In northwest Iowa, there is a loose-meat sandwich called "taverns" that is different from other loose-meat sandwiches that I was brought up on. The ground beef has some sort of an additive to help keep it from crumbling out of the bun (I've heard the additive can be anything from oatmeal, corn meal, tomato sauce or mustard). I've tried the "taverns" at Bob's Drive-Inn in Le Mars, IA (click here to see my entry on Bob's), and the "Charley Boy" at the Miles Inn in Sioux City (click here to see my entry on Miles Inn). Earlier this year, my neighbor, Murray, alerted me to a new place in West Des Moines that has brought "taverns" to Central Iowa - PattyPats. On a trip through Des Moines recently, I stopped off at PattyPats to give the place a try.
Everybody, it seems, has a homemade recipe for their taverns in Northwest Iowa and growing up in Le Mars, Pat Langel's family was no different. His mom made her own taverns and he, no doubt, had many a tavern at Bob's Drive-Inn when he was younger.
After graduating from the University of Iowa, Pat Langel went to work for Norman Hilton, the renown New York tailor who gave Ralph Lauren his start in business. Langel's task was to find ways to cut the time it took the company to make a custom suit from 11 weeks to 4 weeks, a project that he was able to accomplish. After 4 years with Norman Hilton, Langel made it to Des Moines in 1991 and opened his own tailor shop. He later became a partner in Langel and Woods Clothiers - an upscale fine custom tailor in the Valley Junction area of West Des Moines.
(Pictured right - Pat Langel. Photo courtesy Des Moines Register.)
Langel dabbled with cooking as a hobby, making taverns for his co-workers who universally liked them. After 36 years of being a successful tailor, making suits for entertainers, captains of industry and world leaders (he counts rock star Huey Lewis and former President George H.W. Bush among his customers), Langel decided that he wanted to bring taverns to the good people of Central Iowa. After perfecting the recipe and working on a menu, Langel opened PattyPats - named after his wife, Patty, and himself - in June of this year. Langel is still involved with Langel and Woods and has hired a staff to help run the day-to-day operations of PattyPats. But you'll also find him in there a good portion of the time.
I found PattyPats in a strip mall along the north side of E.P. True Parkway near the intersection of where Valley West Drive/35th St. and Mills Civic Parkway meet up with E.P. True (see map). Ample parking is available in front of the restaurant. A small outside dining area is along the side of the building. It was a little too chilly to be seated outside that particular day.
As you go into PattyPats, there's a window in the entry way for pick-up orders or outside dining, but there's the main ordering window just around the corner in the dining room. The menu is located on a board on the wall next to the counter.
The dining area is not large, but it's well lit with natural light from the large front windows and fluorescent lighting. About five or six tables with a like number of booths were in the dining area. It wasn't long after the lunch rush and I was the only person in the place. I didn't know if that was a good sign or not.
Langel's "tavern" burger is called, surprise! - a PattyPat. True to his Le Mars heritage, they also have the Patty Dog, a hot dog covered with the tavern meat. They have a chili dog and something called the spicy coney dog. In addition to the PattyPat and the hot dogs, PattyPats features Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs and sausages. But I am just so spoiled by the Italian beef sandwiches and the Chicago dogs at Portillo's in the Chicago area that I know I'd be disappointed in the ones at PattyPats even if they were dynamite. They also have a chicken sandwich and a pork tenderloin on the menu. And as a nod to Bob's Drive-Inn in Le Mars, PattyPats also features ice cream.
I ordered a PattyPat and a Patty Dog, rather than getting the chili dog. The guy at the counter cheerfully took my order and said he'd bring it out to me in a bit. Less than a couple minutes later, he brought out a cafeteria tray with the PattyPat and the Patty Dog wrapped in wax paper.
When I unwrapped the PattyPat and the Patty Dog, I was momentarily stunned. The meat was so finely ground that it looked more like a pâté than a ground beef sandwich. It also had somewhat of a yellow tint to the meat. I looked up at the pictures of both the PattyPat and Patty Dog that they had on the wall and the ground meat in those pictures were much more coarse and looked like beef. I wasn't certain what the meat sitting in front of me looked like.
When I looked closer at the Patty Dog, I had to stop for a moment and try and figure out if it really was ground beef or a heavy-style stone ground mustard on the hot dog. The beef was so finely ground that it looked like a spread.
I took a bite of the PattyPat, garnished with chopped onions and some sort of mustard (at least there looked like some yellow substance on the bottom of the bun). The taste was definitely unique. Taverns in Northwest Iowa are an acquired taste. Had I not had a tavern before, I would have probably hated the taste and texture. It wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, either. The tavern wasn't large and I made quick work of it. Because of the additives to the ground beef, it was moist and held together without any of the meat crumbling onto the wax paper.
The hot dog was next. It, too, looked like it had some chopped onions and mustard on the bun. The hot dog, itself, had a nice snap to the bite - the quality of a good hot dog. However, coupled with the tavern meat, I couldn't get much of a taste of the hot dog.
Later in the day, actually not long after I left PattyPats, I developed a case of stomach gas. I burped up the PattyPat and the Patty Dog for a good four hours plus after I had them, re-tasting the ground beef with each belch. I don't like it when the food lingers with you for that long.
All right, I tried PattyPats. I guess I don't really know what to think. As much as I like to support restaurants where someone is following a dream, I just hope they're able to make a go of PattyPats. As I said, the meat is an acquired taste and it wasn't something that made me think, "Boy, I can't wait to have another one of these sometime!" I also felt it was a little expensive ($3.25 each for the PattyPat and Patty Dog) for the portion of the serving. The place was clean, the person I interacted with was very friendly, but the food was... Well, I really wanted to like it, but I'm not sure I cared for it. But everyone is different and it could be that you may like PattyPats tavern-style burger and hot dog better than I did. Give 'em a shot and see what you think.
(Update - You're going to have to wait a few weeks if you want to try PattyPat's. They're closed for the season until February 2014. Thanks to Roger for the "heads-up"!)
(Update 2 - Citing that he was spreading himself too thin, Pat Langel announced that Patty Pat's was closed as of January of 2015.)