Anywhere, IA – Loose Meat Sandwiches

Oops, mixed my metaphors…or adages, or something.  A friend and I were emailing this week about how easy it is for certain foods to bring on a “home memory,”  some flashback to our earlier years and locations.

Whereas once we had to try and devise copycat recipes for whatever our particular craving was, now the internet is full of sites will send you a “taste of home,” whether it is New York Bagels, Philly Cheesesteaks, Chicago pizzas, or Kingcakes from New Orleans.

Our discussion was prompted by the fact I was telling her I was making “Maid-Rites” that day – a staple from my days in Iowa.  I described them to her, and she said “Oh, loose meat sandwiches,”  which is what these delicacies were labeled during some episodes of the “Roseanne” show.  Roseanne’s husband at the time, Tom Arnold, was originally from Ottumwa, Iowa (also the fictional hometown of MASH’s Radar O’Reilly, and not very far from Riverside, Iowa, the town where future Starfleet Commander James T. Kirk will be born on March 21, 2233.

Maid-Rites are an Iowa institution.  Created by Muscatine butcher Fred Angell in 1926, the sandwich’s first taster was a deliveryman who said “Fred, this sandwich is made right,” and thus began the name and the legend.

The sandwiches are crumbled, ground beef, cooked on a bed of onions, with “special spices” (I think it’s just yellow mustard) stirred in; they are served on a traditional hamburger bun with dill pickle chips.

They were the first fast-food franchise, back in the 20s, and the first four franchisees are still operating to this day.  They were ahead of the curve in other ways – they created both the walk-up, and drive-thru window serving options.

Distinctly an “Upper Midwest” kinda thing, I estimate there are about 100 Maid-Rites in operation; but franchises are available, if this essay is creating a gnawing hunger in you, of either the food or the financial kind.  While I don’t think they take credit for inventing them, at most Maid-Rite’s, you can enjoy another Midwest food icon:  mini-donuts.  Other than those two signature items, most of the establishments have a general coffee shop menu, with sandwiches, soups, and ice cream favorites.

The chain sometimes uses the slogan “Too Good to be a Patty.”  Although another Midwest institution, White Castle, is a few years older, and has grown to be many, many times the size of Maid-Rite, for Iowan’s everywhere, Maid-Rites are the burger of choice.

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