The “horseshoe” sandwich consists of Welsh rarebit (or Welsh rabbit) cheese sauce over an open-faced sandwich, such as ham or hamburger on toasted bread. The dish is then covered with french fries.
Joe Schweska (1901-1971) was the chef of the Red Lion Room of the Leland Hotel in Springfield, Illinois, when he created the dish between 1928 and 1932. The original dish contained bone-in ham that resembled a “horseshoe” shape. The potato wedges (now usually replaced with french fries) were the “nails” in the “horseshoe.” A smaller “horseshoe” is called a “pony shoe’ (or “ponyshoe").
Although it’s widely claimed that the dish originated in 1928, a Christmas 1938 article in the Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL) contained a recipe for Schweska’s sauce and claimed that he had been serving it for six years (that is, since 1932). The cheese sauce contains beer; because it was Prohibition, “near beer” was used in the first sauce.
Wikipedia: Horseshoe sandwich
The Horseshoe is an open-faced sandwich originating from Springfield, Illinois. It consists of thick-sliced toasted bread, most often Texas toast, a hamburger patty, French fries, and a “secret” cheese sauce. Common replacements for the hamburger patty include ham, deep fried pork tenderloin, grilled or fried chicken breast, and fried fish fillets.
Though cheese sauces vary by chef, it is generally derived from Welsh rarebit. Common ingredients include eggs, beer, butter, cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper.
Leland Hotel Chef Joe Schweska invented the horseshoe and Steve Tomko made it famous by taking the recipe that he and Schweska created together to the Red Coach where its popularity exploded.
Linda Stradley’s What’s Cooking America—Horseshoe Sandwich History
The following history of the Horseshoe Sandwich are personal remembrances of Tom McGee of Springfield, IL.
Tom says, “What knowledge I have of the Horseshoe Sandwich, I have from my deceased brother-in-law, Joseph E. Schweska Jr., and to a lesser degree from personally knowing Chef Joe Schweska. My brother-in-law often helped his father after school or when special events or parties were being held at the Leland Hotel. I knew the dad, Chef Joe Schweska, before I ever knew my brother-in law.”
How did the “Horseshoe Sandwich actually originate?
The actual idea for the Horseshoe Sandwich came from Elizabeth Schweska, Chef Joe Schweska’s wife. Chef Schweska came home one day and remarked to his wife that he needed a new lunch item for the Leland Hotel’s restaurant’s menu. She had seen a recipe using a Welsh Rarebit Sauce and suggested the possibility of an open-faced sandwich using this sauce. Joe Schweska liked the idea and developed his own sauce and sandwich and named this sandwich creation “The Horseshoe.”
25 December 1938, Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL), “Experience, Accuracy Basis On Savory Dishes, Say Chefs Who Give Favorite Recipes” by Robert Woods, pt. 2, pg. 7, cols. 4-5:
At the Leland hotel, Chief Chef Joe Schweska has his own recipe for Welsh rarebit sauce which he has been graciously giving to hundreds who have asked for it, in the six years he has been serving it. Chef Schweska has a score of years in the kitchen behind him and estimates that he has served six gallons of his rarebit sauce a day at the Leland. At this time of year, it is a prime favorite among his regular customers.
The sauce, Schweska explains, may be used on buttered fresh shrimp, bacon and tomato sandwiches, baked ham, or deviled ham sandwiches. Here it is:
Welsh Rarebit Sauce—One-half pound butter, one-half pound flour, one quart milk, one pint of beer, one pound of old English or American cheese, a teaspoon salt, one-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper, one-eighth teaspoon dry mustard and a tablespoon Lea & Perrins sauce.
Cook in double boiler. Melt butter and add flour; whip until smooth. Add scalded milk and rest of dry ingredients. Add cheese, cook until smooth, and add beer just before serving.
Adventures in Good Eating
By Duncan Hines
New York, NY: Duncan Hines Institute, Inc.
Hotel Leland. 6th and Capitol. 7 A.M. to midnight daily. A.C. In the heart of the Lincoln Shrines country. Renowned for traditionally good food. modern comfort and efficient service. Ample variety of good dishes. Spec: Leland Horseshoe sandwich with the white meat of chicken on toast with nippy cheese sauce served piping hot with shoestring potatoes.
13 September 1962, Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL), pg. 15, col. 2 ad:
ALSO SERVING OUR FAMOUS HORSESHOE SANDWICHES
21 November 1962, Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL), pg. 11, col. 8 ad:
HORSESHOE SANDWICH $1 UP
19 February 1972, The State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), “Springfield’s sandwich of distinction” by Joanne Long, pg. 8A, cols. 1-2:
A simple variation on the classic Welsh Rabbit cheese sauce dish has achieved something approaching distinction in the “bland” world of Springfield cuisine.
It’s called the horseshoe, and it’s a hands-down favorite at a half-score of Capital city restaurants. The price is usually under $2, and it’s sold by the dozens every day at every establishment where it is on the menu.
The man who claims to have invented it, in 1928 at the old Leland Hotel, Steve Tomko, is still happily dishing up horseshoes—now at the Red Coach Inn.
To make the famous horseshoe sandwich, one first heats up a steel steak platter and lays two pieces of hot toast on it; then places on the toast any sort of meat that one desires, or eggs, or any combination of meats; perhaps a tomato or other desired vegetable on top of the meat, though usually there is no vegetable on it; and then, the piece de resistance—the succulent, creamy, slightly spicy cheese sauce; then a festoon of french fries dealt heavily or lightly, depending on the generosity of the cook; and, finally, sometime, a shake or two of paprika.
The name “horseshoe” was derived from the shape of the cut of ham on the original sandwich, Tomko says. He and other Leland cooks started by using ham, then “decided the sauce tasted good with every kind of meat.”
The french fries represent the nails of the shoe.
26 December 1979, The State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), “Close counts, with horseshoes” by Bob Gonko, pg. 27, cols. 3-4:
Among the different horseshoe sandwiches served in Springfield are: ham and egg, all egg, hamburger, ham and chicken, chicken—all white meat, all ham, bacon, shrimp, turkey and corned beef.
Logue’s Horseshoe Sauce
Make a roux of 1 to 1-1/2 cups flour with 1/2 cup butter. Heat 3 quarts of milk in double boiler to 180-190 degrees. Add roux and stir. Grate 1 to 1-1/4 pound Cheddar cheese and 1 pound Colby Longhorn cheese. Add to white sauce and whip constantly until the cheese is melted. Add 6 ounces stale beer, 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce and 1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard. Whip constantly with wire whisk until blended. Add a little more beer or milk if too thick. Add a few drops of egg shade food coloring to make thesauce yellow if needed. Keep hot.
2 January 1980, The State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), “Wait new horseshoe evidence” by Bob Gonko, pg. 14, col. 3:
Tony Wables Sr.of 2361 E. Keys Ave., worked in the 1920s as a teen-ager at the old Leland Hotel with Augie Schilling and Steve Tomko.
‘I was 18 and Steve was 17, I think—we were just kids—and Joe Schweska, the chef at the Leland, taught us and Augie how to cook. I started out as a pan man, a pot washer.
“When Joe Schweska started the horseshoe at the Leland in 1928 or 1929, he used ‘near beer’ in the cheese sauce or Welsh rarebit because it was during Prohibition and you couldn’t legally get alcohol.
‘In the original horseshoe,” he said, “the French fries were wedges. You’d take a potato, cut it three times, then use eight of these wedges to represent the nails of the horseshoe.”
“Now,” said Wables, you use long branch, julienne, shoe string cuts for French fries, and cottage fries for the sandwich.
‘The horseshoe ham came first,” he said. ‘Then Joe started adding chicken with the ham, then the bacon and the tomato.
“If you use good Cheddar cheese, you have a good sauce. And we always used beer in the sauce.”
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012 12:19 am
What happened to horseshoes?
The history of Springfield’s iconic food shows the original was nothing like today’s version
By Julianne Glatz
Those horseshoes were made with two slices of homemade-type white bread not more than a half inch thick. The ham was thinly sliced from a bone-in ham, which provided the horseshoe shape from whence the sandwich’s name came; other meat choices were also thinly sliced, and the chicken or turkey was roasted in house – never (Heaven forbid!) from highly processed chicken or turkey “roll.” The cheese sauce covering the meat and toast was tangy, and the handful of crisp fries that topped it were made from fresh potatoes. The sandwich was served on a preheated steak platter just slightly larger than the two pieces of toast.
But horseshoes were always rich and filling – even the half-portions known as ponyshoes.