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.
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.