Cozy Dog Drive In: History on a stick
Its tagline “Try ‘em, You’ll like ‘em” is a bit of an understatement. Cozy Dog Drive In—located on historic Route 66 in Springfield, Ill.—is home to arguably the best corn dog (or, as they call it, “cozy dog”) you’ll ever have. And while the corn dog is undoubtedly the signature item on the menu, Cozy Dog Drive In is more than a good corn dog: It’s an historical landmark.
Stick it to ‘em
Despite popular belief, Cozy Dog doesn’t claim to be the inventor of the first-ever corn dog; that’s an argument left for another time. However, no one contests the fact that Cozy’s original owners, Ed and Virginia Waldmire, introduced the world to the first-ever corn dog on a stick in spring 1946.
But let’s back up even further. The Cozy Dog wasn’t born with such a cute name. To make a longish story shortish, in 1941, Ed floated the idea of a hot dog encased in cornbread to his college buddy Don Strand, whose dad was in the bakery business. Ed told Strand how he had previously encountered a baked version of this “corn dog sandwich” in Oklahoma and was intrigued. But that version took a long time to prepare; and he thought cooking them faster would be the key to this sandwich’s success.
Fast forward five years, while stationed in the Air Force in Texas, Ed received a letter from Strand saying he had developed a “mix that would stick to the wiener while being french-fried.” Strand sent the mix down to Ed to test this “corn dog sandwich” out on his Air Force buddies. In the USO kitchen, Ed added cocktail forks to the sandwiches to make them easier to eat and called them “crusty curs.” His fellow servicemen couldn’t get enough.
A legend is born … almost.
Cozy Dog Drive In on historic Route 66 in Springfield, Ill.
Ed eventually left the Air Force and brought the popular crusty curs—stick and all—back to Springfield. But when Virginia caught wind of the moniker with which Ed had saddled the treat (according to the dictionary, it literally means “a mongrel with a hard outer layer”), she encouraged—no, STRONGLY encouraged—him to change it.
After considering dozens of new names, the couple ultimately landed on “cozy dog” and officially launched their new corn dog business on June 16, 1946, at the Lake Springfield Beach House, a lakefront hotel. Later that year, they took the cozy dog to the Illinois State Fair.
With demand for the dogs booming, in 1949, Ed and Virginia opened Cozy Dog Drive In on historic Route 66 in Springfield.
OK, now a legend is born.
The cozy dog isn’t just popular because it was the first corn dog on a stick; it’s also about as culinarily perfect as a corn dog could get—in a good way!
The cornbread outer layer is crisped to perfection. It’s not gritty. It’s not too sweet. It’s not too salty. It’s light and airy, and delightfully fresh. It’s really the perfect balance of everything a cornbread outer layer should be.
Then there’s the hot dog. The smokey, premium, all-beef frank stands out as an ideal complement to its delicate cornbread coating. And while that may sound simple, considering the corndog options out there in the world, clearly it’s not. Cozy Dog has that recipe down!
As for the dining area, it’s a fast food atmosphere, to be sure. But it gives off a hint of nostalgia—decked out with old Cozy Dog signs, newspaper clippings about the restaurant from years past, old photos of the Waldmire family and, of course, Route 66 memorabilia.
While the Cozy Dog Drive In’s current location isn’t the same spot in which the first stand opened on historic Route 66 in 1946, it is in the same-ish spot—only 500 feet to the north. And it’s still in the family. Ed and Virginia’s grandsons now run the joint—dishing out the same cozy dog recipe their grandparents started serving up more than half a century ago.
My corny advice…
Cozy Dog Drive In offers up a satisfying taste of history … and it’s a must-not-miss on Route 66!
Joe eats his way through Springfield, Ill. and St. Louis. First stop: Cozy Dog Drive In.
Cozy Dog Drive In
2935 S 6th St.
Springfield, Ill. 62703