It wasn’t long after Bob and I got married that he showed me how to make maid-rites. They’re not hard to make. You just fry up your hamburger meat loose, instead of forming it into a patty. Then you put it on your hamburger bun, squeeze on your catsup,and try to keep it from falling all over the plate as you're taking bites of it. Why then, do Iowans make such a big deal about them? They’re a virtual Iowan institution. A few years into our marriage, I threw in a few extra things to make the maid-rites more interesting. That turned out to be a big no-no. They’re no longer maid-rites then. Why was I trying to turn them into sloppy joes?
We’d arrived on a very rainy day on Bob’s home turf in Oskaloosa. We’d hardly set our motor home down on the soggy fairgrounds campground when hunger pangs became more intense. We’d already decided on the way, in passing a Maid-Rite place, that we’d go there for lunch. We’d seen them in other towns but had passed them by. The sign over the door and the rug on the floor say simply,
As we walked inside, out of the rain, we suddenly found ourselves in the ‘50s. All shiny chrome, red plastic, and bright neon. Working in the Maid-Rite place were NOT teenagers, but actually people in THEIR 50s who, like us, had actually been around in the ‘50s -- wow, strange. There sat my image of a classic Iowan farmer, a big guy in cap and overalls, under the red and white checkered Maid-Rite clock, chowing down on a maid-rite.
Like the cheeseboorg-Pepsi place on Saturday Night Live, there may be other things on the menu, but just about everyone who comes here seems to order maid-rites. That includes the Mega-maid-rite ordered by my husband -- more meat on a bigger bun. The buns, by the way, are homemade bakery buns that are baked fresh daily and come in white or wheat, which was my choice -- satisfyingly soft, grainy, and very fresh. The French fries came either crinkly or homemade, with the skins on. Bob liked the puffier crinkle fries, but for me, the homemades were the hands-down winner.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression; the menu’s got variety. Breakfasts, soups, salads, all kinds of sandwiches and baskets, and a great fountain with cups, cones, malts, shakes, floats, and sundaes. On our second visit, we were handed coupons for free ice creams with our maid-rites. For low-carbers (though I don’t endorse that concept in any way, shape, or form), there are lettuce wraps and low-carb salads with 5 grams or less. A kid’s meal includes the mini-rite (too cute), chicken little-bites, and a couple of "dogs".
Legend has it that maid-rites originated in 1926, when Muscatine, Iowa, butcher and restaurant owner F. Angell cut, ground, and spiced his 100% prime Iowa beef to make a tasty sandwich. When he tested it out on a delivery man, the satisfied response was, "This sandwich is just made right." As of 2002, there were 83 Maid-Rite restaurants, most in Iowa and Illinois, but also in Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. If you want to try one but aren’t planning on visiting Iowa anytime soon, order some frozen maid-rite meat from Taylor’s Maid Rite.
The Oskaloosa Maid-Rite is located at 902 A Avenue W (Highway 92), phone number 641/673-6327. Check out their website.