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.