If you are lucky enough to visit Des Moines in August during the Iowa State Fair, you must revise your itinerary to include at least one day to spend at this annual event, if only to stop for a bite to eat at Carl’s Gizmo, a concession stand that is a long-standing favorite among the locals. Founded in 1946 by Carl Cardamon, the concession stand serves a typical menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, lemonades and soft drinks. However, the item that makes this concession stand the star of the Iowa State Fair is the beloved Gizmo, a unique hoagie-like sandwich that is legendary among Iowans, who refer to it as the Gizmo grinder.
The Gizmo starts with a fresh, soft Italian roll that is toasted to perfection. The roll is then filled with a mixture of ground beef and ground Italian sausage, smothered with Carl’s exclusive marinara-type seasoned sauce and topped with loads of melted mozzarella cheese. Extras such as jalapeños are also available to complement the sandwich. Marketed by Carl’s Gizmo as the “Italian beef burger,” the Gizmo is promoted as a low-carb menu choice. In addition to the Iowa State Fair, the concession stand also makes annual visits to the Minnesota State Fair and the Urbandale 4th of July Carnival, also located in Iowa.
Although the ownership and operation of the stand is now in the hands of Carla and Kirby Wood, Carl’s daughter and her husband, the same family recipe is used to make the Gizmo, so you can rest assured that the sandwich you order is made the same way as the sandwiches Carl started making over 65 years ago. More than likely, you are going to encounter a long line when you reach the stand. However, thousands of return customers testify to the fact that your wait is well worth it.
Always occupying the same spot at the fair, the stand is located southwest of the Administration Building. If you are staying at the Valley West Inn during your visit to Des Moines, you are only 11 miles away from the fairgrounds, a negligible distance when the reason for your trip to the fair is taken into account. Although you can find recipes on the internet that try to replicate the Gizmo, there is nothing that compares to eating one of the originals while surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of the Iowa State Fair. Make your visit to Des Moines especially memorable by joining the locals in their annual tradition of indulging in a renowned Gizmo grinder from Carl’s Gizmo, home of the Italian beef burger.