Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Loose meat burgers served with spoon hook customers

Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 09/16/2010 10:36 AM

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Tendermaid Sandwich Shop

Location: 217 Fourth Ave. N.E., Austin, Minn.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Known for: Original Tendermaid loose meat sandwich.

Price: $3.10 plus tax.

Also known for shakes and malts.

Most popular malt flavor: Chocolate.

Price of chocolate malt: $3.75

Call them at (507)437-7907

Other services: Take-out available.

AUSTIN, Minn. — A simple recipe of ground meat steamed fresh everyday has been a winning recipe for an Austin eatery for more than 72 years.

Jerry and Mildred Thatcher started Tendermaid Sandwich Shop in August 1938 and ran it for 30 years. Jerry built the tidy cafe on Fourth Avenue Northeast because it was the busiest part of town, said Sara White, who bought the restaurant with her husband, Gary, in April 1997.

"My husband — it was his dream to own this," Sara said, standing inside the horseshoe-shaped dining counter. They would drive by while dating and he would tell her that someday it would be Whitey's Tendermaid.

The couple are the sixth owners of the Austin icon and they are family friends with the family of the original owners.

The Whites updated a few things in the back when they bought the business 13 years ago, but they've kept most everything else the same.

"All in all, people come to see things the way they used to be," White said.

The 17 red upholstered stools ring the white formica countertop that's speckled with brown. In the center of it all sits the cooker. The meat is cooked where everybody can see it, White said. There are no additives.

The meat is crumbled as it browns and the grease drains out. It's the healthy way to eat ground beef, White said.

"We don't have anything grilled," she said.

The burger is wrapped in a red-and-white checked wrapper and served with a spoon.

Condiments remain the same as they did in 1938: catsup, mustard, pickle and onion, but more have been added to appeal to today's taste buds. Newer condiments include the popular jalapenos, relish, bacon, ranch, tabasco, thousand island, barbecue sauce and mayonnaise.

The entire menu is in the Austin phone book, with red and white accents of course.

In July 2008, the Tendermaid was honored in Minnesota Monthly as home to the 14th best burger in the state. They didn't know a food critic had been there until they received a call from a photographer, White said. It was one of only two southern Minnesota burgers to make the list of 18.

Besides burgers, the Tendermaid is known for shakes and malts. Flavors available include: cherry, banana, strawberry, butterscotch, pineapple, black raspberry, chocolate, root beer, vanilla, mint or any combination of the above flavors.

Also popular is the Tender Dog, a hot dog with loose meat, bacon and condiments of your choice.

Most people come for the original loose meat sandwich, but specialty burgers including the western burger, bacon ranch burger and chili cheeseburger are gaining fans, White said.

She said they can always tell when there's a reunion in town, because people who have moved away suddenly show up at the counter.

"It's one of those places people come back to," White said.

It's also one of those places where people strike up conversations with the people sitting next to them on the bar stool or with the employees tending the burger.

It's like a family, White said.