In addition to having one of the nation’s most outstanding universities of science and technology, Rolla, Missouri, has Maid-Rite sandwiches. This is a distinction worth noting, as I will explain. Let me put it this way: What Ted Drewes is to frozen custard, Maid-Rite is to loose sandwiches.
Even so, you’ve probably never heard of this franchised burger joint, unless you’ve lived in Rolla, Hannibal or Lexington, Missouri. Illinois has two locations: Quincy and Moline. Iowa, the birthplace of Maid-Rite back in 1926, has 26 remaining sites, where you can still eat the addictive beef crumble with mustard and dill pickles. It all began when Fred Angell, an Iowa butcher, created the sandwich 90 years ago and tested it on a friend, who gleefully proclaimed: “This burger’s made right!”
The loose burger on the soft, steamed bun has developed generations of cult-like followers. I must admit that I’m one of them. When I’m in Rolla for a weekend at the farm, I’ve been known to drop by for a Maid-Rite fix. I forego the cheese; it corrupts the flavor of the beef.
Burger fans removed from their favorite source have tried to duplicate the sandwich. Copycat recipes abound. Some say the secret ingredient is Coke, 7-Up, beer, Kitchen Bouquet, or paprika. Others claim it’s the steaming of the mashed beef in water or beef stock on low heat for hours that makes the difference.
Clever culinary sleuths have also attempted to clone the recipe by using Lipton Onion Soup Mix, chicken broth, or a steamer pot. But aficionados say that no matter what you do, you won’t achieve the right outcome at home, because the sandwich must be wrapped in waxed paper before serving to enhance the steaming process.
We’ve come a long way from dainty cucumber tea sandwiches enjoyed by the Queen to monstrous mounds of mutton on a pretzel roll endorsed by Miracle Max—“a MLT, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.” Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches, crumbled to perfection and overlayed with mustard and dill pickles, are somewhere in between these extremes.
If you’re driving along somewhere in middle America and come within a few hundred-miles of a Maid-Rite, you might want to consider a detour to take in one of these classic burgers.