If you are the sort of restaurant-goer who is always looking for something different, Maid-Rite might be made for you. Burrito, barbecue and big-burger restaurants abound in 2012, but Maid-Rite truly offers something original: loose meat and Midwest cuisine.
"Midwest cuisine," you're thinking. "Didn't know anybody was really hungering for specialties from America's Great Middle." "Loose meat," you're thinking. "What the heck is that?"
Before we get to the meals, let's start with Maid-Rite's ambience, because even that is something a bit out of the ordinary. Brothers Bruce and Eric Lund, Maid-Rite's managing partners, have fashioned a cheery faux-diner look for their southwest Arlington establishment, with brightly colored walls, a tin ceiling and old-fashioned malt machines.
Sometimes your wallet dictates fast-food prices but you'd like to dawdle over a sit-down meal. Maid-Rite fits that bill nicely. This isn't the first Arlington outing for the chain, which gave it a whirl in 2009 as more of a fast-food joint but didn't last. Now with a larger menu and the diner vibe, it's back for another go.
We started our meal with fried cheese curds ($6.99), a Wisconsin specialty. The massive mound of curds (they squeak, you know) were breaded, deep-fried and served with ranch dressing. More flavorful than the fried mozzarella sticks many places serve, the curds were a little oily and heavy. If we'd eaten the whole calorie-laden thing, we wouldn't have had room for even a bite of our sandwiches, so we nibbled.
The bedrock of the Maid-Rite menu is the loose-meat sandwich ($3.89) -- think of a sloppy Joe without the tomatoey sauce. The ground beef was nicely seasoned, and with the meat thoroughly cooked, it's probably healthier than a burger dripping fat, but, to be honest, we didn't get the appeal. We'd prefer a solid patty with a medium-rare middle. The sandwich might work better with a thinner, moister bun.
The rest of the menu was much more successful. A colleague who grew up in Iowa was eager to try the tenderloin sandwich ($4.79), a Hawkeye State staple. Center-cut pork tenderloin is coated with cracker crumbs, fried till it's golden brown, and served with mustard, ketchup, pickles and onions on a steamed bun. My colleague said it lived up to the meals of her memories.
The pulled-pork sandwich ($3.99) is topped with a tomato barbecue sauce rather than the mustard-vinegar sauce traditional in North Carolina, which struck us just fine.
We tried a couple of sides and were highly pleased with both. Onion rings ($3.79) were skinny, like onion strings, and addicting. The smoked baked beans ($1.79) were both sweet and smoky-tasting, and hearty chunks of smoked meat gave them extra pizzazz.
But the highlight of our meal was the vanilla malt ($3.89). Our server brought both a whipped cream-topped glassful and the metal container that the malt was made in. Just like the malts that David and Ricky Nelson used to share with their dates at the malt shop, it was a sweet treat for two.
One of these days we'll work up the nerve to try the Maid-Rite beef sundae ($5.99): ground beef topped with three scoops of mashed potatoes, brown gravy, tomatoes, onions and shredded cheese. Take that, Burger King bacon sundae.
The details: Hours are 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Major credit cards accepted; wheelchair-accessible; no smoking; no alcohol served, but Maid-Rite has applied for a license to serve beer. Daily dining specials include $1 off tenderloin sandwiches Tuesdays and $1 off beverages Thursdays.