Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-Route 66, Corn Dogs, Horseshoes & Chili in Springfield, IL
Its only fitting that on the 200th birthday week of one of Americas greatest presidents, Abe Lincoln, we take a look at whats to eat in his old stomping grounds, Springfield Illinois, the capitol of my home state. I got to take a food journey down route 66 and into Springfield last week for some hardcore eating. As far as politics go, other than D.C there isn't a more powerful place than Springfield in the game. It has been at the root of the political world the past year starting with President Obama and then there was former Governor Blagojevich and his auction. The former Mayor Richard J. Daley used to roam the streets of Springfield to gather thoughts as a legislature. Stretching all the way back to when Abraham Lincoln called it home this town has housed some powerful people. Not only did Honest Abe study law here but it was your current 44th president who used to roam these parts when in office as a U.S senator and being the foodie that he is I'm sure he is very familiar with some of Springfield's most famous eateries. First up is a sight tour through the Land of Lincoln.
Happy 200th Birthday President Lincoln
2/12/1809 - 4/15/1865
Route 66 starts in Chicago and rides into Springfield all the way to Cali
Riding into Springfield Pre-Route 66
Palm's Cafe Mural along Route 66 (Atlanta, IL)
The Popular Muffler Men Statues that were found along Route 66
Site of the Once Famous Pig Hip Restaurant in Broadwell, IL
The Pig Hip was a Route 66 staple during the roads heyday
Click the picture to see what it looked like back in the day
The State Capitol building
I bet Rod wishes he could be staying in the Gov. mansion these days
Abe helped mold these parts
Abe Lincolns home in Springfield in the rightly named Lincoln Neighborhood
Neighbors of Abe's houses are still intact and used as Senators offices: President Obamas old office
If you grew up in Illinois then odds are you took a class trip here one day in grade school so I'm not going to give you a history lesson on Lincoln and the rest of Springfield's settlers and how they helped mold the country and make it what it is today. This folks is a field trip for food and Springfield has plenty of attractions that need to be eaten. Did you know that Springfield, IL is the birthplace of the corn dog? thats right it was first put on a stick by a man named Ed Waldmire who began experimenting with the idea of a hot dog on a stick during his time on duty. As time passed Ed and his wife opened up The Cozy Drive In which still sits in Springfield along Route 66. The corn dog became the signature food item at the Illinois state fair which is held in Springfield every August and has now become a symbol of Middle America State Fair food and Carnival treats everywhere.
Illinois Tourism Poster
Still going strong
Get your kicks and corn dogs on a stick on Route 66
Cozy is littered with Route 66 and Cozy Dog memorabilia
along with corn dogs, cozy dog makes a good 30's style burger
The original dog on a stick
The History (click to enlarge)
Cozy Dogs have a tasty homemade batter that surrounds Oscar Meyer style wieners
Like every other place in the country that takes eating seriously, Springfield is the home to a certain fast food item that is loved by gluttons. The Horseshoe sandwich is the definition of food gluttony. The sandwich originated in Springfield, IL at the Leland Hotel in 1928. The open faced sandwich consists of a large piece of Texas style toast that is topped with a meat of choice, popular toppings around town include a buffalo chicken breast, ham, turkey or hamburger patties, which is then covered in French fries and smothered with the secret cheese sauce that makes these atrocity's so unique to Central Illinois. Virtually every bar around town serves Horseshoes but only one goes thru them like the others go thru Coors lights.
Springfield's most popular bar isn't Moe's
D'Arcy's Pint opens at 11am Monday-Saturday and if your not there by 11:15 its a guarantee you'll be waiting to be seated. Despite the fact that the restaurant/bar is huge and can accommodate a ton of people there is always a wait during lunch and dinner hours. Exactly how many Horseshoes this place goes thru a week I have no idea but it has to be in the 1000's. There might be a little weight problem down there because of these things. When you ask any of the locals or any politician where the best Horseshoe in the area is they will all answer, D'Arcy's Pint. If your not feeling up to the level of Kobayashi you can order a pony horseshoe which is half the size of a regular but as George Ryan used to say "Ponies are for Pussy's" Its hard to imagine just how many scams were discussed over a brew and a Horseshoe but if you eat at D'Arcy's and keep your ears open I'm sure you'll hear something being schemed up. This is not food for the lactose intolerant, I would guesstimate that there are at least 2 cups of D'Arcy's signature cheese slop on each sandwich, you would think you were in Wisconsin. This is a sandwich that only Homer Simpson could concoct and further proof that the Simpson's home is in Springfield Illinois.
The most popular Horseshoe is the Buffalo Chix
Hidden underneath the cheese slop and fries is a buffalo chicken breast
The cheese on a Horseshoe is as abundant and gooey and slimy as the politicians who eat them yet still very tasty
Most people associate chili with the state of Texas and rightfully so. However Texas is not the only spot on the U.S map that features an obsession with chili. It was in 1909 when a man named Dew Brockman decided to open up a chili parlor in Springfield. When Dew quibbled with the man painting his sign over the spelling of the word chili and won after noting that the dictionary spelled it both ways, chili would forever be spelled chilli around Springfield. That was in 1909 and by 1968, Springfield was pumping out 4 million cans of the spicy beef treat usually associated with Texas annually. Both Chilli Man Chilli and Ray’s Chilli, locally produced, were sold in grocery stores around the country. Springfield has its own unique type of chili that they have branded "Tavern chili" Its a mixture of ground beef, beef suet, lots of grease and spices and can usually be offered with or without beans as well as with or without grease and comes in five different heat levels with firebrand being the real deal when it comes to heat.
Dew Chilli Parlor Circa the 1950's (Photo: springfieldrewind.com)
Just like in the big city to the north (Chicago) there is a definite presence of Delta style tamales around Springfield and most chili parlors offer tamales to go with your chili as well as plenty of oyster crackers. During its peak there were numerous chili parlors located throughout Springfield keeping the residents warm in the winter months. As time has passed many of the old time favorites are long gone but a few remain and they are as popular as ever with the locals and politicians who flood them regularly. One of the newer chili spots is also one of the very best. Fred and Donna Cook opened Cook's Spice Rack and Chilli Parlor in June of '99. It was a labor of love that took two years and showed their dedication to the fine craft. They have a full menu featuring not just chilli but also a full line of spices and hot sauces. The menu features five different chillis and allowing new customers to sample each one, Donna, with a little nudge, will bring a tray featuring two ounce sample cups of each for the customer's tasting pleasure. The Cook's Tavern style chili served three way was some of the best restaurant chili I have consumed. Big thumbs up to them for mastering the art.
One of Springfield's newer chili spots
Spice Rack's Terlingua Red is passable...
...but the Springfield "Tavern" style is some of the best I have had
Tavern Style served Three Way with no beans (Cheese, onions and Pasta)
One of Springfield's most popular and longest standing chili parlors goes by the name The Den Chili Parlor and its been around since 1954 when Joe Roger's started offering his chili with five levels spiciness: mild, medium, medium-hot, hot and firebrand. To this day any customer that is able to finish a bowl of firebrand gets their signature on the wall. As time passed Joe Roger's chili became known as the firebrand chili. There have been many locations of Joe Rogers chili parlors that have come and gone in Springfield including one that still sits at 820 S. 9th St. When I rolled into The Den for some chili they had a steady flow of dine-in and take-out with some folks in overalls and others in suits, everyone was there for some chili. I opted for the hot with beans and a tamale. Most other days I would have gone ahead and tried the firebrand but I had already ate a horseshoe and bowl of chili and it was only 2:00 and we had to drive home. I'm glad I didn't get the firebrand. Its a misconception that Springfield chili is a sweeter brew like Cincinnati style, this stuff was hot.
A favorite amongst anyone who's been
Joe Rogers bowl of Red
Tamale covered in chili
People were ordering cups of grease...no meat or beans.
I had no idea of Springfield's obsession with chili until I learned about in a magazine article back in high school. As time passed I kind of forgot about it and was pleasantly surprised by how good both spots were. If anyone has ever been to Chili Mac's in Lakeview and had their spicy red, Springfield Tavern style is exactly what they are trying to be. They don't do a good at succeeding at it so I suggest you take a trip down to Springfield one day to see just how good the chili really is. It's not Cincinnati folks this is real deal chili and they've been doing it the same way since the first parlor opened in 1909. The Senate Joint Resolution No. 89 in the Illinois General Assembly was passed in 1993. This resolution, which was passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature, proclaimed Illinois as the Chilli Capital of the Civilized World and recognized that the spelling of the delicious comestible is C-H-I-L-L-I. The Governor was further "authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of Illinois to commemorate this designation with appropriate celebrations." Of course this pissed off some Texans but they could care less. If they want I'm sure they can pass a much worse bill that would really piss off the chili loving Texans. Springfield is also the state gateway to Terlingua Texas. If you win the Springfield regional you can participate in the chili super bowl which I plan to do one day.
From the Illinois Times: "Sometimes food, like life, should follow this motto: The simpler, the better. And in the summertime, a grilled hamburger, milkshake, and seat at an outdoor picnic table may be all that's required for a perfect meal. When you can enjoy this simple pleasure for less than $5, so much the better."
There is something abut Springfield foodwise that is just stuck in time. Most of the popular food destinations have been serving the people for decades with food thats been popular for decades and never lost its appeal. Same family's, same signs, same menu, same recipes. Krekel's Burgers & Custard fits the description of a popular Springfield eatery perfectly. Krekel's is carrying on a old school burger joint tradition of grilled burgers and handmade milkshakes. William Krekel opened his first hamburger and custard stand in the 1950s in Decatur IL. Today there are six family-owned locations in central Illinois: four in Decatur and one in both Mount Zion and Springfield. Suzie Sperry, Krekel's granddaughter, and her husband, Dan, own and operate the Springfield location. If your a fan of the 30's style burger than you will love Krekel's. They take balls of beef and flatten them on a griddle when ordered and they are cooked until the edges are crispy and top them with minimalist toppings. If a place is serving a 30's style burger I will always go double with mustard, pickles and onions. One of the best representations of this style of burger in the state.
The famous Illinois burger and custard stand
a locals lunchtime favorite year round
Krekel's 30s style double cheese is an oldie but goodie
I mentioned how Springfield is stuck in time with all of its old school eateries and the two local donut shops are proof of it. In todays day its rare to see a town with two different old school donut shops that the locals pick up breakfast at. Most of them are long gone due to the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts invasion. Not in Springfield which is exactly how I like it. I didn't get a chance to eat any of the donuts because I was eating Horseshoes and chili for breakfast. I'll be making it back down this way for the state fair and to find more chili and food that hasn't changed a bit over time.
The Popular Mel-O-Cream Donuts have locations throughout
Sunrise Donuts along route 66 is now out of business I have learned
Cozy Dog Drive In
2935 S 6th St
Springfield, IL 62703
661 W Stanford Ave
Springfield, IL 62704
Cook's Spice Rack & Chili Company
910 N Grand Ave W
Springfield, IL 62702
Joe Rogers Original Recipe Chili Parlor
820 S 9th St
Springfield, IL 62703
2121 N Grand Ave E
Springfield, IL 62702