Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Is This Woman Smiling?

The answer, as they say in the news biz, lies “below the fold.”

Guy Fieri wasn’t the only TV food personality to visit Springfield. Adam Richman of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food also ventured here and while here dropped in on Darcy’s Pint (see our blog on May 19th), Joe Roger’s Chili Parlor (an upcoming blog), and the Cozy Dog Inn. This latter eatery was on all three (Dora, Chuck, me) of our lists of “must do’s” and is truly a spot, with its collection of Route 66 memorabilia, not to be missed.

As described in the Illinois Times: “It’s practically a place of pilgrimage. A Mecca for food historians. Tourists flock there, not just from Illinois, but from all across America and around the globe, by motorcycle, by car and by the busload. It’s the Cozy Dog on South Sixth Street.”

More from the Illinois Times: “The story of Cozy Dogs—the original hot dogs on a stick, deep-fried in cornmeal batter—is almost as familiar as Lincoln lore to anyone knowledgeable about Springfield history.

“Cozy Dogs’ creator, Ed Waldmire, had eaten an unusual sandwich on a trip to Muskogee, Okla., during his youth: a wiener baked in cornbread. Returning to Illinois, Waldmire told a fellow student at Knox College about it, saying he wished he could make something similar that would cook faster.

“A few years later Waldmire, now in the Air Force stationed at Amarillo, Texas, had forgotten the conversation. But unbeknownst to him, it was on the mind of his college buddy, Don Strand, whose father owned a bakery. Strand developed a cornmeal mix that would stick on a wiener and could be deep-fried. Strand sent his mix to Texas, and Waldmire experimenting in the U.S.O. kitchen with hot dogs stuck on cocktail forks, communicating back and forth until the recipe for their ‘Crusty Curs’ was perfected. Waldmire sold ‘thousands’ at the U.S.O. and P.X. as well as in the town of Amarillo until he returned to Springfield at the end of his military service in 1946.

“Waldmire wanted to introduce his creation to his hometown, but his wife, Virginia, thought the moniker ‘Crusty Cur’ was a bit too…crusty. The couple came up with the name ‘Cozy Dog,’ and Virginia designed the logo of two corn dogs in a ‘cozy’ embrace.

“Cozy Dogs were ‘officially launched’ at the Lake Springfield Beach House on June 16, 1946, and later that year sold at the Illinois State Fair.... In 1949, The Cozy Dog Drive In—what would become the flagship—was born and took root on South Sixth Street, then also part of Route 66. When Ed retired, son Buzz and Buzz’s wife, Sue, took over. In 1996, the Cozy Dog was transplanted one door to the north. It not only survived the transplant, but flourished; these days Sue and her sons are in charge: Josh and Tony work in the restaurant; Nick maintains the Web site.”

The menu is short and cheap (not quite as this old menu, below, seems today)—a Cozy Dog will set you back $1.85. Other choices include a hamburger (single patty or double), cheeseburger (also a single or double), hot dog, chili dog, chili cheese dog, cheese dog, pork tenderloin, ham and cheese sandwich, BBQ sandwich, grilled cheese, and chicken strips. For sides, you can order fries, onion rings, cole slaw, mushrooms, cheese sticks, and nacho chips.

Dora’s lunch was a Cozy Dog with a side of onion rings.

For Chuck it would be the Cozy Dog with a double cheese-burger and fries.

So how good is a Cozy Dog? Neither Chuck nor I are fond of the traditional state fair variety corn dog. Way too heavy and greasy. Well, a Cozy Dog is neither heavy nor greasy. In fact, it is really quite good. The coating resembled a pancake batter with a touch of corn meal for crispness and under that crusty exterior lies a moist and juicy hot dog. (Oscar Mayer I think.)

But as good as the Cozy Dog was, to Chuck the double cheeseburger was the highlight. I know that I have in the past made reference to Goodnoe’s Dairy Bar in Newton, PA and the wonderful burgers that would come from their well-used flattop. (Until they renovated and replaced the flattop after which nothing was the same.) After one bite, Chuck proclaimed: “This is just like a Goodnoe’s burger.” I did take a taste and this was, in fact, very similar to Goodnoe’s, but with even a better beef flavor which I think only comes from Midwest beef. Perhaps its being a double made it even more flavorful and juicy. And, as we were leaving, I did notice that the flattop behind the counter looked as if it had seen years of service.

And now to answer the question that started this blog. Sure, I was at the home of the Cozy Dog, but the words pork tenderloin beckoned. Just as I consider Tony Luke’s roast pork Italiano with broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil and garlic to be the ultimate Philadelphia sandwich, I have long considered the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich to be the finest example of Midwest sandwich art. And when I saw that Cozy Dog offered the pork tenderloin for $3.05, how could I resist?

A good pork tenderloin will extend beyond the borders of the bun. If a standard hamburger is between three and four inches, this baby had to be between five and six inches in diameter. A good pork tenderloin is pounded within an inch of its life to achieve a thickness of a quarter of an inch. This was nice and thin without being dry. And a good pork tenderloin has crispy edges and true aficionados will nibble the edges beyond the bun before eating the bun-encased meat. This one met that test. And, fortunately, Cozy Dog has a condiment bar so one can dress the sandwich “their way.” And the only way is with hamburger dills, raw onion, and yellow hot dog mustard. Is it any wonder I was smiling?

The only low point was the onion rings, which both Dora and I had ordered. These were of the pre-made chopped and reformed variety and didn’t deserve to share the menu with the Cozy Dog, double hamburger, and pork tenderloin.

And on the way out, I had to stop and purchase a stuffed version of the Cozy Dog logo. Superdawg in Chicago has named its giant hot dogs adorning its roof Maurie and Flaurie after the founders and owners. So, in the spirit of Superdawg, I have named mine Cozy and Flozy.

What a place! I’d love to award 5.0 Addies, but the awful onion rings just won’t let me do it, so 4.5 Addies it will be.

Photos of Chuck and Kate: courtesy of cousin Dora.

NOTE: I understand some photos did not appear on yesterday's entry. I have re-entered them and hope that the problem has been corrected.

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