The burger: After a vacation hiatus, Burger Friday is back, with a bit of a twist. This week’s recommendation isn’t exactly a burger, but it’s close. It’s the Iowa tradition of the tavern — or loose meat —  sandwich. Its origins reach back to the 1920s, and it was made famous by the Maid-Rite chain.

This sort-of burger is exactly how it sounds; it's a ground beef delicacy that doesn’t go the pressed-into-a-patty burger route. Instead, it’s somewhat Sloppy Joe-like, minus that classic’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tomato sauce.

“It’s the sloppy Joe without the slop,” said Stephanie Bolles, owner of the Dakota Junction in Mound. Exactly. The sandwich has been a staple at her cute, modern-day Main Street cafe since Bolles opened the doors nearly two year ago. It’s an affectionate nod to her mother, who holds many fond memories at the Maid-Rite in the hometown of her youth, New Ulm, Minn.

“She was in high school at the time, and she’s now almost 80, so that was a long time ago,” said Bolles with a laugh. “But she said to me, many times, ‘Will you make the Maid-Rite?’”

Who could turn down a mother’s wishes? Certainly not Bolles, who went back to the drawing board “many, many times” before coming up with a suitable recipe.

The process couldn’t be more straightforward. Locavore-minded Bolles uses a lean, grass-fed beef, and it isn’t browned, it’s steamed. Not in water, but in a fragrant, flavor-boosting beef broth. “It crumbles as it steams,” said Bolles.

The end results are similarly basic. A heaping serving of that hot, flavorful ground beef is spooned into a well-made bun that gets the buttered-and-toasted treatment. Garnishes are kept to a mininum, just a generous swipe of plain yellow mustard, a few tangy pickle chips, a shot of sweet, hot-off-the-grill red onions and a slice of American cheese. Anything else would feel superfluous.

It’s delicious, and the winning Dakota Junction "Maid-Rite" is better than my memory of the actual Maid-Rite version that I enjoyed during my last excursion into Iowa (the company operates 29 locations in the Hawkeye state, and maintains three Minnesota franchise outposts, in St. Cloud, Bemidji and Brainerd).

“We sell a lot of them,” said Bolles. I believe it.

Price: $7.

Fries: Included, and nicely done. They’re skin-on, generously seasoned and suitably irresistible. 

Check it out: The sandwich is available at lunch, Monday through Saturday. For bargain hunters, Monday is the night of nights, when Bolles offers three $5 options, the best of which is, naturally, the loose-meat sandwich, with fries.

Bike it: The restaurant was designed to resemble a storybook small-town train station. Bikers, walkers and runners can rejoice in the fact that the adjacent railroad line has been converted to the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. It’s a pleasant jaunt westward to Gale Woods Farm, which Bolles uses to stock her pantry. Use the trail’s calorie-burning opportunities to indulge a massive slice of the restaurant’s divine carrot cake, which is packed with all the usual flavor suspects (golden raisins, pineapple, walnuts) and is baked by Bolles’ talented mother-in-law, Margaret Bolles.

Address book: 2281 Commerce Blvd., Mound, 952-479-1519. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

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