Most Roadfood is found in individual, one-of-a-kind places that sing of their town or region. However, there are a handful of small chains that somehow fulfill the Roadfood criteria – great local food and color – that we cannot resist. Maid-Rite is one of those. An Iowa institution since 1926, Maid-Rite sandwich shops throughout the heartland specialize in a very unglamorous but addictive version of what Midlands folk know as a “tavern” or “loosemeats” sandwich: seasoned ground beef that is stirred and worried as it cooks so it never clumps. The result might be described as a sloppy Joe without slop: a heap of flavorful, pebbly beef that gets piled into a bun.
When we stopped in to the Newton, Iowa, Maid-Rite, it was 9am, just after breakfast hour, and we feared that lunchtime sandwiches might be hours away. No, the cooks told us that the meat was just ready, as it always is this time of day for those customers who need their fix early. We sat at the counter and had a Maid-Rite and a Cheese-Rite, both with the works, while a veteran customer across from us called out an order of “Meat and coffee.” Alongside his cup of coffee was presented a good-size bowl filled with nothing but hot, seasoned Maid-Rite meat – no bun, no condiments, not even a pickle to distract his taste buds as he spooned his way to the bottom.
Once nice thing to know about the Newton Maid-Rite is that it has a drive-through window, so you never have to leave your car to get a bag full of sandwiches. A word of warning, though: once unwrapped, a Maid-Rite is virtually guaranteed to spill all over everything.
"Unique to Iowa, the Maid-Rite is also known as 'loosemeats' or a 'tavern.' Several years ago, when comedienne Roseanne opened a diner in Iowa, this sloppy sandwich was the specialty of the house."
"Maid-Rite is one of the few chain restaurants with real character. To the far right of this picture is the drive-up window, but beware: trying to eat one of these sandwiches in your car can be a very messy business."
"Maid-Rite's stylish logo dates back to the 1920s."
"We took this clean bag as a souvenir; the one that held our sandwiches virtually disintegrated by the time we had finished lunch."