SIOUX CITY |  What would you do if your restaurant's historically significant sandwich has been deemed the best in the state of Iowa?

Well, if you're Tim Konidas, you tip your hat to the Garden Cafe's signature tavern sandwich.

In the September 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine, the Garden Cafe's tavern was listed as Iowa's best in an article titled "50 States, 50 Sandwiches."

According to Konidas, that was only fitting since the tavern was created inside the building that's home to the Garden Cafe.

Legend has it that a man named Dave Higgin created a loosemeat sandwich -- crumbly ground beef mixed with sauteed onions, served on a bun -- in 1924 at his restaurant located at 1322 Jackson St. The restaurant was sold, 10 years later, to Abe and Bertha Kaled.

In fact, the Kaleds were so enamored with the popular "tavern" sandwich, they renamed the restaurant Ye Olde Tavern.

A popular hangout for students at the nearby Central and Bishop Heelan Catholic High Schools, the restaurant was owned by the Kaleb family for more than 40 years.

Since then, the restaurant on the corner of 14th and Jackson streets has gone through several owners, including Konidas' brother Gus, whose Gus' Family Restaurant occupied the spot for more than 20 years.

Even under different owners, the tavern remained a menu favorite.

When Konidas assumed ownership of the newly rechristened Garden Cafe, he wanted to play up the site's staple sandwich.

"Nobody knows the exact recipe for a Ye Olde Tavern tavern," he noted, "so I decided to come up with a recipe for my own."

Experimenting with the seasoning at least four different times, Konidas hit upon a taste profile he deemed worthy of the diner's most noteworthy sandwich.

"I knew a fella who was friends with (the Kalebs) and he said my tavern was the closest in taste to an original Ye Olde Tavern tavern," Konidas said, smiling. "I was pleased to hear that."

Konidas was also pleased with the publicity generated by the Food Network Magazine.

"People driving on the Interstate have stopped in Sioux City because they saw the magazine write-up," he said, shaking his head. "It's been terrific."

Former customers have also recently stopped by to revisit their Ye Olde Tavern histories.

"A week won't go by when we don't have a married couple stop by saying they had their first date here," Konidas said. "They had a tavern on their first date and they want to relive those memories."

For Konidas, the trick to making a tavern is keeping the meat loose.

"There are ways of binding the meat together but loose meat should be, you know, loose," he advised. "It's gotta be a messy sandwich to eat."

In addition, there should be enough meat to fill the bun.

"A bunch of places, they skimp on the meat," Konidas said. "We don't do that at the Garden Cafe. Here, a tavern is a sandwich that's a meal all on its own."

More important, Konidas has kept the price of his tavern at less than $2.

"My tavern is a sandwich that can be enjoyed by both a grandfather and a grandchild," he said. "It isn't too salty or peppery. It's just perfect."

Throughout Konidas' small dining room are signs alerting diners to the Garden Cafe's tavern being named the Hawkeye State's best sandwich.

Though his restaurant serves a wide variety of meals for its breakfast, lunch and dinner trade, Konidas admits the tavern remains one of the Garden Cafe's top sellers.

"A sandwich doesn't stay popular after all these years if people didn't like it," he said. "I'm happy that our taverns have stood the test of time."


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect name of the magazine that picked the Garden Cafe tavern. It has been corrected in this version.