Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A taste of Iowa

I went to a small liberal arts college in a small Iowa farm town for two years. It definitely was not a match for a city girl from the South Side of Chicago who was madly in love with an "older" medical student back home. My mom claimed my girlfriend, Barbara, and I chose that school because the recruiter who visited our high school was young and very good-looking. Probably so. But I didn't like Iowa, didn't like 3.2 beer--we weren't allowed to drink anyway. When you signed in from a date at night, a monitor asked if you had a good time, putting her face close enough to yours to smell your breath. I never felt comfortable with the social life, though Barbara loved it and has gone back to reunions. I guess I got a good enough education, although when I transferred to the University of Chicago as a junior, they made me take freshman English because I had "passed out" of it at the college and taken a substitute course in Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams. It was a fascinating experience that I recall with intellectual fondness--whatever that is. But Chicago deemed my writing skills inadequate--a nice irony since I've been a writer for almost forty years. Chicago also deemed me unable to qualify for an advanced degree based on my exit exams--another nice irony since I have a Ph.D.
All of that is beside the point, except to say that I carry good food memories of Iowa. In the basement cafeteria in a Cedar Rapids department store I learned to love a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise and blue cheese. I carried that idea home to my mom, who immediately adopted it. She used to pack a lunch for me when I was in school and working in Chicago, and she sometimes surprised me with that sandwich. I also remember visiting the Maytag cheese factory in Newton, Iowa--Mom and I were a bit dismayed that one of the workers dipped his bare arm into a vat of cheese to stir it. But later Mom used to send a wheel of Maytag blue cheese for Christmas, and it's the kind I buy to this day. I also remember visiting the Amana Colonies--a German self-sustaining commune--and encountering for the first time a family-style meal. The simple food--corn, green beans, potatoes, whatever--was served in bowls big enough to serve everyone at the table. A party of three? Didn't matter. You sat at a table for eight or ten and shared it with folks you'd never met. I loved it--and loved the plain, simple and oh-so-good food.
But what I've longed for ever since--and believe me, that's been a long time--is a good pork tenderloin sandwich. It may be that I remember those also from my time in the northeast corner of Missouri, but after all that borders on Iowa. Breaded pork tenderloin is served on a hamburger bun and to my memory the meat was always slightly peppery--and delicious.
I don't remember if we ate them at a Maid-Rite or not, but I read  recently in local food critic Bud Kennedy's column that Maid-Rite has come to the Fort Worth area and brought their iconic pork tenderloin sandwiches. My good friend Betty and I usually go to a nice restaurant once a week, but I'm tempted to suggest we get to-go food from Maid-Rite and bring it to my porch next week. I'll present it as a food adventure.
Maid-Rite is also the home of loose meat, which is just what the name says--ground meat not formed into a patty. In fact, that's their signature sandwich. Ground meat is sauteed with onion on a special grill so that the grease drains off and then piled on a hamburger bun. It depends on the franchise--some season the meat and some don't.
But me? I'm ordering the pork tenderloin sandwich. After all, where can you get dinner for $4.99. And then, maybe a giant shake to go with it. Hey, Maid-Rite, welcome to the Metroplex.

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