Loose meat beefburger sandwiches are a staple around the state of Iowa. Maid-Rites rule the day with this type of sandwich, but as you can tell from this post regarding the difference between old guard Maid-Rites and the newer corporate Maid-Rites there's a big difference between the two. There's also the famous Canteen Lunch in the Alley luncheonette in Ottumwa (that entry continues to be one of the most read on Road Tips) that serves their own loose meat sandwiches. However, out in the northwestern part of the state, there are a number of places that offer a variance on the loose meat sandwich and they call them "taverns". Taverns have a mixture that keeps the meat together and won't crumble onto the wax paper they're served in. And one of the most famous "tavern" sandwiches is the Charlie Boy at Miles Inn in Sioux City.
The Miles Inn has a long history that began back in 1925 when Charlie Miles opened a little grocery store at the corner of Leech and S. Fairmount in Sioux City's Morningside neighborhood (see map). No one is quite sure when Miles turned it into a bar, but guesses are that it was either in the late 40's or early 50's.
The original tavern sandwich in Sioux City dates back to 1934 when Abraham Kaled made his first tavern sandwich at Ye Olde Tavern. Maid-Rites were beginning to become the rage across the state of Iowa and Kaled came up with his own mixture for his tavern sandwich.
Not long after changing the grocery store into a tavern, Miles came up with a loose meat tavern sandwich that he named after his son, Charlie, Jr. That's how the Charlie Boy came about. Nearby workers at the Sioux City stockyards loved the sandwiches and their reputation has grown over the years.
A few years ago, Denny and Julie Lias bought the Miles Inn. During the transistion, Denny Lias worked there for a number of weeks before he was even given the recipe for a Charlie Boy. It's a closely guarded secret and one that many have tried to duplicate for years. I understand the people will come in with their own Charlie Boy for Lias to taste. Some have been close, but there's still something that is in a Charlie Boy that makes it difficult to figure out what it is.
(Julie and Denny Lias at the bar at Miles Inn. Picture courtesy Sioux City Journal.)
The Lias' recently opened a second Miles Inn location up in Arnolds Park, IA in the Iowa Great Lakes region. Other places in the Sioux City area that sell taverns include the Tastee Inn and Out, and Bob's Drive-Inn up in LeMars. (Click here to see my post on Bob's.) But the Miles Tap is the one that most of the locals equate as being the original tavern sandwich.
I had an appointment in Sioux City one morning and before I went out of town I swung over to the Miles Inn for a pre-noontime meal. Now, I've been to the Miles Inn four or five times before and have had Charlie Boy's in the past. I was told by someone before my first visit that I could easily eat four or five of them. I had two and that was more than enough for me.
Miles Inn is an old time, blue-collar bar, full of beer lights, Iowa Hawkeyes signs and old time pictures. The three sided bar is large for a tavern of this size, and there's a handful of chairs and tables around the perimeter of the place. In the back, there's a pool table that I have to say, quite honestly, that never appears to be idle. There's always someone playing pool at Miles Inn, it seems. This visit was no exception.
Behind the bar is the steamer that holds the Charlie Boy meat, as well as the buns they're served on. I ordered up a Charlie Boy with everything (ketchup, mustard, onions, pickle) with cheese. And I got a bottle of Bud Light, which was a mistake because I forgot Miles Inn is famous for their 20 oz. frosty schooners of draft beer. That's OK - I just wanted a beer with my burger and I wasn't going to be there long.
Of course, it doesn't take long for a Charlie Boy to be made up. They aren't big, but they're pretty expensive for their size - $3.00 bucks each. As you can see from the picture at left, the consistency of the meat is such that I'm figuring they add flour or corn starch to the meat to make it more firm than a regular Maid-Rite.
But the taste is baffling to me. There's some additive that makes them a little spicy, almost peppery in taste. It lingers on the tongue and disappears a few moments later. I sat for a couple minutes between a couple bites to try and figure out what that taste was. Certainly, the Charlie Boy at the Miles Inn is a unique taste and one that has to grow on you. The first time I tried one, I was surprised with the taste and wasn't sure I liked it. The second time, I knew what to expect and sort of warmed up to the taste. The following times I've gotten a Charley Boy, I can now see how Sioux Citians have come to love the little loose meat sandwiches that sort of stick together.
Don't expect a Charlie Boy to taste anything like a Maid-Rite if you go to visit. While it's similar in design, it's definitely different in taste. I think they're a little expensive for what they are, but they keep selling 'em by the dozens at the Miles Inn. That's why 3 generations of people keep coming back for the little tavern sandwiches that have been around for nearly 60 years.