The Unique Illinois Sandwich That You'll Probably Need A Fork To Eat

Horseshoe sandwich covered in fries
Horseshoe sandwich covered in fries - @kenairiverbrew/Instagram

Sometimes inspiration hits in the most unexpected ways. Consider the horseshoe sandwich: Beloved in Illinois, it's a bit of a conundrum to outsiders; a mish-mash of unexpected ingredients that, for some unknown reason, work together in harmony. And it all came together because an early-20th century chef had a bad case of cook's block. The lesser known — and maybe a bit tongue-in-cheek — cousin of writer's block, cook's block is the equivalent of culinary burnout. Chefs and home cooks may have a full pantry of extraordinary ingredients, but nothing strikes a chord. The condition can lead to a sense of defeat or, in some cases, a devil-make-care quest for something, anything, to come together. The horseshoe sandwich is the result of the latter.

Conceived by Joe Schweska, an Illinois chef who had been unsuccessfully wracking his brain to come up with new and innovative menu offerings to feature in the Red Lion Room at Leland Hotel in Springfield, Illinois, the horseshoe sandwich is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink take on a ham and cheese sandwich. Schweska's wife, Elizabeth, set the wheels in motion when she mentioned a dish by the name of Welsh rarebit, the now-iconic British open-faced sandwich, which is simply melted cheese sauce drizzled over toast. Schweska took the simple concept and ran with it, adding horseshoe-shaped ham and eight potato wedges, and the horseshoe sandwich was born.

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That Was Then, This Is Now

Horseshoe sandwich
Horseshoe sandwich - Visit Springfield/Instagram

Believe it or not, the horseshoe sandwich was considered fancy eating when it debuted. Fast forward a century, and the iconic creation resonates more as a hangover remedy than a fine-dining entree, but that hasn't affected its status as a midwestern mainstay. Taking a cue from Schweska's innovative take on Welsh rarebit, 21st-century chefs continue to tweak the basic recipe. These days, a grilled beef patty is a common replacement for Schweska's sliced ham, but sausage, bacon, corned beef, grilled chicken, Buffalo chicken, pork tenderloin, fried chicken cutlets, and even a vegetarian option built with thick slices of tomato are among the long list of acceptable alternatives, each with its own fan base. French fries (which have a surprising origin) often take the place of the original potato wedges, but the best versions still feature homemade (usually beer-based) cheese sauce.

While horseshoe sandwich aficionados may play fast and loose with ingredients, the Illinois staple isn't without controversy. Steve Tomko, a dishwasher in Schweska's kitchen at the Leland Hotel, later claimed credit for creating the sandwich. While that claim has been debunked — Tomko stepped forward only after Schweska died — there's another widely debated point of contention: Does the cheese sauce go on top of the fries to crown the dish, or do the fries go on top of the cheese sauce? We don't know for sure, so we'll consider that choice a matter of personal preference.

Read the original article on Tasting Table