The D&J Café is a downstate diner that serves the best horseshoe around. One of the most regionally-focused of all local specialties – you won’t find it anywhere outside Springfield, Illinois – the horseshoe is a hodge-podge plate that traditionally holds bread, French fried potatoes, ham, and rarebit-like cheese sauce. Foodlore says it was named because it resembled a horse’s shoe (the ham) on an anvil (the plate) with farrier’s nails (French fries) scattered around. What part the cheese sauce played in the podiatric equine metaphor is uncertain. Today’s horseshoes, at D&J and at other places in Springfield, look nothing like a horseshoe. They are capacious meals in the same extremist category as a Rochester garbage plate and super nachos: multiple ingredients served in massive quantity. The original ham and cheese configuration has been supplemented by burgers, sausage, fried fish, Buffalo-sauced chicken, even vegetarian combos.
I like breakfast shoes best of all, if for no other reason than they traditionally are heaped with hash browns rather than the fairly boring crinkle-cut French fries on most other shoes. A breakfast shoe may or may not contain ham (or bacon or sausage patties), and it will contain two to four eggs. Cheese sauce may be supplemented by or replaced by cream gravy. D&J’s breakfast shoe is completely blanketed by hash browns that have a crisp outside coat and enough thickness to provide plenty of plush spuditude below the crunch – tenderness that is essential for mopping eggs if you like runny yolks. What’s notable about this particular shoe, other than its rich, crunchy spuds, is its balance: like luxurious bookends, silky cream gravy and cheese sauce bolster each half of the food mountain and yolks of eggs seep sunny gold protein throughout.
For those with merely normal appetites, a downsized pony shoe also is available.