By Jim Bridges
During my lifetime, I have eaten hamburgers in a number of venues. As a young boy in the early 1940s, mother and dad took me for regular visits to a doctor in Murfreesboro. After my appointment, we shopped and had lunch. Dad was friends with the DeGorges family that ran a restaurant on the square, so that is where we usually ate. They served huge, thick patty hamburgers that were hand-formed, and “dragged them through the garden” – added lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. In the late 1940s, when I was in high school, I would slip off to “that place” – a pool hall down on Wall Street, a glorified alley in the business district. Besides shooting pool, I quite frequently had a bite to eat. Their hamburgers were greasy but very tasty. They dragged theirs through the garden, as well. Mother enjoyed hamburgers and her favorite spot was The Waffle Shop, a small, family-run restaurant on the other end of Wall Street. Obviously they served waffles, but the favorite item for the majority of the hours they were open was hamburgers. Their patties were good, but the selling point was what they added to the patty. While it was being grilled, they opened a bun and put both sides in a warmer. When the patty was ready, it was placed on the bottom part of the bun. Next they added a large spoon full of garnishment. Here is why the spoon was necessary. The restaurant received mayonnaise in a large, institutional size jar. It was emptied into a large bowl. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles were cut up/ground up and mixed into the mayo. This was put into large jars and the spoons were used to dip it out and place it on top of the patty. Ummmm, good!
Fast forward to the present time. I have eaten hamburgers at most of the brands of fast food restaurants. Just about the time I began to think I had eaten burgers most every way they could be fixed, it happened. One of the joys of traveling is having the opportunity to try food prepared differently than what we are accustomed to eating. One such opportunity came when we were driving to Iowa to visit relatives. By making it a two-day trip up there, we are usually on I-80 near Williamsburg in time for lunch on the second day. At Exit 225 we found the Little Amana Maid-Rite Diner. The Maid-Rite name was familiar but this was the first one we had run across.
Maid-Rite – “Our name says it all”
Not your usual ground beef sandwich
On the menu is printed, “Too Good to Be A Patty.” On the paper placemat you will find this, “Famous for our fresh, ground beef, loose meat sandwiches.” How does their classic Maid-Rite sandwich differ from the competition? Let me put it this way: It has a wonderful taste and, instead of being formed into a patty, the loose meat is seasoned to perfection and served on a piping hot bun. When I eat a Maid-Rite, I have the feeling I am eating something that has been broiled, not grilled. It is the only time I ever use a spoon to eat part of a ground beef sandwich.
After eating our lunch I talked with the manager and shot some pictures. Here is the Maid-Rite history as printed in their menu. “In 1926, Fred Angell, a respected butcher in Muscatine, Iowa, combined a special cut-and-grind of meat with a selected blend of spices, and created the one and only Maid-Rite sandwich. As legend goes, Mr. Angell asked a delivery man, at his restaurant, to taste his newest sandwich creation. After a few bites, the taster exclaimed, ‘You know, Fred, this sandwich is just made right.’ Thus our signature sandwich’s name was born. Maid-Rite has withstood the test of time for over 81 years. Maid-Rites are cooked in a delicious special seasoning using our proprietary blend of fresh ground beef and served on a fresh warm bun.”
Angell opened his first restaurant in Muscatine, which was strictly walk-up. Later, a new eat-in building was opened. He and his son Francis Angell, opened a second restaurant, featuring a “car hop” or drive-in service, the first such service of this kind in the United States. A&W and White Castle restaurants replicated this service shortly thereafter. The first franchise was opened in Durant, Iowa, which still maintains a Maid-Rite restaurant. You will find restaurants in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. There are more units in Iowa alone than the other states combined.