The Cozy Dog Drive In is an institution in Springfield, IL. Located along a busy stretch of South Sixth St. on what was the famous Route 66 (see map), Cozy Dog Drive In has been serving up their famous cornmeal batter-encased "Cozy Dogs" served on a stick since founder Ed Waldmire, Jr. began selling them at the Lake Springfield Beach House in 1946. The rest, as they say, is culinary history in Springfield.
Actually, Waldmire and a friend, Don Strand, came up with the concept a few years before to encase the hot dogs with a batter - sort of like a corn dog - but which allowed for quick deep frying of the "cozy dog". Strand, a bakery student with Waldmire before Waldmire entered the Air Force, came up with the batter concoction. Strand sent some of the batter to Waldmire at his air base in Amarillo, and with the help of the kitchen at the local U.S.O., he experimented with the deep-fried, battered hot dogs on a stick. They were an instant hit with the servicemen who visited the U.S.O. After Waldmire was discharged after World War II, he brought the "cozy dogs" back to Springfield. After he began selling them at the beach house, he then sold them at the Illinois State Fair later that summer.
Waldmire opened his first restaurant in downtown Springfield soon after that. A second location soon followed. In 1949, Waldmire built the Cozy Dog Drive In next door to what is the present day location for the Cozy Dog Drive In. Waldmire's son, Ed III, also known as "Buz", and his wife, Sue, took over the business in the mid-70's after Ed Waldmire, Jr. retired. Buz and Sue eventually divorced about 10 years ago and Sue bought out Buz's interest in the business. She and her sons, Josh, Nick, Tony and Eddie run the business today.
Now, if the name Waldmire is somewhat familiar to some people, it could be that you may have heard of Bob Waldmire. Bob Waldmire is Ed, Jr's son and is somewhat famous for his surrealistic drawings of informational maps along Route 66. A self-professed "60's Hippie", Bob Waldmire traveled back and forth on the old Route 66 taking the time to draw the people, places and points of interest along "The Mother Road." Ironically, Bob Waldmire became a vegetarian and hasn't eaten a Cozy Dog for years.
Sadly, Bob Waldmire recently passed away from cancer. At the end of his life he was living in an old converted school bus on the family farm outside of nearby Rochester, IL. The school bus was environmentally friendly with solar panels for electricity and was equipped with a solar oven. Waldmire's legacy lives on with his pictures on display at Cozy Inn and at other various sites along Route 66. His 1972 orange Volkswagen van that he used to live in when he would go on his trips up and down the highway will be on display in a museum in Tulsa.
From my original trip to Joe Rogers Chili Parlor in Springfield a few months ago, a Road Tips reader, Steve Z., said that I really needed to go to Cozy Dog Drive In and try their chili dogs. "I'd be interested to hear if you like them better than (Joe Rogers)", he wrote after my blog entry. I was heading home from St. Louis one morning recently and decided to stop into the Cozy Dog Drive In to see what they were like.
From the first time you walk into Cozy Dog Drive In, you're immediately transported back to the 60's with their kitschy style of decorations around the place. If I hadn't found out that this building was built in 1996, I would have guess this was the original Cozy Dog Drive In from back in the late 40's. It just sort of had that feel to the place.
You order your food at the front counter and order off the menu that is located on the wall above one of the grills. In addition to their famous Cozy Dogs, the Cozy Dog Drive In also serves breakfast, burgers and tenderloins. But I was there for the chili dogs. I stepped up to the register and ordered a chili dog and a chili cheese dog. Or, excuse me - in Springfield they spell it "chilli".
After getting scads of orders for Cozy Dogs, the lady at the counter seemed sort of incredulous that I wanted a chilli dog. "You want a chilli dog AND a chilli cheese dog?" I told her that was correct. She turned back to one of the line cooks and said, "OK, this guy wants a chilli dog AND a chilli cheese dog." The way she said it, I was fully prepared for everyone in the restaurant from the line cooks to the people seated at the tables and booths to suddenly stop, look up and see who this idiot was who was ordering chilli dogs. I'm sorry, I just don't care for what is basically a corn dog.
For larger orders that take more time, you can go sit at one of the many tables and booths throughout the place. My order didn't take long, less than 60 seconds, so I just stood near the counter and waited. There's a condiment area next to the pop machine. I didn't figure that out until after I sat down in a booth.
The chilli dogs aren't overly big, but that didn't matter to me. From my first bite, I knew that Joe Rogers had Cozy Dog Drive In beat in terms of the taste of their chilli. Cozy Dog Drive In chilli dogs were a little more bland tasting, the chilli was more thick and it just didn't have the pizazz I got from Joe Rogers chilli dogs. Plus there's only one type of temperature for chilli at Cozy Dog Drive In, as to where you can get five or six different degrees of spiciness at Joe Rogers.
It didn't take me long to down the two chilli dogs. They were served in a small basket with wax paper at the bottom. I didn't see a place where you could drop off the baskets and throw away your refuse. I kept looking around the place until I saw a couple take their baskets and empty pop glasses to an area back by the kitchen where there was a large trash can and a window where to set the basket. I didn't want to make any rookie mistakes on my visit to Cozy Dog Drive In.
Will I be back to the Cozy Dog Drive In? Ah, if it was for a chilli dog, I'd go to Joe Rogers first. But there is a lot of interesting things to see at Cozy Dog Drive In and I think I'd like to go back at a time when it wasn't so busy just to take a closer look at some of the memorabilia including many of Bob Waldmire's original drawings. For history buffs who are into Route 66, Cozy Dog Drive In is a must stop.