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The ur-myth of regional Midwestern burgers.


This weekend I was in Iowa, and had my first loose meat sandwich while in Cedar Rapids — known more commonly as a “Maid-Rite,” after the diner that popularized them. The Maid-Rite sandwich is a northern Iowa speciality, a burger made with loose meat instead of a patty, sort of a Sloppy Joe without the sauce. I enjoyed it, and as I ate, I read with interest the story on the back of the menu about the origin of the Maid-Rite in the 1920s:

[Fred Angell] worked to get just the right combination of a special cut and grind of meat and a selected blend of spices. When a deliveryman tasted Fred’s new creation, he said, “This sandwich is made right.” With that, the Maid-Rite was born. Fred was quite a sandwich maker but not much of a speller.

I thought this story sounded familiar. It is practically identical to the origin story of Minneapolis’ great regional burger variation, the Jucy Lucy, created in the 1950s. Here it is from the Matt’s Bar website:

…The “Jucy Lucy” was created when a local customer asked for two hamburger patties with a slice of cheese in the middle. Upon biting into this new, molten hot burger, he exclaimed “that’s one juicy Lucy,” and a legend was born. Customer demand grew so quickly, we forgot to add the “i.”

The exact same story: the cook is fooling around with some experimental meat processes, and makes a sandwich prototype. A customer tries it, and then blurts out an exclamation that becomes the sandwich’s name. The eccentric spelling is retained. It is the ur-myth of regional Midwestern burgers, like the story of a Great Flood. 

A great little thing about a great little thing. Check out this list of sandwiches, too!

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