Horseshoe Sandwich Recipe and History

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.


Horseshoe Sandwich


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.

Tom McGee
Springfield, Illinois
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.

Verney Blackburn
Springfield, Illinios
October 19, 2009


Horseshoe Sandwich Recipe:
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
35 mins
Course: Lunch
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cheese Beer Sauce Recipe, Horseshoe Sandwich History and Recipe
Servings: 4 servings
Horseshoe Sandwich:
  • Frozen French fries
  • 8 slices toasted white bread
  • Baked ham, sliced or 8 cooked hamburger patties
  • Dash of ground paprika
Cheese Beer Sauce:
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly-ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Chef Joe Schweska's Original Sauce:
  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 pound flour (all-purpose)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 quart plus 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds Old English Cheddar cheese, chopped*
  • 1 pint beer, room temperature**
Horseshoe Sandwich Instructions:
  1. Prepare frozen French Fries according to package directions.

  2. Place two slices of toasted bread side by side on individual serving platters. Top with either ham slices or cooked beef patties (your choice).

  3. Cover with Cheese Beer Sauce or Chef Joe Schweska's Original Sauce (see recipes below).

  4. Mound a large amount of French fries on top and along the sides.

  5. To garnish, sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately.

  6. Makes 4 servings.

Cheese Beer Sauce Instructions:
  1. In a small bowl, combine egg yolks and beer until mixed; set aside.

  2. 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.

  3. Remove from heat and keep warm until sandwiches are assembled.

Chef Hoe Schweska's Original Sauce Instructions:
  1. 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).

  2. 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).

  3. Stir in beer to sauce just before serving.

Recipe Notes

* 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.



Beef Sandwiches    Cheese    Food History    Lunch    Midwest - Plains    Sandwiches History   

Comments and Reviews

6 Responses to “Horseshoe Sandwich Recipe and History”

  1. Teresa

    I grew up in virden Illinois one of my favorite places to eat which I believe was Wayne’s red coach always went for the hamburger horseshoe. So glad I found this site because I have tried to recreate sauce and was never the same. Thanks so much I now have recipe

  2. Sam McCarthy

    At one time there was an article in the Springfield newspaper discussing the origin of the horseshoe. It was from a long time ago and mentioned one of the cooks at the Leland Hotel by the name of Mabel Donaldson as having been instrumental in the creation of the horseshoe. I have searched many times and can’t find that article, but would be interested in reading it again to see if my memories are what I think they are.

  3. Randy Howard

    My Grandfather, Tony Lauck had brought this recipe from the old Toddle house in St louis back in the 40’s. So many of these supposed experts on here mislead all of you on the facts of the recipe. Though Wayne’s did have a horseshoe they did not have an original. The original cheese sauce was nothing but a sauce back in the 20’s and 30’s. My grandfather was a manager of the Toddle house in the 40’s and manager of the Georgian in Springfield IL the early 50″s and then open the Fleetwood restaurant in 1958. My mother has always told me this story and she is 81 years. old. I always see these post on FB and see how to make the sauce but none has the correct directions.

  4. Brian Westen

    The Horseshoe made it to Lincoln Illinois at The Tropics, now closed. They had a shrimp Horseshoe that was my favorite.

  5. Dianne Ronald

    Please send original cheese sauce recipe

  6. Kerstin Wicks

    Randy Howard, if that were true, the Georgian and the Fleetwood would have had a good horseshoe and neither did. My Grand mother Florence worked with Joe at the Leland Hotel and I have the hand written recipe from her. She got it from Joe! Also the recount above is 95% accurate the only difference is Elizabeth didn’t help him create the recipe. She gave him a Welsh rarebit sauce recipe, he made it to accompany a special one night. Then a hungry hotel guest came in as the kitchen was closing and Joe quickly put together the horseshoe sandwich of things he had left on hand.


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