Jan 24 2011
Before I lived in Iowa, I’d never heard of a Maid-Rite. And I suppose it’s not quite right that my first Maid-Rite experience was at a mall stand, tucked in the corner at Westdale, next to Von Maur, rather than at one of the tried-and-true Maid Rite restaurants along the Iowa’s Lincoln Highway (which, sadly, I did not explore more during my Iowa days).
In Iowa, Maid-Rites are a part of everyday life. To be sure, not everyone eats at Maid-Rite restaurants on a daily basis, but you’ll see Maid-Rites on the menu at concession stands and fundraisers as well as family gatherings and school lunches.
When we spent a week in Iowa on our summer vacation, one of the things I had on our to-do list was to eat at Maid-Rite and share this native food with my kids. We almost were unsuccessful. Our first attempt was in Decorah, where we stopped at Walmart for camping supplies. I asked the young clerk if there was a Maid-Rite in town. “Maid-Rite? What kind of business is that?” I don’t think he was from Iowa.
Our next try was in Marion, where I’d taken my mom for her first Maid-Rite. It was closed for Sunday lunch, however.
Finally, in Tama/Toledo, just a bit away from the Lincoln Highway bridge, we were successful in timing our Maid-Rite stop.
But what’s a Maid-Rite, you may ask? Also known as a “loose meat sandwich,” the real Maid-Rite is browned ground beef with some secret seasonings, served on a bun. Purists will say that you should eat it with pickles and onions (correct me on this, Iowans) and maybe mustard, but never ketchup. They won’t run you out of the state if you change up the condiments, however.
In the private kitchens and concession-stand roasters of Iowa, though, any kind of sloppy joe or barbecue sandwich can be dubbed a Maid-Rite. It’s kind of like Kleenex or a Xerox machine. The word has become a part of Iowa life.
To get a real Maid-Rite, though, you need to look for a Maid-Rite restaurant. We found ours at the Big T Maid-Rite in Tama-Toledo.
We sat around the horseshoe counter, but there were plenty of booths available as well. It’s not a fancy place, just a diner with good food (and as you can see from the menu, they serve more than Maid-Rite sandwiches). It’s reasonably priced, and kids’ meals are available.
After we ordered, we were each given a spoon. I had the kids try to guess what it was for. No, we were not having ice cream for dessert.
The spoon is for scooping up the loose meat that escapes from your sandwich.
If you’re traveling through Iowa at mealtime, look for a Maid-Rite restaurant and see what you think of this local favorite.
Have you ever had a Maid-Rite?