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The Loosemeat Loop

Written By: Chad Gillen

Recently I was watching a rerun of Smokey and the Bandit. In the diner scene, Buford T. orders a Diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper. What is a Diablo sandwich? So I fire up the Google machine and find there is no real answer, but it is probably a spicy Bar-B-Q pulled pork sandwich. During my search, a lot of different terms pop up such as sloppy joe, tavern, loosemeat, and Maid-Rite. I’ve had sloppy joes, but the others are foreign to me. is a great source to find the best local food while traveling. While looking at the four Northwest Iowa places you can get a loosemeat, I hatch a plan to make a Loosemeat Loop ride for a Saturday road trip. I enlist my brother Jeff “The Colonel” to go with. I try to enlist more riders, but no takers. I call a buddy, “Big Brion”, in Sioux City. He gives me the lowdown on his favorites and says to call him when we get close and he and Randy will meet up with us.

This road trip gives me a chance to get used to some newly installed FARKLES, a generic motorcycle GPS and my electronic cruise control. The GPS won’t pull up Le Mars, IA. Strike one. But no big deal, I’ve been to our first stop before. We are heading to Bob’s Drive Inn at 207 Plymouth St. NW in Le Mars. As we pass through Canton, we encounter a problem and need to stop. Jeff’s handlebar controls are loose and spinning on the handlebars. He just installed heated grips and didn’t loctite the bolts. Remember: thread lock is your friend on a Harley-Davidson. Jeff has the right tools along and we are back rolling quickly.

I get mad at the GPS again as it makes stupid turns after we cross into Iowa and go south from Inwood. GPS units are only as good as the routing software, and I’m finding this one lacking. Strike two. Why it did not keep me going east through Rock Valley to US Hwy 75 I’ll never know. Near Lebanon, IA the GPS unit locks up and I have to reboot it. Strike 3, because this is not the first time.

We run east to US Hwy 75 and then south to Bob’s Drive Inn. It is really busy. All the employees are wearing the same work t-shirt, with “Don’t Hassle Me. I’m Local” printed on the front. It reminds me of one of my favorite Bill Murray movies and I take baby steps up to the counter. I order one tavern and get two Cool Blue Gatorades because the heat is already getting to us. The loose ground meat is somewhat bland, but the ketchup, mustard, chopped onion, and relish actually makes it quite good. Jeff cuts the sandwich in half with his pocket knife and tells me the last time he used it was to open a lawn fertilizer bag. We survive. I call and leave a message with Brion that we are leaving Le Mars.  

South again on US Hwy 75 to Sioux City and headed to Miles Inn at 2622 Leech Ave. Brion and Randy’s bikes are outside already. Brion says the Charlie Boy taverns here are his favorite and he tries to limit himself to just two of them a week. Brion buys us all Charlie Boys and gives us a quick history lesson on the Iowa loosemeats. Loosemeats are steam cooked, unpattied ground beef usually with some type of pepper seasoning, while sloppy joes have a tomato sauce. He recalls when Miles Inn changed hands some years back and the new owners had to pay an extra $100,000 to get the Charlie Boy recipe after the customers started to complain about the tavern not offering them anymore. The Charlie Boy is made right behind the bar where you can watch and it’s wrapped in wax paper. It’s peppered seasoned beef, with cheese, pickle, onion and mustard. It was amazing and I could definitely see how it could be addictive. Later I find out that horseradish is cooked in with the meat. I’m allergic to horseradish, but this time it didn’t affect me.

Next we ride a whole two blocks to Tastee Inn & Out at 2610 Gordon Dr. Yup, it took longer to get our gear on than to actually ride there. The “Tastee” taverns there are below the other two, and somewhat generic. But they have fried onion chips there which are just like onion rings except the onion is cut differently. The onion chips’ special sauce that you dip them in is great. I think it may just be a creamy horseradish dip.

We contemplate riding to the origin of the “tavern” at the Garden Cafe which was once the Ye Olde Tavern in 1924. Jeff and I are full, and with the heat we decide to skip the Garden Cafe and the nearest Maid-Rite in Avoca, IA. We go north on I-29, but jump back off at Riverside Blvd. so we can roll north on Loess Hills Scenic Byway. At Hawarden we stop at Casey’s and get more Gatorade to keep hydrated. We ride through Hudson, SD; just north of there we have to pull over as Jeff’s iPhone is overheating in his handlebar mount. We then ride through Newton Hills and into Canton where Jeff has to refuel.

After splitting from Jeff, I pass by a B&G Milkyway. I decide to try their sloppy joe. Luckily, I ordered a pizza burger and a root beer slush whip too, because the sloppy joe I will never order again, especially after having a Charlie Boy.

Ride to eat road trips can be fun and inventive. You don’t have to run the Loosemeat Loop. Some guys I know ride for homemade pies. Which reminds me of Betty’s Pies north of Duluth in Two Harbors, MN. Is that too far in one day just for pie?


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