I was attending the University of Missouri-Columbia at the time. Tucked away off Broadway Street in downtown Columbia was a drive-in eatery called the Zip In, sort of like Montezuma’s Dairy King or the Dairy Barn in Grinnell.
I was hungry, so I pulled in and looked over the menu. The “Zip Burger” intrigued my taste buds, so I ordered two and some French fries.
I received my order only to discover they were the Zip In version of a Maid-Rite, which I knew nothing much about. I took a bite and half the sandwich fell to the floor of my pickup truck.
That experience left me thinking and wondering where the beef was?
Being from Oklahoma, I had never heard of a Maid-Rite or a Zip Burger. I knew them as Sloopy Joes, an open-face delight with a ground beef, tomato sauce and spices poured over the top of an opened bun.
My mom would fix them for supper on occasion. The Sloopy Joe mix came in a can and Mom cooked ground beef and poured the mixture in the skillet and heated it to a boil, serving it hot.
I used a fork, not a spoon to eat them, like I would a piece of ham or some other meat.
It didn’t take me long after moving to Iowa to learn about the famous Maid-Rite. There is the original Maid-Rites and the knockoff versions, often referred to as a Loose-Meat sandwich, typically found at football games, family gatherings and community events.
If you are an Iowa native, you know the history of the Maid-Rite. According to Wikipedia, Fred Angell, a butcher in Muscatine, combined a special cut and grind of meat with a selected set of spices and created the Maid-Rite sandwich. He opened his first restaurant in 1926. By the end of the 1920s, four franchises were granted; these four restaurants are still in operation. Today, the company is based in Des Moines and operates 32 franchises in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio.
As popular as they are, I would much rather have a cheeseburger with a “real” piece of meat with pickles and mayo that doesn’t fall on the floor, unless I drop it.
Another popular Iowa food is Sterzing’s Potato Chips, a company based in Burlington.
I was living in Oklahoma when I first learned of Sterzing’s. A good friend of mine, who was born in Iowa City and lived in Burlington until moving to California at young age, told me about the famous chips. He came to Iowa to see his grandmother one year and bought me several bags.
I tried them and was hooked. On a few occasions, I ordered Sterzing’s on the telephone, sent a check and the company would ship them to Oklahoma via UPS.
I sold furniture in Tulsa in the early 1990s for a couple years and a customer came in one day. We got to talking and he said he was from Iowa. I mentioned Sterzing’s and he knew what I was talking about. He said he was making a trip to the Hawkeye state and would bring some Sterzing’s back. A week or two later, he stopped at the furniture store with a few bags, all at no charge. They were so greasy and good!
The company has changed the recipe to conform to government regulations on saturated fats, but I still enjoy them on occasion.
I’ve had to change my diet some in later times and I don’t eat as many chips as I once did. I have replaced chips with fresh fruit, yogurt and granola bars. I’m eating more vegetables and meat and less fatty foods. Because of my eating ,along with walking and moving, I’ve dropped a few pounds. I’m feeling a lot better these days.
I still enjoy pizza once a week.
And a column on food wouldn’t be complete without mention of my favorite Oklahoma chili. Ron’s Chili in Tulsa is thick and good. It has no tomatoes and no beans, unless you order it that way. Ron Baber, the late owner and founder of the restaurant, said spaghetti sauce has tomatoes, not chili. And if you want beans, Ron’s cooks them on the side and puts them in the bowl and pours the chili over the beans. Ron always said there was no need to cook the beans in the chili, that gives folks the gas!
With no tomatoes, someone once asked him what the juice was made of. “Lard,” he said.
Next time I’m in Oklahoma, I’m going to stop at Ron’s and enjoy a chili cheeseburger. It’s thick and good and there is no need for a spoon. A fork will do!
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.