The first time I had a loose meat sandwich was at a Maid Rite franchisee in Phoenix. It was tucked away off Bell Rd. in a shopping plaza that had what was called a Waldenbooks and More. It was like a Waldenbooks but instead of being at a mall, it was a stand-alone store — larger than your average Waldenbooks. It was a precursor to big box chains like Borders or Barnes & Noble before they took over and Borders eventually bought up Walden. I was waiting for hours at this store with my mom for some sort of Walter Cronkite book signing and the Maid Right was the only food in the plaza.
Also known as a Tavern, very exciting a loose meat sandwich is not. The Tavern is like a burger but instead of a patty it’s made with what is basically unspiced taco meat, like a sauceless sloppy joe. I remember thinking the Maid Rite sandwich being not only unimpressive but pretty gross. It was one of those things that you had to regionally grow up on because when they are introduced to new communities through franchises they don’t necessarily connect. This was confirmed by the fact that all the Phoenix Maid Rite locations (there was another at what was once called Westridge Mall, now Desert Sky) closed, but what I didn’t know was that Tavern was created in Sioux City, IA and then popularized in the area by Maid Rite.
Although the institution that supposedly created the sandwich and its namesake, Ye Olde Tavern Sandwich Shop, is no longer in Sioux City, there are still two venerable proprietors of the Tavern sandwich that are both locally held with great esteem; Miles Inn and Tastee Inn and Out.
Miles Inn not only serves Taverns and is a tavern, and really the best kind. In my two visits to Sioux City I found the bars on 4th St. to be cliquey college type bars. Not too conducive to outsiders. Loud and not dissimilar to the kind of average crowded places you can find in Anywhere, USA. Although there are a few scattered places in the area that don’t fit that mold, I might also say they suffer from being fairly ubiquitous. Not to say I didn’t enjoy myself, I had just still not found “my” place until I stepped foot into Miles Inn.
Tucked away on a neighborhood street, the outside facade congers up images of the kind of place flocked by factory workers in the Post-War era. The atmosphere of which has clearly gone unchanged since it has opened, and the crowd, to a certain extent, isn’t too dissimilar either. They are the embodiment of “real people” in both the best and worst sense. As I approached the bar I was not only delighted but also overwhelmed by the prices. I was on budget for this trip (full disclosure: I was in town doing a freelance piece on the city) and was able to squeeze so much more out of my dollar by coming to Miles. 20oz goblets of Killian’s Red for 2.50 made for a great evening. Of my three visits to Miles Inn I was approached with the question of, “Why are you in Sioux City?” The question embodied a strange built it shame for a place I viewed with such warmth.
Also for 2.50 is their “Charlie Boy” Tavern. The sandwich is simple; a store bought bun, loose meat in a buffet style heating tray scooped out with an ice cream scoop, a dab of ketchup and mustard, pickles, and as I was able to view with my own eyes, a slice of individually wrapped Kraft Singles Cheese Food. I love this kind of shit; I approach this food with a biased sense of excitement. I feel like I am getting that sort of down home food our country was founded on and anticipate the transporting qualities I hope to incur. Yet with anticipation usually comes disappointment and although I enjoyed it, it was much like a loose, peppery McDonald’s cheeseburger. As bar food goes it passes and in reality, it’s the bar aspect that makes Miles a standout. Each time I went there I was conversing with the locals (later going out with a great group of people I met there 20 years my senior to a birthday party held at a barn where Gateway computers were supposedly created — which is now a golf club house).
Walking distance from Miles Inn is another Inn of sorts, Tastee Inn and Out, which is strictly a drive-thru establishment. I was forced to eat the food in my car as the only seating was an outdoor patio area (with a mid-century folded plate roof) but it was some cold shit below zero and snowing:
Although locals tend to disagree with me (as they tend to with my verdict on Coney Island being better than Milwaukee Wiener House) I found the Tastee Inn and Out Tavern to be superior to that of Miles. Unlike Miles it didn’t taste like the weakness of the meat was being covered up with a ton of pepper and had a more full-bodied flavor. What really brings Tastee Inn and Out to the next level is their onion chips. I am personally not very moved by fried breaded foods but these onion chips and their accompanying dipping sauce, were absolutely stellar and if you are partial to fried foods, these top any sort of onion ring without question.
So when it comes down to the Tavern sandwich, or just the food, I got to go with Tastee’s over Miles, although admittedly the Tavern is a pretty underwhelming sandwich that exists more from entropy than being decidedly great. Miles Inn though is reputably the best place to get a drink in all of Sioux City and after kicking back a few, the Charlie Boy Tavern will seem just fine.
Miles Inn is located at: 2622 Leech Ave. Sioux City, IA
Tastee Inn and Out is located at: 2610 Gordon Dr. Sioux City, IA
Check out Taverns and Taverns in the Gallery