This week Donnie Ray is sharing the simple delight that is loose meat sandwiches, a broth seasoned ground beef bite sure to be a family pleaser.
The sandwich was created first as a "steamed hamburger" in 1920 in Missoula, Montana, and imitated in 1934 at the Ye Olde Tavern in Sioux City, Iowa. It is the latter location that gave the sandwich the name “Tavern Sandwich.” In Illinois, this sandwich soon became known as "the loose hamburger sandwich"
The loose meat or tavern sandwich is unlike a hamburger, because the meat is cooked loose rather than formed into a compact patty. It more closely resembles a sloppy joe, without the tomato sauce.
The sandwich is well known throughout the Midwestern United States and is served not only in small, local establishments but also in some franchise locations such as Dairy Queen in some States. The Wichita, Kansas-based chain Nu Way Cafe also serves a version of the tavern/loose meat sandwich called a "Nu Way."
Many of you remember the 80’s sitcom “Roseanne," which became a huge television hit, because frankly, it was a lifestyle most of us could relate to. In later seasons of the “Blue Collar” family show Roseanne co-owns a restaurant called the "Lanford Lunch Box" in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois, which specializes in loose meat sandwiches. The inspiration for Lunch Box was a real-life restaurant called “Canteen Lunch in the Alley” in Ottumwa, Iowa. In 1993, Roseanne and then-husband Tom Arnold opened Roseanne and Tom's Big Food Diner (based on the fictional Lanford Lunchbox in Eldon, Iowa, also specializing in loose meat sandwiches).
The “Blue Collar” lifestyle of the characters from the show Rosanne, although from a different era, reminded me a lot of the neighborhood I grew up in Miami. Most of the people in my neighborhood were working class people not having a lot, but taking pride in what they had. This seems to be a characteristic that keeps slipping away with each new generation. My Grandpa used to say, “There is no need in being poor and looking like it.”As I have become older, I understand more what he was talking about. There were a lot of elderly people who lived in the lower middle class, to middle-class homes in my neighborhood, but the memory I have most about these homes were the yards were always groomed and mowed, and the houses were kept neat.
Yeah, these homes may have been small and old, but that generation of people that lived in them took pride in how their property looked, regardless of how meager a furnishing it was. Looking back, I believe this pride was conceived as the people from that generation had gone through the Great Depression and actually knew what it was like to truly be without anything, and then took great pride afterwards of the things they had.
I have to admit, I never ate a loose meat sandwich in my life until a couple of years ago, only then, by making my own. In our part of the country, it seems that the sloppy joe was the loose meat of choice. The loose meat sandwich is another food item that will not be found in upscale restaurants, but in working class diners and taverns. I have made the sandwich many times, love them, and know you will as well. I recommend you trying them for a weeknight dinner for your family as something different and nostalgic. I don’t think you will be disappointed…
Loose Meat Sandwiches
Ingredients2 Tbsps. oil 2 small onions, minced (reserve some for garnish) 2 lbs. ground beef 2 Tbsps. yellow mustard 2 Tbsps. white vinegar 2 Tbsps. Worcestershire sauce 4 tsps. sugar ½ tsp. garlic powder Salt and pepper to taste 2 (14.5) oz cans beef broth 6 hamburger buns Sliced pickles
Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add ground beef and cook until browned, crumble the meat. Mix in the other ingredients (except broth) until well combined.
Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium/low to low, and simmer until all the liquid is gone. Serve on toasted hamburger buns topped with pickles.