I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Midwest knows slop. We exalt it; place it upon a porcelain pedestal; squeeze it for every ounce of grease it’s got. Burgers… hot dogs… French fires… mozzarella sticks… sounds like a well-rounded diet, doesn’t it?
Other regions sway a little more to the pretentious side. New York eats pastrami, which is like from Turkey or something. Philadelphia subs use steak, a premium cut of meat. And get this: at the legendary Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, they sell Marth Stewart Dogs and Rosie O’Donnell Dogs.
Can you believe it? It’s basically an affront to our morals.
Meanwhile at Maid-Rite, an Iowa institution, they’ve even dispensed with the pretensions of a hamburger patty. That’s right, a Maid-Rite is a “loose-meat sandwich”.
What? You wanted your meat to stay together in a recognizable shape? Too bad. At Maid-Rite, they plop a heaping helping of finely chopped ground beef on a steamed bun, add a few condiments (like mustard, onions, and pickles), and call it a day. The only nod to convention is a spoon, provided so you can scoop up all the good stuff that spills off the bun.
Hey, it’s hard to argue with tradition.
Maid-Rite goes all the way back to 1926, when a humble butcher in Muscatine, Iowa, had a dream for a better sandwich. He experimented with different spices and cuts of meat until he found what he believed to be the perfect combination of slop. The butcher, Fred Angell, served his pièce de résistance to a deliveryman and was told that his “sandwich is made right”.
And like that, a chain was born. A convenient, almost impossible to believe story, but we’ll give Maid-Rite the benefit of the doubt here. They sure aren’t changing their tune anytime soon.
Not that I’d want them to. Maid-Rite’s strength is its dedication to the old ways. At the Maid-Rite in Marshalltown, believe it or not, they only recently made ketchup available. It just wasn’t done before. Ketchup was, for some reason, labeled as a cheap, sacrilegious sauce by the Marshalltown tribunal of elders. There was no room for debate.
“Would you like any ketchup?” the cook at the Cedar Falls Maid-Rite asked us. “It’s homemade.”
“Sure!” Molly said.
I turned to her in astonishment.
“Homemade ketchup? That sounds pretty cool! I’ve never seen that somewhere before.”
“Here you go!”
The cook squeezed the bottle and out popped a red string, straight onto Molly’s shirt black and white shirt. The cook, a gray-haired lady, had probably done the gag a thousand times before, but still she burst out into laughter.
“I’m just playin’ with ya. Here’s the real ketchup. Sorry, it’s not homemade.”
That story is yet another reason why the Cedar Falls Maid-Rite, quite simply, kicks ass. Long before your beef falls off the bun, you know you made the “right” decision. It’s a real throwback to the diners of yesteryear, a little red and white cottage with a beautiful round Coca-Cola sign on the roof. Inside, there’s a long counter with red seat covers and big windows overlooking the street,
If you pop in on a Saturday morning, like I did, you’ll probably see a bunch of venerable old dudes in flannel talking shop and reading newspapers. All they have to do is grunt and they get their order, the same thing every time.
“So how’d ya like your sandwich?” Our waitress asked as I took another sip of my black, black coffee.
“Well… what can I say, it was just made right.”
Another waitress starting her shift burst out laughing.
They must share tips.