensen.

Congratulations to the Sorensens for their milestone and to the lucky 80 who sat down for dinner. Tickets sold out in three days leaving 100 on the waiting list.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

IDOT to Open Bids Friday for Marion Interchange

Bids for the biggest improvement in Marion's interstate access in 50 years will be opened Friday at 10 a.m. in the Springfield headquarters of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Morgan Ave Interchange and new I-57/Rt. 13 Single-Point Interchange
Contract No. 78182 includes a $45 million new single-point interchange for Interstate 57 at Illinois Rt. 13 as well as expands the state highway to six lanes. In addition the project includes two new ramps for Morgan Avenue.

The price tag of course represents IDOT's estimates from last year. The agency will know better the actual costs once they processed the bids.

The map at left shows the outlines of the new ramps which will include two bridges for the Morgan Avenue ramps that will "fly-over" the I-57 ramps. (Note: The map is aligned with North at the left side, and not at the top.)

Here's a few random stats:
  • 4 ramps replaced, 2 new ramps added,
  • 2 new temporary sets of stoplights on Rt 13,
  • 3 new sets of permanent stoplights (one on Rt. 13 and two on Morgan Ave.),
  • 127 aluminum light poles,
  • Nearly 20.4 miles of preformed plastic pavement marking-line (107,620 ft),
  • 5 buildings to remove, including the tennis court at the old Holiday Inn,
  • 10.2 miles of pipe under drains (53,880 ft.),
  • 1.05 miles of storm sewers (5,588 ft.) ,
  • More than 1.5 miles of  electric cable in conduit,
  • Almost 584 tons of  epoxy-coated reinforcement bars, and,
  • 147 acres of seeding for grassy areas.

The single-point interchange will mean the end of Exit 54's clover-leaf design and the dangerous merging lanes both on the interstate and on Route 13 underneath the overpass.

Single-Point Interchange on Route 13 under the I-57 overpass
During the construction phase crews will open new temporary ramps which will transform the clover-leaf into a diamond design. As part of that project two new sets of stoplights will be added at the new intersections.

With the temporary ramps in place crews can take out the existing ramps and start to work on the new ramps which will all converge at a single point underneath the rebuilt overpass. There drivers will face a new set of stoplights.

When that's finished the temporary ramps and their stoplights on Route 13 will be removed.

During construction IDOT plans to shift all interstate traffic to one side (making one lane in one direction and two lanes in the opposite) while they take out the existing overpass and replace it with a new one. Then when one side is finished they'll do the other.

From what I can tell of the plans, while the project includes two new ramps for Morgan Avenue it doesn't include the new overpass, cross-over lanes and the widening of Morgan. If I understand correctly that's an $8 million project whose tab the city if picking up. Revenue from the city's new STAR Bonds District is expected to cover those costs. Should that fail to happen the city can just attach the ramps to the existing road and overpass.

Proposed Hill View Way off of Morgan Avenue
Already, IDOT has acquired right-of-way and access rights to the Village Green property immediately to the southwest of Morgan Avenue interchange. Because that property won't be able to access Morgan Avenue from its current entrance once the Morgan Avenue improvements are made, IDOT plans a new road — Hill View Way — to provide access.

That not only helps the mobile home dealership (they've already in the process of moving the business to Johnston City) sell to future developers, but also Wolohan's land which gets a new outlot ready for development and opens up the back side of the old Holiday Inn property and the vacant land on the north end of the combined Foley-Sweitzer/Cash-Baker Chevrolet dealerships that's merged into the new Marion Chevrolet-Cadillac.

The full plans for the construction can be found on the IDOT website.

The only downside of the project will be the construction zone driving. It looks to be a two-year project with a completion date of July 1, 2014.

One more item — in accordance with Gov. Pat Quinn's Executive Order #2010-03, the construction will require a Project Labor Agreement.

The governor's office defines Project Labor Agreements as "a form of pre-hire collective bargaining agreement covering all terms and conditions of employment on a specific project, can ensure the highest standards of quality and efficiency at the lowest responsible cost on appropriate public works projects..."

... [P]roject labor agreements provide for peaceful, orderly and mutually binding procedures for resolving labor issues without labor disruption, preventing significant lost-time on construction projects; and ... allow public agencies to predict more accurately the actual cost of the public works project; and ... can be of particular benefit to complex construction projects.
The free market Illinois Policy Institute disagrees:
Project Labor Agreements drive up the cost of construction projects by limiting bidders and forcing contractors to use union workers, pay into union benefit plans, and follow outmoded and inefficient union work rules
Still, it's $45 million being pumped into the local economy over the next two years, safer roads (eventually, once the construction's finished), and new areas for economic development. It's a big deal for Marion and all of Southern Illinois.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Expect More at Historic Tom's Place in 2012

Lasse and Maryjane Sorensen, owners of Tom's Place, arguably the premiere food establishment in Southern Illinois, will celebrate their 15th year as owners of the historic restaurant in 2012. With the anniversary will come additional improvements.

The Southern Illinoisan ran a nice feature Sunday on the former '20s roadhouse. Today, Tom's Place is "one of 3,000 worldwide to have earned a Wine Spectator Award and was awarded a five-star Award of Excellence from the North American Restaurant Association."

It's come a long way since around 1923 when Tom Endsley opened his place one and a half miles north of DeSoto on the hard road that was then Illinois Rt. 2, now U.S. Rt. 51. Fried chicken and frog legs topped the menu then. Now, "the menu will often feature items like guinea fowl, Boston lobsters, oysters from the Pacific Northwest and fish from both coasts."
This year, the Sorensens have many special plans for celebrating 15 years in the business, including special events geared at introducing new customers to Tom's Place by offering a lower price point. A calendar of events for the year will soon be released on the restaurant's website.

Among the highlights are a prime rib night, the annual Easter breakfast buffet, weekly wine dinners, a morel mushroom feast and an evening of Spanish cuisine.

It all sounds good. My only complaint was that the article didn't have nearly as much history as I would have liked, so here's a bit more from my Bloody Williamson research.

During Prohibition agents raided the roadhouse a few times, but unlike other establishments, Endsley focused on the food and entertainment.

On July 6, 1928, a prohibition agent visited Tom’s Place pretending to be a former druggist wanting to sell his stock of medicinal alcohol to Endsley. After they talked for a while Endsley brought out a couple of beers for the two men to drink.

A few days later a larger group of prohibition agents arrived and confiscated several bottles of “alleged home brew” from his ice book. The Murphysboro paper noted that the “men were socialable, bought cigars and sandwiches for themselves and some patrons who happened to be in there at the time. They called Tom by his first name and were congenially inclined.”

Endsley asked one of the agents why they raided him so much. “We told him he should just sell to his friends.”

In 1929, he advertised "Tom's New Place," though it's not clear if he meant a new location or just a new addition to the building.

The raids didn't bother his business. By the end of the decade he was hosting the Carbondale chapter of the Business & Professional Women's luncheons, as well as regular weekly dinners for bridge clubs. He added a miniature golf course no later than 1930 and three outdoor bowling lanes in 1931.

Endsley sold the restaurant to Frank Moroni in 1940, who took over Sunday morning, Sept. 1. Here's how The Daily Independent in Murphysboro covered it on Aug. 28.
Thomas Endsley, proprietor of the tavern for 17 years, verified reports of the deal today and said that “everything will be turned over to Mr. Moroni next Sunday morning.”

Mr. Endsley spoke of Moroni as an experienced caterer who formerly had the management of The Villa, a tavern not far north in State Route 3 of the Colony Club, near the Cape Girardeau “Y.” He expressed the wish that his patrons continue to favor the tavern of their preference.

Mr. and Mrs. Endsley intend to rest for several months. Then Mr. Endsley will turn his attention to some other pursuit, he said.

“Tom’s Place” was built on its reputation for fried frog legs and chicken, and good management. Mr. Endssey, who has been county supervisor for years from De Soto, for some time had intended to retire from the business. He had erected a splendid home at DeSoto with this in mind and enjoys a 150-acre tract for fishing and hunting in the “wilds” of the strip mine country, which he is developing.

Mr. Endsley said Moroni intends to retrain the present tavern personnel.

As for Moroni, he had a long history in the hospitality industry. His father Louis had previously operated the Ozark Hotel and Sanitarium at Creal Springs in the 1920s and 30s. Before that his father and uncles ran taverns throughout Williamson County both before and during Prohibition.

A few of the uncles ended up in Leavenworth, a brother went to Menard. One uncle didn't. When the Klan targeted Tony Moroni's joint at Quarterway (that was halfway between Marion and Charlie Birger's early joints at Halfway), in their first big raid in December 1923, Uncle Tony managed to avoid capture. Thanks to help from the anti-Klan state's attorney Delos Duty he managed to escape to Detroit where he secured a passport and headed back to Italy for an extended family get-together with the relatives who hadn't come over.

Duty had used him as an interpreter in the Settemi DeSantis murder trial three years earlier and the two had become close friends. When he got back a year later Duty married his daughter. It's all in my upcoming book, DeSantis the Doomed and the Curse of the Black Hand, which will come out later this winter and be available at IllinoisHistory.com.

By the 1940s Frank Moroni also ran the Franklin Hotel on the northwest corner of the square in Carbondale at the corner of Jackson and Illinois Ave. In 1962, Duncan Hines Travel Books gave Tom's Place national recognition by listing it in their "adventures in good eating" section.

Moroni operated Tom's Place for nearly 28 years before selling it to P. M. "River" Hewitt in April 1968.