29 May 2010

Ode to the Horseshoe Sandwich

I returned recently from a brief visit back to the homeland—West-central Illinois. I actually didn’t grow up there, but my dad’s family lives in this area, about 60 miles West of Springfield, and I don’t think it will ever cease to be exotic to me.  I am  amazed by this part of the world. I don’t care what you say about the Midwest, these people are creative! They grind up leftover ham and stir in pickle relish and mayonnaise to make Ham Salad! They put ranch dressing on their baked potatoes! And they invented the most wondrous creation this side of Green Jell-O Salad with Cottage Cheese and Pineapple: the Horseshoe Sandwich.

I have eaten only a small number of these creations in my life (which is why I am still alive), and since I grew up in the Big City, I had to do some research on this gut buster to properly inform you of its wondrous beauty. I always thought it was the weirdest damn thing I’d ever seen when I was a kid visiting my grandparents, and it turns out most of the country feels the same way: it is the “signature dish” of the Springfield, Illinois area, meaning no one else eats it.

The sandwich was created in the late 1920s by chef Joe Schweska at Leland Hotel in Springfield, Illinois located on the corner of Sixth and Capitol (now an office building). There, there’s my research for you. What is it, you ask? It is a hot mess of what should be a normal enough sandwich (hamburger patty, ham steak, or fried pork tenderloin are all candidates) with a pile of smooshed French fries and a generous ladling of cheese sauce placed atop the meat. Being paranoid about taking pictures in greasy diners near interstates, I tried to find an attractive picture online--the above horror was the best I could do. So, thick cut fried bread or a white bun, hamburger, undercooked, frozen French fries, oozy cheese sauce, and another big piece of white bread. There it is. And for the kiddies, you can order the “pony” size so they don’t overeat. Gotta start ‘em young.

The funny thing is that, despite the language I use to describe this creation, it’s pretty good. I mean, if you are craving salt and grease and don’t want to eat another meal again for at least twelve hours, the Horseshoe does have a certain charm. It’s not so terribly different from much-loved French-Canadian poutine, the plate of French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. It could be my genetically inherited Midwestern taste buds talking, but I suspect that perhaps it caters to the baser food instincts in us all. Go on, try it. You know you want to.

Horseshoe Sandwich
1 oversized white bun or two slices Texas toast
1 oversized piece of meat or meat substitute (I’m going to try a Garden burger to be healthy). Don’t grill it—that would compete with the cheese sauce
1 large handful of French fries, fried but not quite golden brown. Don’t get fancy—use Ore-Ida frozen ones.
1 half-cup Cheese Whiz or similar cheese-like sauce, heated

Perhaps if we drink red wine with this, it will mitigate the cholesterol issues.