Loose-meat sandwiches at Riverside Family Restaurant

The loose-meat sandwich at Riverside Family Restaurant. (Photo by Jeremy Oster)
The loose-meat sandwich at Riverside Family Restaurant. (Photo by Jeremy Oster)

By Jeremy Oster
Staff Writer

LOVES PARK, Ill. — When you walk into The Riverside Family Restaurant in Loves Park, Ill., you’re greeted by the smell of a home-cooked meal and a hostess with a genuine smile. The restaurant is cool and clean, and the storefront faces south, so you don’t get the sun in your eyes while you’re eating.

In addition to the front dining room and the old-fashioned lunch counter, their back room can seat up to 15 people for a business meeting or a family party. Wi-Fi is available, if you have to make your meal a working one.

The Muaremi family, who are the owners of the establishment, are a very hard-working family. While Holta oversees The Riverside Family Restaurant, Jimmy looks after Mustangs Bar and Grill in South Beloit. Yet, as busy as this family is, Jimmy still takes their three girls to see Mom for a family meal as often as he can. Seeing a family breaking bread together like that reminds you that you are supporting a local family business.

When the Muaremi family re-opened the diner in October 2012, they kept on the original employees. Cook Tony Mandell and waitresses Penny Lapinski and Beth Higgins have each been working for more than 25 years at former Rockford-area Maid Rite locations.

Mandell got his first job at the old Auburn Street Maid Rite as a dishwasher when he was 16 years old. He soon moved up to the position of head cook. When asked about his daily customers, Mandell said: “It’s a nice family atmosphere. Probably 75 percent of people are regulars. It gets to the point I can have folks’ breakfast cooking before they get here.”

It isn’t just breakfast Tony is serving up. Riverside has a full lunch menu, too, including their signature sandwich. Waitress Beth Higgins said, “This is the only place in Winnebago County that you can get a loose-meat sandwich.”

When asked if The Riverside Family Restaurant was serving the same type of loose-meat sandwich still served in Maid Rites across the country today, Higgins said: “No. Maid Rite changed their recipe. This sandwich tastes like the original family recipe they served years ago. There’s nothing fast-food about it.”

Higgins is a fun waitress, the kind the kids want to go and see again. She gets surprised every once in a while by a grown 20-something young adult who remembers her fondly as “the Maid Rite Lady.” She also has customers stopping in who haven’t been to town for a while who are happy to hear that though the name of the place has changed, they still serve “that sandwich.”

So, the secret is out. Now, the next time you get hungry watching a re-run of Rosanne serving loose-meat sandwiches at the Lanford Lunchbox, you know a great family place to get one around here.

The Riverside Family Restaurant is at 1726 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill. The restaurant offers a full breakfast and lunch menu, and is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday. Call (815) 282-5060 for more details.

From the July 16-22, 2014, issue

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