I know there are fans of Maid-Rite out there. I just don’t know any. The 86-year-old Iowa-based Maid-Rite Corporation is the most visible purveyor of something called the loose-meat sandwich, a scoop of virtually unseasoned finely ground beef dumped atop a cheap steamed white bun.* It’s like a sloppy joe without any sauce to hold it together or make it taste like food. It’s served with a spoon, because the instant you pick it up its contents spill out over its wax paper wrapper—or your lap.**

There are nearly 60 Maid-Rites across the country, most in Iowa and downstate Illinois. But up until last week my first and only experience with a loose meat sandwich was at an appealingly ramshackle Maid-Rite in Macomb. The defiantly unrestored aspect of this now defunct Hopper-esque shack might have been enough to redeem the experience, but the sandwich was served to me—the only customer at the time—with such sneering contempt by the sole worker on the clock that my usual reverence for regional oddities was wiped clean by a culinary bigotry that had me convinced that a person’s capacity for enjoyment of loose-meat sandwiches must be directly proportional to his level of Caucasitude.