Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Great Midwestern Road Trip and the Maid-Rite

It was Alton Brown who introduced me to the words "Maid Rite," though was already acquainted with the loose-meat sandwich from my childhood. As I've mentioned many times, I was born in a Great Plains state and brought up eating any number of meals that start with a square of shrink-wrapped ground beef browning in a non-stick pan. The meat cooks, and then you're ready to turn it into tacos, chili, or sloppy joes. On rarer occasions, we would have something that was a close cousin to the sloppy joe - a peppery loose meat sandwich on a bun with the condiments you would put on a burger. Not exactly a Maid-Rite, but close.

I think it goes hand-in-hand living in the Midwest that you inevitably take a long car trip with your family. Long, by definition, is anything over five hours. It had been years since we'd been on one of these trips when we all piled into a rental car over the weekend for a trip to Missouri for a cousin's wedding.

Dad, in an Alton Brown-esque move, took us out of Cincinnati on Highway 50. A more direct route, he assured us, and more colorful route than the interstate. He was right. And what should we find halfway through Illinois? A Maid-Rite, paired up with a Godfather's Pizza no less, Taco-Bell-Pizza-Hut style. Who could dream up these things?

We'd already made a stop for lunch about a couple of hours earlier, but we doubled back anyway and ordered two sandwiches to split among four of us and a round of chocolate malts.

Maid-Rites restaurants, as AB tells it, sprung up across the Midwest after the first store opened in the 1920s. They had kind of a mom-and-pop flair before they became a national chain. The Maid-Rite we found in Lebanon, IL had all the polish and blandness of a newly-remodeled McDonald's. Styled after a 1950s diner, it appeared to be run by bored sixteen-year-olds. One of them dropped off our order at our table.

We cut the sandwiches into four slices and ate, meat falling from all sides of the bun, littering the the table top. It was glorious, even if the "seasoned meat" wasn't seasoned so well, even if it was a little dry. It was a Maid-Rite. It was slathered in mustard, onions and pickle.

With four hours behind us and four more to go, we took what was left of our malts back to the car. Back on to 50, we gradually merged back onto the interstate and hit rush hour in St. Louis before the light outside dimmed and died. It was well past dinner time when we got to Kansas City, but we weren't particularly hungry. We picked at a couple of appetizers in the hotel bar, still thinking longingly of our sandwiches and malts.

On our trip home, we tried unsuccessfully to find another Maid-Rite on our route. I did find out that a Maid-Rite store has opened in the town of my alma mater, Oxford. Somehow, this slipped past my attention. Has anyone tried it?

It's reassuring to know that the next time I crave a road trip and a greasy sandwich, it's just a forty minute drive away.


jeff said...

Please Remember. Annie Oakley Festival - last weekend of July. Greenville, OH - Kitchen-Aid outlet store and an independent Made-Rite place - also known as the wall of gum. Let's get a group together and go! :)

Ben said...

Second the Greenville, OH Maid-Rite. I grew up there and it's an institution. It's one of those places that people who grew up there but have moved away always visit when back in town. The wall of gum has actually been replicated on T-shirts.

I believe the store in Oxford is somehow related to store in Greenville, or so I've heard.