SIOUX CITY | Is Sioux City the birthplace of cutting edge cuisine?
Maybe, since legend has it that the loosemeat sandwich -- crumbly globs of ground beef served sauceless inside a hamburger bun -- was created by Dave Higgin at Ye Olde Tavern in 1924.
The loosemeat sandwich was such a hit, Higgin dubbed it a "Ye Olde Tavern" tavern after his 1322 Jackson St. eatery.
OK, here's the part where the chronology gets a little loopy. Higgins sells his restaurant -- and the loosemeat recipe to Abe and Bertha Kaled.
The Kaled family owned Ye Olde Tavern until the 1970s. The restaurant underwent several name changes and several changes in ownership.
Currently owned by George Litras as The Garden Cafe, the Ye Olde Tavern remains on the menu. Although it was named "The Best Sandwich in Iowa" in 2013 by Food Network Magazine, the loosemeat sandwich is made by an entirely different recipe than Higgin's or by the Kaleds.
A tavern by many different names
Historical taverns can be found in different locally-owned eateries around town.
The Charlie Boy -- a signature tavern from Miles Inn, 2622 Leech Ave. -- has been around since 1950, while the classic Tastee from Tastee Inn & Out, 2601 Gordon Drive, dates all the way back to 1955.
While Sioux City is awash with tavern sandwiches, Weekender taste testers were curious about whose loosemeat would reign supreme.
A sandwich with widespread appeal
First, we need to acknowledge that this installment of Siouxland's Sumptuous Sandwiches may prove to be a bit tricky. Why? Because a loosemeat can go by any number of names.
For instance, a Sloppy Joe -- popularized by novelist Ernest Hemingway after the sandwich turned up at his favorite Key West, Florida, haunt, the Sloppy Joe Bar in the mid 1930s -- has been characterized as a cousin to the tavern.
However, true loosemeat snobs scoff at any superficial similarities. A tavern, they reason, is a "Sloppy Joe" without any of the resulting slop.
If you're around St. Louis, taverns can be called Yip Yips. Didn't know that? Well, they're called Yum Yums in parts of Nebraska, Wimpies in northern Pennsylvania and Steamers in West Virginia.
But tavern-like sandwiches aren't limited strictly to America. In China, they're known as Roujiamon, In Australia, they're known as Savoury Mince Rolls and are served inside a pita instead of a hamburger bun.
However, we'll limit our choices to the loosemeats found in Sioux City. Here are our findings:
A tavern lover's who's-who
The Garden Cafe, 1322 Jackson St.
Claim to fame: 1924 birthplace of the original Ye Olde Tavern. Also, had its Ye Olde Tavern named "Iowa's Best Sandwich" in 2013.
Kinks in the armor: Although it is still made at the Jackson Street restaurant, the Ye Olde Tavern is made from an entirely different recipe.
So, how does it taste? Bland at first but the meat seems to be good. The loosemeat is less loose, making it seem more substantial.
Was it a culinary crumble or was it a sandwich stumble? Taste-wise, it was underwhelming. Still, it earned 3 stars out of a possible 5.
Miles Inn, 2622 Leech Ave.
Claim to fame: Originally opened as a grocery store in 1925, original owner Charlies Miles turned Miles Inn into a bar in the late 1940s. The Charlie Boy -- named after Miles' son Charlie -- became a hit with nearby Stockyards workers when the sandwich was unveiled in 1950.
Kinks in the armor: None that we noticed.
So, how does it taste? Peppery, very peppery! Which makes business sense. This is definitely a tavern that tastes best with a beer in your gullet. Still, it was pretty flavorful even when you're sober. That's always a good thing.
Was it a culinary crumble or was it a sandwich stumble? Cheers to the working man! While Sioux City's Stockyards is a thing of the past, the favorite sandwich of the swing-shifters is alive and well. The Charlie Boy easily rates 4 stars out of a possible 5.
Tastee Inn & Out, 2610 Gordon Drive
Claim to fame: Created in 1955, the Tastee landed the eatery onto Gourmet Magazine's Top 10 list of drive-in restaurants in the United States.
Kinks in the armor: Well, this has more to do with the fact that we're lousy drivers. But it's next to impossible to gauge the proper distance of your car to Tastee's pick-up window. We're either way too close or a couple of feet away. Like we said, we ain't blaming them for our own incompetence.
So, how does it taste: If the Charlie Boy is too peppery, Tastee Inn & Out's signature Tastee is much too salty. Not only that, but the ground beef was much too minced.
Was it a culinary crumble or was it a sandwich stumble? Despite that, it was still tasty (or "Tastee," if you prefer). We'll easily rate this a solid 3 stars out of 5.