Friday, June 3, 2011

Cousins with a Serious Case...

of the munchies. If it seems as if Chuck, Dora, and I spent all of our two weeks in Springfield eating, that would be about right.

And we start today’s blog with a visit to a local landmark—the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop. “The Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop in Springfield, Illinois is one of the few remaining early Maid-Rite franchises in the United States. This specific shop claims to have the first drive-thru window in the U.S. The building, along historic U.S. Route 66, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984” (wikipedia.com).

“Maid-Rite is one of America’s first quick service casual dining franchise restaurants since we first opened in 1926. We were ahead of our time when we developed one of the first drive-up, walk-up windows for customer convenience.... In 1926, Fred Angell, a respected butcher in Muscatine, Iowa, combined a special blend and grind of the finest Midwestern ground beef with a selected recipe of secret spices and created the one and only Maid-Rite sandwich.... As legend goes, Mr. Angell asked a delivery man, at his restaurant, to taste his newest sandwich creation. After a few bites, the taster exclaimed, ‘You know, Fred, this sandwich is just made right’” (www.maid-rite.com).

To say that this place has minimal d├ęcor would be an understatement. The tables, chairs, and few booths are utilitarian. Art work? How about the menu over the order counter? Or the plaque containing “The Rules” (No Loud Talking, No Moving of Chairs, No Mugs & Plates Outside)?

For those of you who are not familiar with a Maid-Rite or loose meat sandwich, think Sloppy Joe without tomatoes. It is cooked ground beef with some (secret) seasonings. That’s it. Just cooked ground beef.

The menu at maid-rite.com lists a number of variations on this famous loose meat sandwich including a MEGA Philly Cheese-Rite. But the Springfield outlet sticks with the basics plus their take on the local Springfield favorite—the horseshoe.

And Chuck chose the "Shoe and a Beer" (a horseshoe and a home-made root beer). The horseshoe began with a split hamburger bun that was buried under a mound of pretty good fries. This, in turn, was drowned in cheese and finally covered with the loose meat. This might have been good except the cheese was that dreadful processed nacho stuff that was never in proximity to a cow.

Dora and I went with the basic Maid-Rites. This was not the Maid-Rite I remember from my youth. Or is my memory faulty? Not possible. The Maid-Rites that I ate as a kid were juicy and moist and the bun was filled to overflowing with meat. So much meat that it would fall from the bun to be eaten with a fork from the paper sandwich wrapper. Where’s the beef? And both Dora and I thought that the meat was way too salty.

What a disappointment. While the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop may be a 5.0 Addie nostalgic experience, it’s only a 2.0 Addie dining experience.

The next day found me at home and Chuck and Dora on their own. Although Chuck brought me home food from both of that day’s stops, information on both places is somewhat sketchy.

They started with Joe Rogers’ Chili Parlor which was seen on Man v. Food on the Travel Channel. Adam Richman’s task was to down five bowls of the tongue-scalding Firebrand chili to get his photo on the restau-rant’s “Wall of Flame.” (He succeeded.)

“When Joe Rogers was a young man, he ate a bowl of chili at a friend’s house and decided, ‘that was a great bowl of chili.’
...Wanting to achieve perfection, he experimented with many ingredients before achieving what he considered the perfect chili recipe.... Joe Rogers opened Joe Rogers’ Original Recipe ‘The Den’ Chili Parlor on December 31, 1945. Seating consisted of eleven stools at the counter.

“Despite the limited seating, Joe Rogers’ quickly became a Springfield favorite for chili made your way. Local lore holds that ‘cus-tomers would stand four deep just to get a bowl of Joe Rogers’ chili.’ Open till 3:00 a.m. in the early days, many a local will recall their favorite story of after a night on the town ending up at Joe Rogers’ eating a bowl of Firebrand.

“The flavor-filled taste and the spicy Firebrand have made Joe Rogers’ chili known worldwide. However, to locals, the magic is being able to order chili your way. Since the meat and beans are cooked separately and the spice is cooked into the meat, customers can specialize their chili to suit their taste” (joerogerschili.com).

You can order your chili mild, medium with a touch, medium/hot, hot, or firebrand. You can order beans, no beans, or extra beans. You can order regular meat or extra meat. You can order no oil, regular oil, light oil, or extra oil. Behind the counter sit vessels containing the meat, the beans, and chilis in varying degrees of heat. Like an ancient alchemist, the cook dips her ladle into the pots mixing the chili “your way.”

Dora’s choice was a small bowl of “medium with a touch.”

Chuck’s was a chili dog also with “medi-um with a touch.” And so was the bowl that Chuck brought home for me to sample.

First, “medium with a touch” is plenty spicy. I can’t imagine how spicy the firebrand might be. And second, this was really really really good chili with a high beans and meat to juice (as they call it) ratio. It is no wonder that this chili has an international reputation.

Their final dining spot of the day was at Taco Gringo which is one of Dora’s daughter Rebecca’s favorite places in Springfield. Taco Gringo has six outlets in Springfield and neighboring towns and this mini-chain describes itself as “a family-run franchise which has been celebrating over 30 years of good eats and great fun. We have established a unique style that has been appreciated by many people for many years. We have a wonderful blend between Mexican and American popular choices” (www.tacogringo.com).

Dora ordered a single beef enchilada with a side of refried beans.

Chuck chose the Fiesta Combo Dinner which came with two beef tacos, and a beef enchilada, beans, a small salad, and tortilla chips. Both Chuck and Dora exclaimed over the beans which were of the smooth pureed style.


He also got an order of the cinnamon chips—flour tortilla chips fried and coated with cinnamon and sugar. Some of these came home, and I can attest that they were delicious.

My take-out choice was a regular beef Sancho—a beef and bean burrito with cheese, lettuce, and sauce. This was one of those menu items that taste really good at the beginning, but about half way through, the aggressive seasoning takes over.

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