Myles Kass, proprietor of Bob’s Drive-Inn, a Le Mars, Iowa, restaurant started by his father in 1949, likes to tell about a group of Arizonans who came through town several years ago to visit The Blue Bunny Ice Cream Factory and asked him for hamburgers. He was irate. “Can you imagine? I tried to convince them that if you come to this part of Iowa, you don’t want a hamburger; you want loosemeats. I honestly believe there isn’t anyone in town who hand-patties a burger any more.”
In case you are from Arizona or any one of the other 48 states where loosemeats is unheard of, know this: a loosemeats is a sandwich of ground beef that is cooked loose – unpattied – and served sauceless. Compared to a hamburger it has a higgledy-piggledy character, but there is nothing scattered about its satisfying taste. It is customarily dressed with pickle, mustard, and a slice of cheese; and like grits, it is a food spoken of with singular/plural ambivalence. Usually one sandwich is a loosemeats; a batch in the kitchen or a bowlful without the bun are loosemeats.
You will not find loosemeats on the menu that hangs above Bob’s order window. That is because it is listed as a "tavern," one of its several aliases in northwest Iowa. At many restaurants that serve it, loosemeats is called something else: tavern, Big T, Charlie Boy, or Tastee. When Roseanne Arnold opened her Big Food Diner over in Eldon out Ottumwa way, journalists unfamiliar with Iowa cuisine made a fuss over the fact that her menu did list loosemeats, a name that to outsiders sounds vaguely taboo. According to Marcia Poole, food writer at the Sioux City Journal, folks in Siouxland were righteously angry about Roseanne calling it that. “The other side of Des Moines, it should be called a Maid-Rite,” Marcia told us, referring to the eponymous name for the similar sandwich and the Maid Rite Restaurants that serve it, mostly between Des Moines and Dubuque. “Loosemeats are ours alone.”
Bob’s loosemeats are definitive. Browned, strained of fat, then pressure-cooked with sauce and spice, then drained again, this meat is moist, full-flavored and deeply satisfying. Each sandwich is made on a good-quality roll that Myles Kass secures from Le Mars’ own Vander Meer Bakery.
If you don’t want loosemeats, or if like us, need to sample every good hot dog that exists, you must get a couple of franks at this fine place. The hot dogs are ravishing natural-casing beauties with a real snap to their skin. They are made by Wimmer's, a vintage-1934 sausage maker in West Point, Nebraska, and they are some of America's greatest. And, of course, they are available with a loosemeats topping, a configuration known as a Bob Dog.
Root beer is house-made; and fruit shakes are made from real summer fruit.
"Bob's calls its loosemeats a tavern. It is the quintessential northwest Iowa roadfood sandwich."
"Although taverns are the #1 hit on Bob's menu, the hot dogs are superb -- locally-made Wimmer's brand. This is a Bob Dog, which is one of those fine franks topped with loosemeats. Proprietor Myles Kass gets a real kick from the fact that the end of each Wimmer's dog resembles a thumb."
"Bob's makes excellent thick shakes, like this cherry one."
"A perfect summertime supper: a tavern sandwich accompanied by a basket of cheese curds."
Chris & Amy Ayers
"Another Roadfood axiom is that restaurants that claim to be 'Home of.....' something are usually going to be Roadfood worthy."
"Sioux City Journal writer Marcia Poole snapped this picture of us looking very happy ... after a meal at Bob's."
"Bob Kass opened this drive-in in 1949. His son Myles expects his kids to take over one day."