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Route 66 Serves Up Pizza, Burgers, 'Horseshoes' and More

Four Famous Foods On Route 66
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Our Route 66 team traveled recently along the famous American highway. It found classic American food, as well as some influenced by our southern neighbors.

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Americans celebrated Thanksgiving this week. The holiday centers on a big meal shared with family and friends.

The #Route66VOA team decided to get in the spirit. This week, we introduce you to some of the meals we shared along the Mother Road.​

Chicago deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
Chicago deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's Pizzeria

Chicago Deep Dish

Chicago, the eastern starting point of Route 66, is home to deep dish pizza.

Chicago deep dish is very different from pizzas in other American cities. And it could just be the richest, cheesiest and most satisfying pizza around.

It starts with a round cooking pan, between 5 and 8 centimeters deep. Then comes the pizza dough. The dough is usually made of wheat flour and some butter or oil. That helps make a thicker and sweeter crust. For Chicago deep dish, the dough is spread up and around the side of the pan.

Next, the pizza maker fills up that bowl of dough. First comes the cheese, and plenty of it. Then, any meat or vegetables go on top of the cheese. The final step is tomato sauce. Unlike most pizzas, the sauce goes on top of Chicago deep dish.

Deep dish pizza takes much longer to bake than flat pizza. But it is worth the wait.

Springfield's famous "horseshoe" at D'Arcy's Pint
Springfield's famous "horseshoe" at D'Arcy's Pint

The Horseshoe

Springfield, Illinois, is known as the home of Abraham Lincoln.

But it is also known as the home one very hearty meal: the horseshoe.

Many decades ago, local railroad workers in Springfield would go to small diners to eat late at night. The cooks gave them a mix of everything that was left in the kitchen. That included ingredients like bread, meat, potatoes and cheese.

A horseshoe starts with a big, thick piece of bread called Texas toast. A piece of meat is on top of the bread. Diners today can choose between beef, pork, chicken, and even fried fish. On top of the meat is a very large pile of French fries. And on top of the fries? A lot of cheesy sauce.

A real horseshoe is a piece of iron attached to the bottom of a horse’s hoof.

At D’arcy’s Pub in Springfield, our server told us just how the meal got its name. She said the French fries represent the nails in a horseshoe, and the thick piece of bread represents the horse’s hoof.

Cafes and restaurants in Springfield and other cities serve horseshoes all day long -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whatever time of day you eat it, a horseshoe will probably keep you full for many, many hours.

Mole at the Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Mole at the Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Mole in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is home to many cultures. And that diversity is reflected in its food, a mix of Mexican, Spanish, and Pueblo Native American cuisine.

In most cafes around town, you’ll find mole on the menu. Mole is a sauce used in many New Mexican dishes. There are many different kinds of mole. But in this part of the world, the most famous is mole poblano.

One of the best places to try it is at the friendly Plaza Café. It is the city’s oldest restaurant, and right next to Santa Fe’s main square.

In the main square, we talked to an unofficial expert on mole. Rick Maguire was visiting from Tempe, Arizona. He is a big fan of mole.

“Mole is a mixture of chocolate and about 20 to 27 different spices that they put together. And it’s got some chili in it. Some mole can be a little spicier, depending on how much of the chili part they put in there.”

The thick, brown sauce is not sweet. The chocolate gives it a sort of smoky flavor. Mole is usually used in chicken and pork dishes.

Rick Maguire says it was once only eaten by Mexico's elite.

“Chocolate was invented in this part of the world -- that is where the cocoa plant is from. And chocolate was actually considered for the high end -- you know, the priests and things like that.”

With its rich flavor, it is easy to understand why mole was once the food of priests.

Irv's Burgers in Hollywood, California
Irv's Burgers in Hollywood, California

Irv’s Burgers

Irv’s Burgers has served Route 66 travelers -- and Hollywood locals -- since 1950.

Actually, it was not always Irv’s. It first opened in 1950 as Queenies Burgers. Then it changed to Joe’s Burgers. It became Irv’s Burgers in the early 1970s, when Irv Gendis bought the business. The original Irv owned it until 2000.

That year, a Korean-American family bought Irv’s Burgers. The Hongs -- Sonia, Sean and Momma Hong -- have served up simple, fresh burgers and fries on paper plates for 15 years. They write personal messages on the plates for each customer. And the Hongs know many customers by name.

The Hongs have had to fight to keep the burger stand open. And devoted Hollywood locals have helped them in the fight to keep this Route 66 gem in business.

Irv’s did close briefly, but it re-opened in a new location in 2014. They have settled in just fine.

The phone at Irv's rings non-stop, with customers calling ahead to place their orders. During lunchtime, the line spills out of the tiny restaurant. The menu at Irv’s is not very long, but the taste and quality of the food brings people back again and again.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Caty Weaver. Join us again next week for another report about Route 66.

Caty Weaver and Ashley Thompson wrote this story. Kathleen Struck edited the article.

What are some famous foods in your city or country? Tell us about some of your favorites in the comments section, or visit us on our Facebook page!


Words in This Story

hearty - adj. large enough to satisfy hunger

ingredients - n. things that are used to make a food or meal

hoof - n. the hard covering on the foot of an animal such as a horse or pig

elite - n. the people who have the most wealth or status in a society

devoted - adj. having strong love or loyalty for something or someone

gem - n. something that is admired for its excellence