The “pork tenderloin” is a sandwich unique to Iowa……and also Indiana. Go figure. You take a boneless pork chop, hammer it thin-like with a mallet, dip it in batter, serve it on a hamburger bun one-tenth the size of the meat.
Restaurants vary the batter recipes and seasonings. The “trick” seems to be to get it thin enough to suit the gimmick, but still have it retain juicy pork goodness.
The Iowa Pork Council publishes a list annually of the 10 or so “best” in the state, and if you want to hit them all, they make a map of the “Tenderloin Trail.“
I set out with the best of intentions, to hit at least half of the establishments, at least those in the Eastern half of Iowa, but I got distracted by other things and only hit two.
T.C.’s Point After, in historical DeWitt, IA (on the Lincoln Highway) is one of the legends, for flavor, not for girth. Walked in at noon on a weekend and there were only a couple other customers, even tho this is one of the few full-service bar/eateries in this burg. And the loin? It was delicious.
I was delighted that it was my first stop, but disappointed too, as the rest of the trip would be measured against this sandwich. Sadly, after 40 years of operation, I heard this week (2/1/18) that TC’s just closed. Hopefully someone will buy and reopen it. I would go back.
My second stop was the legendary Hamburg Inn 2, Iowa City, which is NOT on the tenderloin list. I went to please an old Iowa alum, as most students have passed thru this eatery since it opened in 1948. Sadly, the original location, near campus, was closed for remodeling, so I was forced to check out the new location on the east side of town, which is a small cafe attached to a gas station/c-store. Still a student hangout tho.
If you come for a “legendary” burger, be prepared to lay out some cash, as a plain burger will cost you over $10, and a hot dog over $6! Kinda spendy for students, but then when I was in college a picture of beer was $2.50 and a pizza was $4. So there you go. Even tho the Hamburg Inn is not on the tenderloin list, I went for one anyway, with eggs, as it was breakfast time.
It was a disappointment, cause I’d bet money it wasn’t made in-house, but came prepared from a supplier somewhere. I was able to ascertain that their regular pork chops come from Ruizicki’s Meats, a small processor up the road in Solon, IA. Of course, I had to run up there and check out their stuff, and yes, I dropped some dough.
It was at this point I got distracted from the tenderloin trail, and a lightbulb went off (“hey, why not check out small town meat processors in search of excellent sausage)?”
So I did. I hit Washington, Kalona, Wellman and Riverside. In a store in store in Kalona, which had general merch but also a lot of locally produced food stuffs, including a bit in a freezer, I inquired after the legendary “Kalona Whole Hog Sausage” which I had the pleasure of consuming some years early on an Iowa hog far. The proprietor’s eyes glazed over, he knew what I was talking about, and told me that every year the local fire department put on a sausage feed which featured this legendary tubular nutritional delivery vehicle, but no, he didn’t carry it, nor did he know where to get it
Like in most small towns in America, he did want to be helpful and suggested I talk to the fire chief, as he was in charge of the annual fete. I was told he would be in the hardware story kitty-corner. So I ambled across the street.
The fire chief was out doing what fire chiefs to, but the clerk steered me to the source, Bud’s Custom Meats, in the next town of Riverside, IA. Apparently Bud’s is known far and wide for their beef jerky, but they have freezers full of every kind of pork cut a hog eater like me would desire. If you don’t know, Riverside, IA is famous because in the future, it will be the birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. No, not kidding. They celebrate it, too.
I loaded up on sausages, some ham, and “Iowa Chops,” two inch thick bone-in pork chops. If you’ve never had them…well….bucket list, really.
It was at that point I had to go north, I was due in New Glarus, WI, “The Switzerland of America,” one of my favorite places.
I’d like to complete the Tenderloin Trail, all in one shot. Maybe someday. Resources, you know.
I goofed around with making tenderloins at home this week, admittedly using a couple of “cheats.” You can read about that adventure by scrolling down or jump!.