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May 22, 2002 12:45 AM

Horseshoe sandwich

  • s

Chowhounds... any comments on the delicacy that is peculiar to Springfield, IL called a horseshoe sandwich? As far as I can tell, it seems like a ham and cheese sandwich packed with fries and more cheesy sauce. Anybody had a good one... and is this confined to Springfield only?

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  1. I encountered the horseshoe sandwich a few months ago in Decatur, Illinois, so its reach extends at least 30 miles from the state capitol. As you suggest, it's a gloppy mess of a thing, and I think the smart money preparation method uses one or another form of the well-known cheese food products--either Velveeta or Cheez Whiz.

    While I'm at a loss to remember the name of the rather broken down roadhouse diner where I had it, I do recall being looked at by the waitress as if I were from another planet when I asked what a horseshoe sandwich was. She simply could not believe I had never heard of one. This particular establishment also had another sandwich listed called a pony, which she explained was the same thing, but somewhat smaller. Naturally, I went with the horseshoe, since I believe on any first tasting of an item you should go whole-hog, and not tiptoe in through a dainty downsized offering.

    Glad I tried it, though I probably wouldn't ever order a second time. Especially downstate, when you're easily 200 miles from a top-flight cardiac unit.

    1. Actually a horseshoe need not contain ham, any animal flesh will do, from hamburger to shrimp. The elements of a horseshoe are as follows:

      On the bottom, one slice of a kind of toasted bread often called "ranch" or "Texas" toast;

      upon which is placed cooked animal flesh of some sort;

      then mounded with a generous helping of french fries, medium-cut, which are allowed to strew over the entire plate;

      and finally ladled with cheese sauce, which in some establishments is undoubtedly made with Velveeta or Cheez-Whiz, but which is often confected in a more honorable fashion. A distinguishing note in the cheese sauce is a tangy-ness often derived from Worcestershire sauce, and many chefs use beer as well. The cheese sauce is generally held to be the distinctive feature of the dish.

      Horseshoes are as ubiquitous in Springfield as hamburgers elsewhere, and are served in the same range of establishments, from roadside dives to "inns" that take their food somewhat seriously. The more pretentious places, which try to do "classy" horseshoes, are generally unworthy of note; but the simpler, greasier horseshoes of the dive-ier types of places do offer a certain houndish charm.

      The main interest of horseshoes to me was to reveal the delectable practice of putting fries right onto a cheesburger, which I often enjoy despite the frequent puzzlement of onlookers.

      Please do not cast aspersions against the horseshoe in the presence of Springfieldians; most of them retain at least a bit of genuine local pride in their unique hometown dish.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Harry V.
        Stanley Stephan

        I thought putting french fries in a hamburger was a Greek thing. The first time I ever had it was on a trip to Greece. They don't use cheese sauce though...lots of mayonaise. It's kind of addictive. I did this for a few months after the trip.

        1. re: Stanley Stephan
          Vital Information

          I thought it was a pittsburgh thing. there, you can get fries on your sandwiches, in your salad, i suppose even with your foie gras if so desired.

          Also do not forget gene and judes stuffs the fries right into the sandwich.


          1. re: Vital Information
            David Hammond

            My Liverpudlian grandfather used to enjoy French fry sandwiches. My youngest daughter and I eat them sometimes -- they're good, especially with catsup.

          2. re: Stanley Stephan

            Interesting - thanks. I can only say that my first visit to Springfield long preceded my first visit to Greece - which, in fact, has yet to occur.

          3. re: Harry V.
            Schatz MacArthur

            As a transplanted Springfieldian, I can firmly assert that my mother would die before serving a horseshoe made with a cheese sauce that did not contain copious amounts of beer. Of course, the beer is Budweiser, and the sauce primarily consists of Velveeta (not that low class cheez whiz stuff! - there's a distinction downstate, trust me!). Oddly enough, it works, though. Though I haven't had a true horseshoe in ages,I remember them fondly, and they were as common at the dinner table as meatloaf, pork chops and lasagna.
            Don't even get me started on Colonial Specials!

            1. re: Schatz MacArthur

              Schatz, are you kidding? Get started...what's a colonial special?

              1. re: Seth Zurer
                Schatz MacArthur

                I guess Springfield is/was a culinary twilight zone. I, like the waitress in Decatur someone else referenced, thought that everyone grew up eating horseshoes (ponyshoes for the kids) and yes, Colonial Specials, though I suspect my mom might have made that one up, since I've never even seen a chowhound reference to it.
                A colonial special (and I have no clue where it got its name, unless it was my mom's fertile imagination) is a post-holiday, left-over meal, that often found its way into our regular routine. Its leftover turkey, on top of toasted white bread, with crisp bacon on on it, with a very generous portion of bottled thousand island dressing poured over the whole thing. If its summertime, throw some tomatoes and lettuce into the mix. In winter, a slice of boiled potato was a boon. Common substitutes were ham and roast beef, but, as the purist I was at age 8, turkey was the really only acceptable Colonial Special.
                Ahhh, Springfield...

                1. re: Schatz MacArthur

                  What a trusting child you were!

                  1. re: Schatz MacArthur

                    Leftover holiday turkey...Thanksgiving......colonists... Colonial Special......I get it......~~smile~~
                    Sounds like you had a fun mom.

                    RE Horseshoe: I saw Burt Wolf's Springfield segment, the sandwich did not appeal to me then, or now, I am not a "douse with cheese" kind of guy. Now the 'Colonial Special' that sounds tasty, though what's not to like about tomato, bacon, turkey and thousand island dressing?


                    1. re: Schatz MacArthur

                      The colonial special sounds very much like the Fields special sandwich. Served open face and layered, bread, turkey, bacon, gobs of iceberg lettuce tomato and thousand island dressing. An old standby that last I was there with little grandkid chowhoundettes for lunch by the tree in the Walnut Room it was still on the menu. I remember it when I was a kid and my mother ordered it many, many years ago.

              2. Being not only a Chowhound but a TVhound as well, I have seen the Horseshoe sandwich touted on Burt Wolf's show highlighting Springfield foods (curious spellings of Chili/Chilli) and on shows touting the culinary and gastronimic delights along stretches of Route 66. For a recipe, you can go to the Burt Wolf web site and look for the Springfield episode - there are pictures too.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Madd

                  Glad you mentioned chili. Springfield is more or less a fine-dining desert, but it has its chow points of interest. Not least of which is its chili scene, which puts Chicago's to shame - there are several places in Springfield serving much better chili than any I've sampled in Chicago. Which of course isn't saying much - Chicago perhaps does chili worse than any other famous dish in the world.

                  Don't get excited, Texas chili fans - Springfield's stuff is midwestern all the way, including tomato and often beans (usually optional). But both are minor elements; beef and chili predominate (not like Chicago where the name "chili" is often given to kidney bean and stewed tomato soup). In addition, several Springfield chili hot spots feature an unusual hot sauce that is basically a heated, chile-infused oil-and-vinegar concoction - kind of like giardiniera without the solid bits, just the liquid. This stuff is kept in a separate pot next to the chilli and is ladled into the bowl per the customer's request.

                  Mind you, in some places this nameless concoction has been supposed to be the drippings left over from the browning of the beef, brightened with vinegar and deviled-up with chile. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

                2. v
                  Vital Information

                  I should have posted something sooner today, but I was too busy being nasty.

                  This has been one cool thread, especially the detailed description from Harry V. *This* is just the kind of thing I used to get from the Sterns, only on chowhound its even better, with the interaction and all.

                  I know my daughters would love all the Lincoln stuff in Springfield, now I have an excuse to take them. Where exactly should I go?

                  And speaking of Decatur, has anyone else been to the lone remant of the Burger Chef (and Jeff) chain, now stripped of its actual franchise name? I actually forgot its current name. Very interesting just for throwback.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Vital Information

                    I think Springfield might be your kind of chow-town, VI. They have a local rival of Krispy Kreme called Mel-O-Creme, and there's also one of the oldest Maid-Rite stands still going.

                    Madd mentioned Burt Wolf's feature on Springfield and it's brief but pretty good; see the link below. Click on both Springfield links, one to get a list of restaurants and the other to get an overview of the town's cuisine. I agree that Joe Rogers is top-notch chili (for a long time this place was called Den's and I'm sure that's the name by which most locals still think of it), but I haven't been to the horseshoe place recommended by Wolf.

                    I still haven't had a Cozy Dog, the original corn dog. But I might take care of that this weekend.


                    1. re: Vital Information

                      Hey, the last Burger Chef is not in Decatur, its in Danville, IL. Sadly, I had to live there for 9 years. Danville is the armpit of Illinois. I have tried to block out most of that town and I can't recall the name, but its on Voorhees St. It reminded me of the indy burger joints that were wannabe MickyD's when I was a kid. Not bad.

                      Now I live in Springfield, and can attest to the horseshoe as the local delicacy. Since I had bypass surgery last year (age 38!) I've not had one, but if you want to go all out, go to Ritzy's little fryer and order the "Clydesdale." 4 pieces of texas toast, 4-1/4 lb patties, covered with mounds of french fries and cheese sauce. I hear that if you can finish it, its free, and your name goes up on the wall. Don't have an addy offhand, but they're in the phone book.

                      1. re: zipperchest
                        Vital Information

                        Thanks for the correction of Danville for Decatur. You are right on, and as I commented before, the chow in Springfield's pretty good too.


                    2. t
                      The other Jim

                      I'm not a big Horseshoe fan, but I lived in Springfield for several years and have friends who love them, and ponies. The residents seem to swear by Wayne's Red Coach Inn, which claims to be part of the history of the dish, and Norb Andy's Tabarin.
                      Norb's is a colorful downtown bar/restaurant with a nautical theme, frequented by politicians. The original recipe supposedly called for rarebit sauce, but I think mose places use a processed cheese sauce from a jar. yum.