This open-face sandwich is considered the signature dish of Springfield, Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln. This sandwich will make your arteries cringe and your taste buds rejoice! The people of Springfield are proud of this simple dish that can be found on menus throughout the city.
A horseshoe sandwich consists of two pieces of toasted white toast covered by two pieces of hamburger patty or sliced ham covered by a heaping portion of french fries covered by a cheese sauce.
The original Horseshoe Sandwich was served on a sizzling metal plate (known as the Anvil). Two thick-cut slices of bread were toasted and added to the plate. Then a thick slice of ham, shaped like a horseshoe, was added, to it a Welsh rarebit cheese sauce made of white sharp cheddar, and then just before serving, fresh-made French fries were added as the (nails) in the horseshoe. The secret to this sandwich is the delicious cheese sauce.
Today’s sandwiches now offer either a thick fried ham steak or two large hamburger patties, and the cheese sauce is poured over the fries.
The name of the sandwich comes from the shape of the ham with the fries representing the horseshoe nails, and the heated steak platter as the anvil. If you order a Pony Shoe Sandwich, it is the same thing, but a smaller or half a Horseshoe portion (usually one slice of toast).
The “Horseshoe” or variations of it soon became a popular item in many Springfield restaurants. Today, every restaurant and chef serving this sandwich, seems to have his or her own secret cheese sauce recipe.
Horseshoe Sandwich History:
The sandwich was created in the late 1920s by chef Joe Schweska at a Leland Hotel in Springfield, Illinois located on the corner of Sixth and Capitol (now an office building). The Leland Hotel, the leading hotel of Springfield, was built in 1867, and has housed hundreds of prominent Americans. The structure is five stories high and contained 235 rooms.
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.”
The first Horseshoe sandwich was originally made from ham cut from the bone in the shape of a horseshoe. The first potato (the nails) were wedges of potato (not the frozen French fires you see used today). Also, if I remember correctly, the sauce was poured over the meat and bread and the potato was on top instead of sauce being poured over the whole works. Originally, it was a potato cut in eight wedges. I did eat the horseshoe at the Leland while Joe was still there but that was a long time ago.
Joe Schweska was Chef and Chief of Staff at the Leland Hotel from the late 1920s until the beginning of World War II. During the war, he left the Leland Hotel and moved his family to Decatur, Illinois and worked in a defense facility cafeteria. After the war, he returned to Springfield and became head chef at an upscale Springfield restaurant known as “The Mill”. It was located in Springfield close to a Pillsbury mill and was owned by two men, Louie and Herman Cohen. Around 1952, Chef Joe Schweska’s wife was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and the medical advice was to change climate. At this point, Joe Schweska Sr. and most of his family moved west – first to Arizona and ultimately to California. He became chef at a country club in Temple City, CA. and he and Elizabeth spent the remainder of their lives there.
FICTION: Most historians falsely give credit to Steve Tomko, a then dishwasher at the Leland Hotel in Springfield, Illinois, as the inventor along with the Leland Hotel’s chef Joe Schweska.
FACT: Steve Tomko did work in the kitchen at the Leland Hotel, but he started as a dishwasher and learned his culinary skills from Chef Joe Schweska. At the time of the creation of the Horseshoe Sandwich, Steve Tomko was only 17 years old and was a dishwasher, not a chef. Steve Tomko had nothing to do with originating the sandwich. He only began to claim that he did after Chef Joe Schweska had died.
Steve Tomko worked at various Springfield restaurants including NorbAndy’s and Wayne’s Red Coach Inn. Every restaurant Steve Tomko worked, he served the Horseshoe Sandwich. At one point, around 1986, a local food writer did a feature on Wayne’s Red Coach, and in the article Steve Tomko boldly claimed that he had originated the Horseshoe Sandwich.
By this time Chef Joe Schweska was deceased, his widow was seriously ill, and most of the Schweska family had left Springfield. At one point my brother-in-law, Joseph E. Schweska Jr., called his mother and told her of Steve Tomko’s claims. She was seriously ill an simply replied, “Oh, let it go”. That ended any resistance to claims being made by Steve Tomko.
The Schweska family were simple, humble people. It was not their nature to seek fame or the limelight. To Chef Joe Schweska, his sandwich creation was no big deal, and he freely gave the recipe to anyone who asked for it.
December 28, 2008
The following history of the Horseshoe Sandwich are personal remembrances of Verney Blackburn:
I worked at John’s Lounge in Springfield, IL. In the late 1967, Steve Tomko was one of the cooks. At that time I was 15 years old, and I started as a dish dryer, then salad boy, and then busboy. I had talked with Steve, and he said that he had gotten the recipe from a man that taught him how to cook.
At that time, people would line up out the doors and down to the state garage. I made as many as 500 salads on Friday and Saturday nights. Steve would make the horseshoe sauce in the morning. There is one ingredient that you forgot that gave the sauce a little zing and made the horseshoe sandwich so popular back then. Steve Tomko would leave at 2:00 p.m., and that was when the other ingredient was added by a cook named Sharlot. She would add some A-1 sauce to taste. That is why that no horseshoe sandwich to this day has the same great taste.
John’s Lounge then was sold to Wayne who called it the Red Coach Inn. John’s lounge had great food that made it a hit, but the main attraction was Big John Somonik. The ladies would pack in to see Big John, and on one very late nights, we would hold mass at the bar.
I could go on and on about my great years that I worked there.
October 19, 2009
- Frozen French fries
- 8 slices toasted white bread
- Baked ham, sliced or 8 cooked hamburger patties
- Dash of ground paprika
Prepare frozen French Fries according to package directions.
Place two slices of toasted bread side by side on individual serving platters. Top with either ham slices or cooked beef patties (your choice).
Cover with Cheese Beer Sauce or Chef Joe Schweska's Original Sauce (see recipes below).
Mound a large amount of French fries on top and along the sides.
To garnish, sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
In a small bowl, combine egg yolks and beer until mixed; set aside.
In the top of a double boiler over hot water, melt butter and Cheddar cheese. Add Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper; stir until well mixed. Add egg mixture, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture thickens and begins to bubble around the edges.
Remove from heat and keep warm until sandwiches are assembled.
Tom McGee shared this recipe. Tom says, "This is the original recipe that I have from my bother-in-law, Joseph E. Schweska Jr., (which was his father's recipe).
Over low heat, melt butter, add flour and milk. Add rest of ingredients except beer. Stir constantly, while cooking, to a smooth cream sauce (do not let it boil).
Stir in beer to sauce just before serving.
* The secret to good horseshoe sauce is good cheddar - use at least sharp cheddar. Do NOT use pre-grated cheese.
** 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 could not legally get alcohol.