Eating Waterloo Iowa (it may happen to you)

I read an article in Bon Appetit or the like, extolling the virtues of the Maid-Rite sandwich, a “loose meat” riff on the sloppy Joe, sans tomato sauce. Maid-Rite opened shop in Muscatine, Iowa in 1926 and has since expanded into a seventy store franchise spread over six states (all in the South and Midwest). The article was all slice of lifey, leaving me with sepia toned visions of loose meat dancing in my head. My mother in law has treated me to her homemade version (delicious), but I needed to relish in the full experience…the ambience, and, only of slightly less importance than the food, the people watching.

To quell my hunger as I waited for the others to get ready for our maiden Maid-Rite voyage, I dug into plastic pint bowls of house-made cottage cheese and broccoli salad that we brought home from the previous days crushingly disappointing trip to the Amana Colonies (also included, bites of the giant, luxurious, six inch thick banana cream pie that we had carefully transported from the Blue Owl Café in Kimswick MO). It turns out, something spectacular DID come of that visit to the Amana’s


Cottage cheese is cottage cheese, but this was something magnificent; the curds were particularly large and toothsome, the mixture perfectly loose and perfectly bound simultaneously, and tops on my list, full and salty flavor, made brighter by the unexpected presence of chives.


The broccoli salad was equally surprising, with a visit to each region of the taste bud landscape; bitter broccoli florets, a dressing both acid and cream; sweet, plump, golden raisins, and salty, smoky lardons.


Maid-Rite, physically, was not quite the sweet old diner that I had imagined, but more an odd combination of boring and modern, with a hearty dose of corporate kitsch.


For years (possibly decades), MR offered only one version of their loose meat sandwich; over time, they have added the following iterations: cheese-rite, chili cheese rite, MEGA rite and MEGA cheese rite. Disappointingly, even this greasy spoon institution has succumbed to the pressure of gluten free dipshits and added a Carb Rite, your bunless, joyless, bastard of a sandwich.


At the bargain price of $3.69, I went classic


a pile of seasoned beef served simply with bright yellow mustard and pickles on an appropriately soft bun, served with a spoon for scooping errant flecks of meat. Regrettably, the beef was far less flavorful in reality than it was in my charming Midwestern lunch counter fantasy.


Someone in our group convinced us to go to UNA after


a Croatian bar and grill with all of the hallmarks of a poorly run establishment, crappy hot booze, cheap, domestic, bottled beer, oddly foreign dance tunes turned up to eleven, and a couple of dudes who were none to happy to have to put down their cigarette to get up and work.


I guess there is a Croatian “thing” going on in Waterloo right now, and the locals are none too happy about it.

We always stop into Whitey’s Locker Room when we’re in town


an establishment full of judgy old farmers who sit in gangs and ruthlessly throw shade at any and all new comers. We go to visit a family friend (not farmer-gang affiliated, a lone dog of sorts) who takes residence at a round table by the door every Sunday. Of course, Whitey’s is a shot and a beer kind of place, but what it makes it special, other than the no-holds-barred judgery that I am subjected to on every visit, is the Jim Dandy beef jerkey they serve; a dry, barky, peppery, strip of meat, perfect for a long, slow, chew.


Next up on the “Waterloo’s greatest hits” tour, the Lighthouse Lounge, via Dolly’s cab, a company with a zero tolerance policy towards barfers


The Lighthouse’s exterior gives zero hints as to what awaits inside


an insanely bedazzled bar, positively splattered in red, white and blue; the acid dream of a crazed Uncle Sam


The bathroom provides no respite


To call what the Lighthouse serves “pizza” is sort of a misnomer; it is more its own creation, with a thin and crisp cracker crust slathered in an uber sweet, pasty tomato sauce. I’m pretty sure the same dude has been cranking out those delightful discs for fifty some odd years.


And, an order of cheesy garlic bread, because…cheesy garlic bread (or deconstructed pizza, you make the call)


In need of one more local food experience before heading home for a backyard gathering around the fire pit, we stopped at Greg’s Place, because who could drive by this and not be enticed to come inside

20150822_231513342_iOSNaturally, the interior possessed an equally unenticing lack of appeal. As deadly as that atmosphere is to any notion of fun, Greg’s it turned out, had some noteworthy snacks and giant cheap beers. For instance, this meat pie isn’t your everybar menu item (Craotians again?)

The outer layer was a sort of blistered won ton skin which gave way to a pleasantly gelatinous, noodle like quality within. I’m sure it was probably something akin to phyllo, but Greg’s treatment gave it a refreshingly different dimension. The savory meat pie filling was remarkably rich and flavorful, and I must say that with this one, Greg delivered a very pleasant surprise indeed.


The nachos, like the meat pie, were in total contrast to our surroundings; thought went into plating them properly and using the (somewhat) right ingredients for optimal melt, flavor, and chip to topping ratio.

Finally, a meeting around the backyard firepit, without which, no trip to Waterloo is complete (obviously I have never visited during winter)


That’s what men look like after they have successfully started a fire. Not pictured, Jake’s grandmother, who appeared like some sort of apparition in full length nightgown, paper towels in hand, which she, in fact, used to start the fire.

We were not long for the backyard, as an aggressive Midwestern squall blew in, forcing us to take cover in the garage with our beloved banana cream pie, which was finally, blissfully, put to rest that night.


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