The Dish: A Cheese-Rite Sandwich at Maid-Rite

Occasionally, when I tell someone I lived in Iowa for a couple of years, I'm asked my opinion of Maid-Rite. "Don't have one," I say. "Never ate there."

The reaction is similar, I imagine, to what would happen if you told someone you were from St. Louis, and they asked your opinion on T-ravs, and you claimed never to have eaten one. The Maid-Rite loose-meat sandwich is an Iowan thing, like the smell of hog shit or the cow sculpted out of butter at the state fair (a.k.a. "The Butter Cow"). The original Maid-Rite diner dates back to the 1920s; it is now a chain of franchise restaurants based in Des Moines, Iowa.

I have no idea why I didn't try a Maid-Rite loose-meat sandwich while I lived in Iowa. It certainly wasn't because I was a snob. I was a poor grad student: I cooked ramen noodles for lunch and dinner; for a snack, I ate the noodles dry. The easy answer is that there wasn't a Maid-Rite near Iowa City, where I lived -- though a Google search turns up a location in Coralville, the next town over.

At any rate, when I heard that Maid-Rite had opened a location in Ferguson (260 South Florissant Road), I realized I had to go. I dropped by today and ordered the Cheese-Rite, $7.09 with fries and a soft drink. Below, what it looked like when it arrived at my table.

maidrite 001.jpg

When it's open? Find out after the jump...

maidrite 002.jpg

For those who have never eaten one, a loose-meat sandwich is self-explanatory: ground beef crumbled into very small pieces rather than formed into a patty. The beef (in this case topped with cheese) is served on a bun, which can contain maybe half of the beef; the rest spills out. I was given a spoon to scoop up the rest.

The flavor probably involves a special Maid-Rite "Top Secret" seasoning but is mostly salt and overcooked (though not burnt) ground beef. Maybe if you prefer your burgers well-done, you'll enjoy this. I didn't. The dry texture was especially off-putting.

I'm sure a devoted Maid-Rite fan would tell me that, like Guinness, the sandwiches are better closer to the source. I concede that this might be true. Though I'd bet it's more like the stink of pig crap: No matter how bad it is, eventually, you get used to it.

- Ian Froeb


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