Though popular in Iowa, loose-meat sandwiches — made of ground beef but not molded into a patty, more like a sauceless sloppy Joe — have never built a big fan base in Minnesota. But the success of Carl’s Gizmo Sandwiches suggests they’re poised for a breakout.
Carl Cardamon began selling loose-meat sandwiches at the Iowa State Fair right after World War II. One day in the late ‘70s, Cardamon was struck with an inspiration. He mixed Italian sausage with the ground beef, added special sauce and mozzarella cheese, put it on a toasted Italian roll and called it the Gizmo. It was a hit at the Iowa fair, but didn’t make its debut at the Minnesota State Fair until Cardamon’s daughter, Carla Wood, opened a stand in the early 2000s.
Business was slow at first. People seemed confused by the deviation from the patty format. So Wood handed out Gizmo samples to radio and TV broadcasters — including celebrity foodie Andrew Zimmern — who helped promote the concoction. “It was by word of mouth that people started liking it,” recalled Wood, who is also a clerk in the Iowa Legislature. “We have some really loyal customers up there, and quite the following.
“I think the most I’ve sold is 17 Gizmos at once. People will bring a box in and just tell me to load it up. □