The Maid-Rite Diner chain originated in 1926, when an Iowa butcher invented a super-secret spice recipe and applied it to ground beef to create a loose-meat sandwich. At least that’s what the back of Maid-Rite’s menu says. The locally owned restaurant in Arlington is the Midwestern outfit’s first Texas location.
Maid-Rite serves fried cheese curds, and that was enough to get me in the door. I was born in Wisconsin, where cheese curds are the unofficial food of America’s Dairyland. They’re the “un-aged” leftovers of cheese that have been pressed into blocks. Fresh curds have an odd, squeaky quality when you bite into them. I haven’t found a place in the Lone Star State to obtain fresh cheese curds, although Central Market’s cheese section provides a reasonable facsimile. Of course, the curds lose their squeak when dipped in fluffy, onion ring-style batter, as I discovered during a recent visit to Maid-Rite. I loved the appetizer, which was basically dainty fried cheese squiggles with a lovely tempura crust. My spouse and child, who both recently dined with me at this family-friendly joint, did not share my affection. The appetizer came with ranch dressing –– average generic stuff, not the real, Hidden Valley-style dip.
Maid-Rite’s claim to fame, though, is the loose-meat sandwich: Picture a Sloppy Joe without the tomato sauce. The Cheese-Rite features the beef with a slice of cheese, on a steamed white-bread bun. It was underwhelming, even with the added pickle, lettuce, and tomato. The cheese didn’t melt over the meat. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I think the sandwich would have benefitted from melting cheese or gravy. Or something. The spice blend on the meat was good, and the bun was soft and delicious. Still, I found myself wishing we’d ordered the Maid-Rite Beef Sundae: loose meat with three scoops of mashed potatoes and gravy.
As disappointed as I was with the Cheese-Rite, I was fairly ecstatic about the broaster chicken. Maid-Rite marinates the chicken, batters the bird with a light, un-fluffy coating, and then fries the thing under pressure. The result: Impeccably moist, delicious chicken. The marinade wasn’t anything fancy or exotic, but it made the chicken taste fabulous. The crust was somewhere between baked and fried –– not greasy, just slightly crunchy.
The fried chicken sandwich was also delicious. Unlike the broaster pieces, the chicken for the sandwich was a cutlet fried in more traditional, slightly peppery batter. The sandwich came atop a slightly sweet ciabatta-style roll.
For the sides, pick the smoked semi-homemade baked beans: canned beans with sautéed onions and a nice smoky sauce. The shoestring fries were also fairly good. Don’t get the potato salad, which was lumpy and kind of bland.
And save room for dessert. At Maid-Rite, dessert is mostly the drinkable kind. The chocolate milkshake came out as thick as freshly poured concrete and tasted great. You get the fancy malted glass with canned whipped topping and cherries, plus the leftover shake in its aluminum canister, so there’s more than enough to share.
Maid-Rite is selling a particular brand of white-bread (literally) nostalgia. None of the platters (including the meat/sandwich of your choice and a side) top $8. Walk into the neon pink, turquoise, and blue diner, and you practically expect The Fonz to greet you with a thumbs-up. The malt-and-burger-shop kitsch works, in part because the comfort food is mostly tasty and priced right.
4101 W Green Oaks Blvd, Ste 349, Arlington. 817-478-8600. 10:30am-9:30pm Sun-Thu, 10:30am-10:30pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Fried cheese curds ………… $6.99
Two-piece chicken dinner .. $5.09
Chicken sandwich platter … $6.49
Cheese-Rite platter …………. $6.09
Milkshake ………………………. $3.89