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Nothing says Illinois-hospitality like a full plate, so it’s no surprise that Illinois’ state capitol would conjure up one of the most plate-filling sandwiches in the Midwest.
The horseshoe sandwich is a Springfield delicacy that features two thick-cut slices of toasted bread, a layer or more of juicy meats, and a small mountain of crispy French fries, all piled together and lavished in cheese sauce. Throughout Illinois, the horseshoe sandwich is a meal of legend. But what’s the story? Who’s to thank for this stroke of unmitigated genius? Let’s take a look at the history of the horseshoe, where you can experience it today, and how you can prepare one of its crucial components right in your own home.
While some mystery surrounds the horseshoe’s origin, locals unanimously agree that the Leland Hotel in Springfield was the first to serve the fabled sandwich. Some claim it was the Leland Hotel’s 17-year-old dishwasher who invented the sandwich. However, the more likely creator is Leland Hotel head chef Joe Schweska, who also mentored the 17-year-old dishwasher during his tenure at the hotel.
As the story goes, Joe came home to wife, Elizabeth, in need of a new lunch item for the hotel menu. Elizabeth had recently seen a recipe incorporating a cheese sauce (Welsh Rarebit) and suggested using the blend in an open-faced sandwich. Evidently, Joe liked that idea, because he got right to work developing his own recipe for the sauce using a sharp white cheddar.
His original recipe featured a slab of ham cut from the bone in the shape of a horseshoe and a single potato sliced into eight wedges to create the “nails” of the shoe. While the appropriate order of fries-to-cheese construction has been debated over the years, most present-day restaurants have adopted a post-pile soak, drowning the entire indulgent mound in their respective signature cheese sauce.
In the birth city of the most luxuriant sandwich in Illinois, there are naturally quite a few spots to get your fix – some boasting as many as 2,700 calories. And while we’d be delighted to muse on the nuances of each, we’ll exercise self-control (for all our sakes) and pick just one.
Few still alive in Springfield have experienced the real Joe Schweska horseshoe, but Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery is a pretty good substitute. Locals agree, Obed and Isaac’s is one of the best spots to experience your first horseshoe. Located in one of Springfield’s most historic neighborhoods and a story that began over 150 years ago, Obed & Isaac’s offers a dining experience that pairs perfectly with the legend of this famous dish.
Obed & Isaac’s uses the traditional large slices of toasted bread as the base for the meal. While most restaurants have replaced the original slab of ham with the present-day burger patty, Obed & Isaac’s offers a huge spread of meat options to customize your sandwich, including angus beef, ham, chicken, corned beef, buffalo chicken, turkey, turkey burger, pulled pork, lamb, and even a vegetarian burger option. The buffalo chicken is great for diners looking for a little extra kick with their cheese sauce, but the juicy corned beef also makes for a unique horseshoe experience.
The fries are served up extra crispy with an almost battered consistency. Like many horseshoes in the area, Obed & Isaac’s uses a thick white cheddar with a bit of seasoning to create its own version derived from the original Welsh Rarebit sauce. Cheese sauce can make or break a good horseshoe, and this sauce absolutely makes the meal.
And don’t forget, you’re at a brewery. When you’re finished, wash that horseshoe down with a tall pour from one of the fresh house-brewed drafts on tap.
It is a universal truth that Velveeta is under no circumstances an acceptable substitute for horseshoe cheese sauce. While most restaurants hold their cheese-sauce recipes pretty close to the chest, horseshoe creator Joe Schweska was happy to share his secret sauce with anyone willing to ask. As such, you have access to THE recipe used by chef Joe on the very first horseshoe sandwich served at the Leland Hotel in Springfield. Cook, savor, and settle into a blissful food coma.
Melt butter, add flour and milk. Add the rest of the ingredients except beer. Stir constantly, while cooking, to a smooth cream sauce. Stir in beer to sauce just before serving.
To assemble the horseshoe in Joe’s original order, place toast on the bottom, followed by meat, a swimming pool of cheese sauce and a hefty pile of French fries on the top and sides. Enjoy!