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Giddyup to Macomb’s horseshoe central

At the Jackson Street Pub, ‘we’ll put fries and cheese on anything’

by Nick Vlahos | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Plates of Food

At Jackson Street Pub, the horseshoes fit. And there’s one for just about every size.

The restaurant and bar on the west side of Macomb might not look like much from the outside. It’s a bit weathered and worn, as might be expected from a business open about 40 years in its current form.

Photo of the outside of the Jackson Street PubBut inside the dimly lit eatery is an inviting bar with plenty of liquor and craft beer, and cozy tables with gooseneck lamps. The menu features well-prepared bar food – including hamburgers, breaded pork-tenderloin sandwiches and onion rings, all crafted on premises. In the evening, the menu expands to include steaks, shrimp and chicken.

But the signature dish, day or night, is the horseshoe sandwich. Across the area known as Forgottonia, Jackson Street Pub is fabled for it.

“It’s a Macomb tradition,” customer Mike Jackson said on a recent afternoon.

Despite his name, the street in front of the pub isn’t named for Jackson, nor does he own the place. That honor belongs to Carol Livermore.

In 2001, Livermore and a partner purchased the restaurant and bar from previous owners Mike Carper and Dennis Moon. Livermore assumed full control about a decade later, after her partner died.

The Jackson Street Pub horseshoe predates Livermore’s ownership as well as her waitressing tenure, which began five years before her co-purchase.

“I don’t know if it was Dennis or Mike or whose idea it was, but it’s been a staple,” Livermore said about the sandwich.

Legend suggests the horseshoe was invented about 100 years ago at the old Leland Hotel in Springfield. The classic version has a base of Texas toast topped with a hamburger patty. On top of that are French fries. All of it is smothered in cheese sauce. They call it a sandwich, but it most definitely is a knife-and-fork job.

The meal spread beyond its capital-city origins to become a staple at bars and roadhouses across the middle of the state.

Cheese-sauce quality, and its special ingredients, can make or break a horseshoe. Jackson Street Pub uses a commercial variety, but 11-year chef Billy Brown spikes it with beer – one can for every three cans of cheese sauce.

The beer doesn’t have to be expensive, according to Brown. He usually uses Busch Light or Old Milwaukee Light.

“I think it has more flavor in it,” he said.

According to Brown, the suds thin the cheese a bit. That might be the only thin part of the meal. The Jackson Street Pub standard ‘shoe includes two hamburger patties.

“It’s a lot of food. Some people don’t realize that,” Livermore said. “I tell them, ‘You’re getting a plateful. You’re going to want a nap.’”

Jackson couldn’t finish his order. But Livermore said she’s seen football players from nearby Western Illinois University polish off two horseshoes in one sitting.

“No way I thought they could do that. They’re big boys. Young men, I should say,” Livermore said with a chuckle.

For those who are neither football players nor trenchermen, Jackson Street Pub offers a “ponyshoe,” a half-order. Livermore said the hamburger ponyshoe probably is the most popular item on her menu.

Jackson Street Pub separates itself from the central Illinois horseshoe herd in a couple of ways.

Waitress walking with plates of foodIt uses waffle fries (or “lattice fries,” as the menu states), not conventional French fries. Livermore said waffle fries hold the cheese better. Toppings include chili, jalapenos and grilled onions and mushrooms.

But variety might be the pub’s most impressive horseshoe aspect.

No fewer than 11 versions are listed on the Jackson Street Pub menu. Among them are ham, turkey, tenderloin, corned beef and fish. There’s even a garden-burger horseshoe. (For those watching their figures, perhaps?)

Customers can combine those menu options. Depending on what daily specials are being offered, those might lend themselves to horseshoe treatment, too. Livermore said popcorn chicken and buffalo shrimp have been among the off-menu ‘shoes.

“We’ll put fries and cheese on top of anything,” she said.

Brown said he prepares at least 30 horseshoes and/or ponyshoes a day. There’s a good chance Livermore will serve some of them. Even after 20-plus years of restaurant ownership, she can’t put down her order pad.

“I guess I’m just good at waitressing,” Livermore said. “I enjoy that. I love our customers. I love the pub.”

Horseshoe aficionados around Macomb might consider it the perfect fit.

“It’s a great place,” Jackson said.

Nick Vlahos

Nick Vlahos

is a longtime Peoria print journalist and a regular contributor to Peoria Magazine.