I really returned to Springfield, Illinois for a horseshoe sandwich.
Two summers ago, Travel With Sara invited me to join her on a tour of Springfield, Illinois. We ate some delicious foods like fish and chips from Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and the iconic cozy dog from the Cozy Dog Drive In. Although we crammed as many meals as we could into 36-hours, we missed the horseshoe. St. Louis is only a little over an hour and a half from Springfield. I vowed to return during our time here.
Read about the restaurants Sara & I visited on our 2014 road trip here.
The Horseshoe is as much a sandwich as an Iowan hot beef.
Instead of something sandwiched between two buns, a horseshoe is composed of toast covered with one’s choice of meat, french fries, and cheese sauce. While researching history about this Springfield specialty, I found Julianne Glatz’s piece “What Happened To Horseshoes?” It’s a fantastically detailed piece tracing the original Horseshoe to a chef named Joe Schweska who created it at the Leland Hotel in 1928.
The Leland Hotel was a really big deal back in the day, though it has long since closed. Glatz describes how the original Horseshoe resembled something very different than what’s typically served today. Instead of a giant mound of Texas toast, fries, and meat, the first horseshoe was made with two pieces of toast topped with a ham steak, cheddar cheese-beer sauce and eight fried potato wedges served on a heated platter. The fries were made by cutting a potato into eight wedges, not a frozen fry product.
This time I had time for one horseshoe so I chose D’Arcy’s Pint. Many reviews, forum discussions, and blog posts mentioned D’Acry’s Pint as the place to get a horseshoe sandwich. Their homemade cheese sauce seems to set them a part.
Expect a wait, the reviews all said. One of the perks of solo dining is sitting at the bar. The host waved me past the crowd waiting for tables. Parties spilled out of the lobby and onto the sidewalk.
I found a seat and the bartender made me feel welcome immediately. Upon her recommendation, I ordered the smaller version of a buffalo chicken horseshoe called a “pony.” It was still really, really big. “Would you like ranch or blue cheese,” the bartender asked. “Ranch?” I replied as I tried to conceptualize how fries, chicken, cheese sauce, hot sauce, and ranch would play out.
If you don’t fancy buffalo chicken, choose from ground beef, hamburger patties, hot dogs, breaded tenderloin, pastrami, sausage, chicken or even walleye. You can even add extra cheese for a $1.25.
I watched a rainbow of cheese-drenched platters pass by. Finally mine arrived. I dug in with a fork.
The horseshoe tasted mostly what like I expected crinkle cut french fries, fried chicken, and cheese sauce to taste like. The buffalo flavor was limited to the sauce on the side. It helped cut some of the fat. I liked that the chicken seemed to be hand-breaded instead of a frozen tender product. All of the components arrived piping hot, too.
Just like the reviews said, D’Arcy’s cheese sauce is good. It reminds me of white queso dip without the chilies. I left the ranch untouched. I’m a ranch enthusiast, but the thought of adding it to my horseshoe was too much. There was just so much cheese.
Halfway through the pony, I paused. I wondered if the lesson in the Horseshoe sandwich is whether it’s time to go home when the cheese sauce congeals.
If you like queso, you’ll like a horseshoe. It’s as simple as that.