Thursday, May 19, 2011

Home of the Horseshoe,

Springfield, Illinois. No. Not the shoe that you nail to the hoof of a horse. In Springfield, the horseshoe is an indigenous demonstration of gustatory excess. And almost everyone agrees that the best horseshoe is served at Darcy’s Pint.

“Owners Hallie Pierceall and Glenn Merriman opened D’Arcy’s in 1998, and it didn’t take long for D’Arcy’s to become a favorite destination for good food and fun in Springfield. Within its cozy confines, customers enjoy Irish and American food, domestic beer, specialty ales and drinks, and the warm and friendly atmos-phere. ‘We want people to feel comfortable here so they’ll want to stay awhile, just like a corner pub in Ireland,’ said Hallie” (from the restaurant’s website).

So what is a horseshoe? “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…. A Welsh rarebit cheese sauce made of white sharp cheddar was poured over the top…(and) 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 horseshoes come in two sizes—the regular and a smaller “pony” shoe.

There is some debate about the sandwich’s origin. One school holds that the sandwich was created in the late 1920s by Chef Joe Schweska at the Leland Hotel in Springfield. Others maintain that the first horseshoe was made by Steve Tomko at the Leland in 1928. Tomko later took the recipe to Wayne’s Red Coach Inn. Does it matter? No.

The night of our (Dora, Chuck, and me) visit, the line was long, and given that I was hungry, so was the wait. Customers filled the bar, and once it stopped raining, the front patio. If we had been wise, we would have spent the waiting time studying the very long menu.

Darcy’s doesn’t only serve horseshoes. The menu includes many Irish pub favorites like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, Dublin pot roast, corned beef and cabbage, and Galway Bay mussels. The menu also lists a variety of pizzas, and given the number of pizza boxes we saw being carried out, the pizza seems to be a popular menu item.

Chuck and I started with the All Irish Black and Tan..., a classic mix of Smithwicks (an Irish red ale style beer from Kilkenny) and Guinness, and the three of us shared an order of very good Black and Tan onion rings that were coated with beer batter, drizzled with dark stout beer and served with a ranch-style dressing. These were served in a hollowed out facsimile beer bottle.

Knowing that Chuck was planning to order a horseshoe, I decided to go in a different direction and ordered what the menu called a Traditional Irish Boxty. (From the menu: “Boxty on the griddle, Boxty in the pan, if you can‛t make a Boxty, you‛ll never get your man! Common to rural parts of Ireland, the Boxty is a seasoned potato pancake stuffed with special ingredients and cooked on a griddle.”) I chose the Trinity Steak Boxty (other choices were the corned beef and cabbage and the rashers and cabbage), which combined grilled steak, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion and was drizzled with homemade cheese sauce.

With my meal came a very nice salad of iceberg lettuce, red leaf lettuce, arugula, grated carrots, grape tomatoes, red onions, and seasoned croutons with a creamy blue cheese dressing. It was good to see a salad again that contained more than just iceberg, but having seen the size of portions on plates passing our table, I decided not to finish the whole thing.

The boxty was interesting. Built on a fairly large grated potato pancake, it was topped with shredded beef (similar to a cheese-steak), plenty of sautéed mushrooms, and sweet caramelized onions. This wore a smaller potato pancake like a top hat, and the whole was lightly covered with a cheese sauce. (More about the sauce later.) My only complaint was the overly salty marinade used on the beef. The marinade was tasty but could have used half the salt.

Both Chuck and Dora ordered one of the horseshoes. Regular shoes come with your choice of ham, corned beef, turkey, bacon, veggies, hamburger, grilled chicken, Buffalo chicken, breaded tenderloin, roast beef, walleye (a Midwest freshwater fish), or Italian sausage served over Texas toast and then piled with fries and topped with homemade cheese sauce. Signature shoes included: The Deluxe—seasoned ground beef with grilled onions, bacon bits, and cheese sauce; Chili Cheese-burger—a hamburger patty topped with chili, scallions, and cheese sauce; Chili Cheese Dog—a quarter-pound, all-beef hot dog topped with chili, scallions, and cheese sauce; and The Supreme—seasoned ground beef, spicy cheese sauce, diced tomatoes, bacon, scallions, and a side of hot sauce.

Dora ordered the small (Yes, I said small.) hamburger pony shoe. And I wish to inform you that she did a yeomen’s job of eating though this mound of food before crying “Uncle” and asking for a “to-go” box.

Chuck chose the deluxe full-sized shoe. He soldiered on until he had only a few fries left which he kept encouraging me to eat. Since I was already taking a third of my boxty home, I declined his offer. All three of us agreed that it was the cheese sauce that made the horseshoes special. Our server told us that the sauce had as its base a white Irish farm cheddar that I suspect had been melted with milk or cream to make the sauce silky and not overly rich.

Were it not for the overly salty beef in my boxty, Darcy’s Pint would be a 5.0 Addie restaurant. Alas, it only receives 4.5 Addies.

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