Take a lean, boneless cut of pork from the loin, pound it out until it’s the size of a dinner plate, bread it, fry it and slap it inside an undersized bun, and you have what’s known in the Midwest as the pork tenderloin sandwich.
In Indiana, it’s what’s for dinner, lunch and, sometimes, even breakfast.
The crispy, meaty sandwich is an institution in the Hoosier State, where seemingly every restaurant has some version of it on the menu. To be sure, the pork tenderloin is a big deal in some other Midwestern states, such as Iowa, which leads the nation in pork production.
But in Indiana, they’re ubiquitous. Destination restaurants, sports bars, college hangouts – even some gas stations – tempt their diners with fried pork on a bun. Local legend holds that Nick’s Kitchen, a homey little diner in Huntington, near Fort Wayne, was the first to beat out a tenderloin, bread it and fry it. Now, they’re everywhere.
“Anywhere you go in Indiana, you’re gonna see ’em,” said Casey Kehrer, who co-owns the Historic Steer-In in Indianapolis.
The Indiana Foodways Alliance has created the Tenderloin Lovers Trail to memorialize the sandwich and offer suggestions on where to find it. It’s signed up 52 spots around the state, from 33 Brick Street in French Lick, to Under the Arch Restaurant in Marshall. You can find the guide at the alliance’s website, with links to the eateries on the trail.
Indiana’s pork tenderloins come in a variety of styles. You can find them slightly thick, offering a nice bite beyond the initial crunch of the breading. You’ll see them pounded out thinly, often comically huge compared to the bun. Many eaters will cut them in half (or fourths) and pile the pieces on top of each other.
Sometimes the tenderloins are grilled. Sometimes they’re served with lettuce, mayo and pickles, although others prefer onions, ketchup or yellow mustard as condiments. Most often, they’re made from freshly pounded pork, not frozen patties, which some say makes them a fritter.
“People in Indiana just love tenderloins,” said Sue Bays, general manager of the Aristocrat Pub & Restaurant in Indianapolis.
We dive into 10 tenderloins from Indianapolis and a few small towns around the Hoosier State, with some sights you might see if you pay them a visit, in the slideshow above.