Sadie Thompson began as a character in a Somerset Maugham story. How she ended up on North Rosebury Avenue, near Concordia Seminary, I’ll never know. It is, however, certain that Erv Janko had something to do with it when he opened the restaurant named for the temptress of Pago Pago.
Janko worked at the long-gone Carpathia, a primarily Hungarian restaurant on far South Grand. So naturally, at first, Sadie Thompson’s menu had a great deal of the chicken paprikash–goulash–fruit soup dishes that came out of that gastronomic sphere. But whether it was chef Janko’s curiosity, customer demand, or St. Louis summers, lighter dishes began to appear. There were snails with blue cheese and a fish stuffed with scallop mousse. The fruit soups remained, joined by others and—always—some fine pies, including a remarkable rhubarb.
The décor honored the tropics, with some wicker here and there. Sadie herself—not the Rita Hayworth version that appeared in the ’50s but instead Gloria Swanson—was on the cover of the menu. Swanson made a silent movie about the siren trying to make a new life for herself after meeting a friendly sailor and a minister who wants to save her soul.
But why Sadie Thompson? When asked, Janko replied, with a twinkle in his eye, “Why not? We’re right across the street from the seminary.”