Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches - an Iowa tradition
January 3rd, 2012
05:10 PM ET
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Romney, Bachmann, Santorum and the rest of the '12 class of G.O.P. hopefuls (along with the attendant hordes of media folk) have descended upon Iowa to make pals with the caucusing public over pork products and pancakes. A diner is a fine place for these aspiring candidates to chow down with the hoi polloi, but if they really wanted to show the locals that they're not just flying by, they'd have made right for a Maid-Rite.

Since 1926, Iowans have been feasting on the the iconic "loose meat" sandwich, invented by Muscatine, Iowa butcher Fred Angell. Angell began franchising the idea throughout the Hawkeye State under the name "Maid-Rite" after a delivery man he'd drafted to taste his creation purportedly said, "You know, Fred, this sandwich is just made right."

Whether or not the legend is entirely accurate, one thing isn't in dispute: Iowans' fierce adherence to tradition. For 85 years, the chain, which also has locations in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio, has stuck by its signature blend and grind of Midwestern beef and spices, left unformed and piled onto a bun - often described as being akin to a sloppy joe, minus the sauce. It's not pretty, but the iconic sandwich is popular enough to inspire at least one franchise to offer shipping to hungry Iowa expats.

And, for the first time in its 78 years of its existence, in 2006 the Marshalltown, Iowa outpost, Taylor's Maid-Rite allowed ketchup to be served on their sandwiches for the first time. Cheese made an incursion in 2007. Loyalists were wounded to the core, calling for boycotts and organizing Facebook groups like "Taylor's Maid-Rite does not care about Tradition..." where sentiments like "Ketchup as we all know is an abomination!" and "I cannot stand institutions that are stand fast on their policies only to change them to appease a few," abounded.

The Maid-Rite way fell further into jeopardy when the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals told the Taylor's franchise that it needed to change its signature process for preparing meat, which involved proximity of ground and raw meat, potentially resulting in cross-contamination. While parent company, the Maid Rite Corporation, agreed with the regulation, owner Don Taylor Short said he'd rather close the restaurant than change the way his family had been making the sandwiches for nearly 80 years.

According to a spokesperson from the Maid Rite Corporation, the franchise did eventually upgrade its cookers, but in the interim, watchdog publication Food Safety News reports that their business continued to boom because, "Many now stop in at the 'Marshalltown tradition' because they oppose 'government over-regulation.'"

Ron Paul? Your table is waiting.



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