I was adding some video selections to the Weekend Driver store this morning when I checked the website for the old Maid-Rite chain. Food Network’s Alton Brown visited one in Iowa during his River Run second-season of the Feasting on Asphalt miniseries. I visited a different location during my 1998 month there while working on disaster recovery.

If you’ve never heard of Maid-Rite, you’re probably not alone. This is a franchise outfit that dates back to the 1920s and serves what’s called a “loose-meat sandwich.” It’s a sloppy joe without the tomato sauce, served on a white-bread burger bun. Waitresses scoop out of a big tank in the middle of the cafe and slap it on the buns. It’s classic Midwest bland, but well worth experiencing if you’re exploring the culture of this country. Check out the video if you’re nowhere near Iowa.

Anyhow, putting Brown’s video in the store got me to do a search for Maid-Rite. Seems the master franchisee is still around and is trying to revitalize the place. They even have TV commercials and a stream of an episode from Mark DeCarlo’s Taste of America show on the Travel Channel. It shows one of the new restaurants and goes over how they make them. This restaurant looks like a standard fast-food chain store, with bright colors on the walls and uniforms.

Brown’s restaurant looked like the the one I visited, out in the middle of nowhere, waitresses who had been there since 1926 (or at least 1976) and colors as bland as the food. I do have to say the pie was great, which is something you’ll find a lot of in Midwest road restaurants.

Either way, I’m glad somebody’s trying to make a go of it in the 21st century, while operators are still doing it the old 20th century way. Put a visit to one of the rural sites on your next itinerary.

In some ways, this comparison is like our own local burger chain in San Diego, which you may have heard of, Jack In the Box. One of the biggest in the country started not far from where I’m writing this and there are still some of those original, 1950s drive-thrus around. It’s a real trip to visit one. The food is the same as in one of their hip, new outlets, but sitting outside on the concrete tables has its own charm.

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