Now that the post-Pittsburgh Crawl discussion seems to winding down to a natural end (although I encourage anyone else with pictures and/or thoughts on the trip to continue posting them there), it seems like the right time to start talking about where to explore next year. Over the Pittsburgh weekend, a lot of cities were mentioned, all with pros and cons. I thought the best way to make a decision would be to evaluate the candidates based on what they had to offer both in terms of food and other pastimes. Ralph Melton and icecreamchick, with input from buffetbuster and lleechef, did an outstanding job of balancing eating and interesting activities on this last trip. Any future crawls should have the same goals in mind.
Let me say up front, I have my favorite candidates in mind. I’ll do my best to be impartial in presenting them for consideration. Certainly, the current favorite, Kansas City, is high on my list. But if the point of these tours is to explore and discover, shouldn’t we also look at the less obvious choices. After all, who thought we’d get one of the best meals of the Pittsburgh trip in the form of Barbecue
served at The Italo-American Citizen’s Club
? It’s that sense of unexpected delight that should guide us in choosing future crawl locations.
With that in mind, I hope you’ll indulge me as I list the possible cities, starting with those least likely to be the big winner. I won’t post them all at once in the hope that readers will give each contender fair consideration, but mainly because I haven’t finished writing the whole thing yet.
I’ll start with one of my favorite “dark horse” nominees, and the one I know I’ll take the most mocking for, Springfield, Illinois. I know my state is home to some of the most corrupt, greed and ego driven politicians in the country. But that doesn’t mean our state capitol isn’t without its charms. The city is teeming with good eats possibilities and a long weekend’s worth of non-food activities.
On the food side, let’s start with (in honor of wanderingjew) central Illinois’ “regionally appropriate” dish; the Horseshoe Sandwich. The Horseshoe is the workingman’s cousin to Pittsburgh’s Turkey Devonshire and the Louisville Hot Brown. Start with a bottom layer of toasted bread, top that with the meat of your choice (the original Horseshoe used hamburger patties, but now you can get everything from sliced turkey to Buffalo chicken to bacon); a mound of French fries tops out the meat, and it’s all smothered in cheese sauce. It is a huge pile of food, most closely associated with the end of a night of binge drinking. One sandwich can be shared by two or more people.
The Horseshoe has gotten a bad rap over the years due to the use of second rate ingredients like frozen French fries and that glowing orange cheese sauce served on ballpark nachos. The best versions use hand cut fries and a real Rarebit
sauce. The two places offering the best Horseshoes are The Corner Pub & Grill
(recommended by wanderingjew) and Norb Andy’s Tabarin
(no, none of that is a misprint).
Norb Andy’s is a historic Springfield bar. It’s been around since before Prohibition and functioned as a speakeasy during that ugly era. Entering Norb Andy’s, you walk down half a flight of stairs into a basement and back in time. It is a rich atmosphere almost reminiscent of a colonial tavern. The new owners have committed themselves to high culinary principles applied to working class pub grub. It’s true they aren’t using fresh cut fries, but the institutional variety they’re using is first class, and cooked perfectly. They also take the time to create an excellent Rarebit sauce.
The Corner Pub & Grill does use fresh cut fries and a house made cheese sauce, but lacks the historic ambiance. Both are worthy considerations for Horseshoe Sandwiches.
Springfield’s other claim to Roadfood fame is the Cozy Dog Drive In
, “birthplace” of the Corn Dog. The Cozy Dog is a Route 66 landmark, started in 1946. In addition to Corn Dogs, they serve very good squashed-on-the-griddle style Hamburgers, Chili Dogs, and Fries. All of this while surrounded by an overload of Route 66 memorabilia.
Another local hotspot for the 1930’s style smashburger is Krekel’s Custard
. They have multiple locations around the city. Not the best version of that burger in town, but lots of tradition and history and Frozen Custard, to boot.
For the best smashed Burger, we’ve discovered Fulgenzi’s Pizza & Pasta
. It’s sort of a full menu Italian fast food place. We skipped all the other stuff and, based on a recommendation, got a double CheeseBurger. It was everything you look for in that style burger. Crispy, caramelized edges, juicy meat in the center, and the cheese adds just the right amount of extra richness to the whole thing. Definitely our favorite in town.
Almost forgot about Springfield Chilli (again, not a misprint, that's how they spell it). Not my favorite thing, but it’s a whole subculture in Springfield. Dew Chilli Parlor
and The Chili Parlor
(formerly Joe Roger’s Chili Den Parlor
) are the best known sources for this local peculiarity. Springfield Chilli is a meat and bean affair, best known for the abundant layer of grease floating atop the bowl. Don’t worry, it comes with plenty of crackers which do an effective job of soaking it all up.
My favorite food motive for stopping in Springfield is my good friend, The Dr. of BBQ
. Jack’s truck serves up some of the best and meatiest ribs I’ve ever tasted. He somehow achieves that sweet spot of fall off the bone tenderness with just enough “chew” to let you know this is the real deal. He also turns out some great pulled pork, brisket, and when the mood strikes him, rib tips unlike any other I’ve ever had.
When the sweet tooth grabs you, we’ll head over to one of the many Mel-O-Cream Donuts
shops around town. They specialize in those cakey style donuts; slightly crispy on the outside, dense and flavorful inside with a generous dose of frosting on top. Great Chocolate donuts and Maple Fritters! They’ll need to be an early stop as they close in the afternoon—some even earlier because they sell out fast!
For the Breakfast aficionados, there’s Sunrise Café
, Charlie Parker’s
and D&J Café
. All three are well reviewed here on Roadfood and they’re all approved by highly respected Roadfooder King T. Other well regarded Breakfast possibilities include Shannon’s Five Star
. Wish I could comment on these, but as most of you know, Breakfast is not
the most important meal of my
Another discovery on our last visit was Carter’s Fish Market
. Nothing more than a walk up window in a limited parking lot with one picnic table, Carter’s serves some fantastic fish. They feature Walleye, Catfish, and Buffalo; all served hot, crispy and moist, and in abundance. Sides include “River Fries” (their version of home fries), fried okra, and cole slaw. It’s a real treat to sit and eat while watching the steady line of folks come and go with their carry out orders.
There’s no shortage of Italian food in Springpatch. Saputo’s
is an old school semi-upscale Eye-Talian joint that caters to the town’s “elite”; lots of pols and money guys rubbing elbows over a giant house salad and a plate of baked lasagna. Gabatoni’s
is more blue collar family style, serving good tavern style Pizzas, red sauce Italian, and a damn fine version of the Horseshoe. Plus, if you're taste in art runs toward paintings of dogs playing poker, and almost every other activity you can think of, you'll love Gabatoni's decor.
Another favorite of mine is the Westwoods Lodge Pub & Grill
. They feature a number of wild game dishes including Deer and Elk Burgers, several Duck options and Frog Legs. The décor is hunt club grandeur. You might need to get used to all the mounted game heads staring at you while you eat, but it’s worth it.
That’s just a slice of what’s available in terms of good eats in Springfield. The other draw is a plethora of Lincoln sites around town. The Lincoln Home
, Lincoln’s Tomb
, The Lincoln Presidential Library
, New Salem State Park
; a preservation and recreation of the town Lincoln lived in when he moved to Illinois (think Colonial Williamsburg, only more rustic and frontier oriented), and the Old State Capitol
where Lincoln served as a state senator. There’s also the new State Capitol Building
where our current state senators are driving the state to bankruptcy, the Dana-Thomas House
(one of the best examples of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, brilliantly preserved and open to the public), and Shea’s Gas Station Museum
, another Route 66 landmark.
As you can see there’s easily enough stuff listed here to do an extended weekend in Springfield. In the coming days and weeks I’ll post summaries for Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and of course my home away from home, Kansas City. Just remember folks, if we're going to keep this tradition alive, sooner or later, we'll visit all these places.
Hope you’ll give them all fair consideration.