An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit

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Davydd
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2007/10/28 22:06:43 (permalink)

An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit

Thursday morning I delivered my wife to the airport so she could fly to Washington DC to visit our granddaughter. I wasn't about to sit at home by myself so I decided one last pork tenderloin pursuit in the camper van was in order. My destination this time was west central Iowa since the 2007 Iowa Pork Producers Association best breaded tenderloin sandwich was awarded to Larsen's Pub in the Danish heritage town of Elk Horn. Incentive ran high in that nearby Darrell's Place in the tiny berg of Hamlin was a previous winner and BlizzardStormus here on Roadfood.com wished us road fooders would visit his Farmer's Kitchen in the seemingly metropolitan town of Atlantic (they have a Wal-Mart). I was on my way.

However, first stop was in northeast Iowa just across the Minnesota border but I will get to that later. I drove to Lake Anita State Park about 12 miles east of Atlantic to establish a beach head. This is the third Iowa state park that I have stayed in that was established on what is basically a reservoir with camping and picnicking but very little wilderness. Camping provisions are great and inexpensive. I might add it beats spending a night boondocking in a Wal-Mart parking lot.



Then I proceeded on to Atlantic and the Farmer's Kitchen. The Farmer's Kitchen is downtown. You can hear the Thursday night auction taking place a block away, "Who'll gimmie, who'll gimmie. . . sold!" in the background.



There I met Blizzardstormus and his mother. The Farmer's Kitchen received an honorable mention best breaded tenderloin sandwich in 2005 so naturally that is what I had. It was made from a six ounce pork loin and was very good. Blizzardstormus and I traded ideas in making it a 2008 winner.



I could not leave with trying his Mom's top selling home made pie. So I had the sour cream raisin. Mom admitted she did not like raisins but it was a top seller. I like raisins and could see immediately why on first bite it was a top seller.



I retired that night at the campground on a very full stomach and managed to sleep 10 hours under a full moon. There were only about a half dozen of us adventurous souls in a campground with about 180 campsites.



The next day for lunch I headed over to Elk Horn known for its Danish immigrant heritage. To kill the morning I stopped at the Danish windmill that originally built in Denmark in 1848, dismantled in 1975 and reassembled in Elk Horn in 1976.



When Larsen's Pub opened at 11 AM I walked down the street and entered. It was about a block away from the windmill on the main street right next to the town hall.



I plumped myself at the bar next to the award plaque and ordered their tenderloin. It was a very deserving tenderloin also cut from a pork loin of about 7 ounces. Was it the best? Admittedly slightly better than the Farmer's Kitchen but I would have to put last years winner, the Townhouse Supper Club, a tad above. I thought I would eat half of it and take out the other half for later but I ate the dang thing. OK, it was good.



I was now three tenderloins in, satisfied, and on my way home. I decided I would take the back roads through farm country and observe the fall harvest. Well, that put me smack dab just another 11 miles in Hamlin, nothing but a cross roads, and there was Darrell's Place in a yellow metal building wooing me.



Two lunches? I had to see the 2003 winner. I might never make it back. I caved and went in and sat at the bar counter. Little did I know that I sat down next to the owner, Jeff. He and his wife took over the restaurant from his parents last year. I still didn't know if I actually wanted a tenderloin or just maybe see one, or just maybe order one to go and stick in my refrigerator. Since I was there and talking to Jeff I ordered one. Luckily it was cut from a pork loin personally by Jeff at 4 ounces and not an eighth of an ounce over or under according to his trained eye. The sandwich was much more modest than the others (and less expensive) but was just as good. I got to talking so much I almost forgot to take a picture and was already two bites into it.



Thank heavens I didn't eat a breakfast. I thought I better get home before cardiac arrest. But danged if my GPS wasn't taking me right through Humboldt in north central Iowa. Yep, the 2007 second place winner, Rustix restaurant was there.



Again, I said to myself I might never make it back and the judges said it was a close second place finish. Against better judgment I stopped in about 4 PM too early for dinner. I was there so I ordered a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and their tenderloin. It was a bit larger pork loin cut and was breaded with corn flakes. Rustix Restaurant was a bit more upscale than the other typical Iowan places I had been in. It was more typical of the kind of places I encountered in Indiana. Rustix fell victim to two faults I've had with places like that. Whoever prepped the pork loin did not know how to cut out the gristle even though it is so easy to do so. Secondly it was fried a tad greasy which is a trait when you try to serve a too large and too thick tenderloin. The taste was good.



I ate half and doggy bagged the remainder and definitely headed for home. This now brings me full circle to the beginning saving the first and best for last. There were 44 nominees for the 2007 contest. I noticed there were several past winners, runner ups and honorable mentions on the list but over the years, to my knowledge, there had never been any repeats. There are a lot of restaurants and diners serving breaded pork tenderloins in Iowa but I found it fascinating no restaurant could repeat with 5 chances each year to do so.

On my way down I detoured over to Mason City on an email recommendation from two different people - one local and current and one who moved away years ago. My thoughts were that this could be another Igloo (Peru, IL) or Mug'n'Bun (Speedway, IN) disappointment. The destination was a diner not on the list of 44 nominations. It was the Suzie-Q Cafe, a classic Valentine Diner built in 1948 in Wichita, KS and shipped to the site. The history of these diners can be found here and could be a roadfood pursuit to find the 40+ still in business.

http://kshs.org/diners/index.htm

This diner was a tiny 10 stool diner in downtown Mason City.



Here is an interior 360 degree view.

http://www.masoncitynet.com/virtual_tours/news/suzieq/

Now about that tenderloin. It wasn't breaded. It was battered in a peppery batter and maybe that was not why it was on the "breaded" pork tenderloin sandwich nomination list. Who knows? Suzie-Q Cafe has had several owners over the years and was taken over by Troy Levenhagen and family last year. Troy is also known as Levey the Great and is a magician for hire. Let's say his tenderloin is magic but it really is a recipe he took over called Spic'n'Span. Spic'n'Span? I forgot to ask. But there is something magical about this tenderloin. It tasted absolutely great and if you want a unique experience in sandwich tasting this definitely is the one.



All in all, I drove over 900 miles in two days on this pursuit all on the back roads mostly in Iowa. Iowa is farm country all the way to its four borders. It is mainly corn and hogs. Combines were busy in the fields. Tractors and loaders slowed me down on several roads. Trucks were busy hauling corn to full grain elevators in tiny bergs about every 6 miles. It was bustling and it was satisfying to see the hard workers everywhere including the patrons in all the restaurants I stopped in. God, it was pure Americana. Iowans should be proud.
#1

31 Replies Related Threads

    cecif
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/28 22:11:49 (permalink)
    Nifty stuff! Great report Davydd!!!!
    And I'm all psyched that I got to see the camper van too!!!!
    I loved driving the backroads in Iowa, among others. And with all that eating & driving it's tough not to sleep 10 hours.
    Thanks!
    #2
    Big_g
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/28 23:21:12 (permalink)
    Man you're killing me with those GREAT photos. Thanks for the show and tell... I would've tried to eat them all too.
    #3
    ScreenBear
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/28 23:28:22 (permalink)
    A very entertaining report. Nostalgic, too. I went to college in Iowa in the 1960s. Never had a BPT. Who knew? I wanted hot dogs and hamburgers.

    But, until I return to Iowa for a visit, I'm vicariously enjoying your quest. Good show.
    The Bear
    #4
    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 00:23:21 (permalink)
    I have to tell you, I've never even seen a pork tenderloin sandwich (except in your pictures), but you're making me a believer. I don't know how much longer I can go before trying one somewhere.
    #5
    BigGlenn
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 00:40:52 (permalink)
    Now folks................that's a Trip Report!

    Excellent!

    I won't sit thru a family members vacation photo slide show but I will read every one of these trip reports. They do have to include pictures. Thanks again for a great trip report.

    #6
    mr chips
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 05:56:08 (permalink)
    What great photos of a marvelous regional food!
    #7
    Nancypalooza
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 10:51:52 (permalink)
    Davydd can you put into words what makes a great BPT? Is it the seasoning or the cut of the meat, or combination? I've had much less experience than you--I thought the Mug-n-Bun version was acceptable--and I just want to know what to look for next time I'm in this part of the country.
    #8
    Davydd
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 11:58:47 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Nancypalooza

    Davydd can you put into words what makes a great BPT? Is it the seasoning or the cut of the meat, or combination? I've had much less experience than you--I thought the Mug-n-Bun version was acceptable--and I just want to know what to look for next time I'm in this part of the country.

    Nancy,

    I recently covered this subject in detail on this page in the huge Pork Tenderloins thread in the Sandwich Forum here...

    http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=423&whichpage=27

    The Mug'n'Bun used to be a true tenderloin and was very good. Now it is a fritter or a Sysco like made up sandwich akin to McDonald's Chicken McNuggets to give a more familiar example. The Mug'n'Bun is not even close to a good BPT. You could consider the Mug'n'Bun acceptable like you would consider a Big Mac acceptable as a hamburger. It is not like it would taste foul. It just doesn't compare.

    There are many good tenderloins out there. Just about every small Iowa town has a place like the ones I showed. But if you want the pork experience one time there are two places I would now put above all the others. They would be Nick's Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana
    and the Suzie-Q Cafe in Mason City, Iowa mentioned in this report. If you just want the "I can't believe it is a sandwich" experience, the St. Olaf Tap in St. Olaf, Iowa is the place.

    Nick's Kitchen, Huntington, Indiana Tenderloins


    St. Olaf Tenderloin billed as the "World's Largest"

    #9
    rongmtek
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 12:52:30 (permalink)
    Great job- you definitely took one (or was it six? I lost count!) for the team.
    This is not a sandwich to be found in my neck of the woods, so it was instructional, too. Thanks.
    Ron
    #10
    blizzardstormus
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 19:05:02 (permalink)
    Davydd, Thanks for making the trip and risking taste buds and stomach with so many tenderloins. It was great finally meeting a fellow Roadfoodie and having a fantastic conversation with you. We are definitely trying some of your suggestions to take our BPT to the highest level.

    By the way, a superlative travel report. I envy your picture-taking.
    #11
    wanderingjew
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 19:39:54 (permalink)
    Forget the tenderloin
    That Sour Cream Raisin Pie looks Great!!
    #12
    blizzardstormus
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 19:43:10 (permalink)
    The sour cream raisin pie is our biggest seller and my mom HATES making it! Thank goodness she won't let me make the pies. (my meringue sucks)
    #13
    wanderingjew
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 19:53:02 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by blizzardstormus

    The sour cream raisin pie is our biggest seller and my mom HATES making it! Thank goodness she won't let me make the pies. (my meringue sucks)


    Tell Mom to make a fresh batch because it looks like I'll be
    stopping by next spring on the way up to the College World Series in Omaha!
    #14
    Davydd
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 19:54:43 (permalink)
    Pork tenderloin sandwiches . . . pies. If I keep going on like this I am going to have to switch my pursuits to best eating apples for my health. But, alas, I have already decided. Honeycrisp!
    #15
    ann peeples
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 20:13:05 (permalink)
    Great pictures, fun report to read-Thanks!!!
    #16
    Sundancer7
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 20:14:03 (permalink)
    DavdyD: Please give us your top ten as you have seemed to visit every one of the best.

    Paul E. Smith
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    #17
    EdSails
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 20:58:52 (permalink)
    OK Davydd......this is good...

    http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=4053&SearchTerms=top,hat,ventura

    but that looks awesome!
    #18
    Davydd
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 22:19:31 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Sundancer7

    DavdyD: Please give us your top ten as you have seemed to visit every one of the best.

    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN

    Paul, I would like to think I have visited the best. I've tried. I get a lot of email through my web site where people swear where the best ever was. Most don't pan out but the Suzie-Q Cafe did. The Top 10 is a moving target as I find more and more. I'll try to give a stab at it.

    1. Nick's Kitchen, Huntington, IN - This one sets the standard and the only one I am aware of that is prepared well in advance to be melt in your mouth tender.

    2. Suzie-Q Cafe, Mason City, IA - Not breaded but battered. Still it was so different with a taste explosion in your mouth that you realize you bit into something special.

    3. The Red Onion, Sheridan, IN - Everything is made from scratch right down to the large bun to complement the large very tasty well prepared tenderloin.

    4. Green Street, Brownsburg, IN - Very well made. Also they give you choices of grilled, breaded, battered and with ham and cheese. But underlying is a very good tenderloin.

    5. Townhouse Supper Club, Wellsburg, IA - The 2006 IPPA winner in Iowa and very deserving all around very good tenderloin.

    6. St. Olaf Tap, St. Olaf, IA - The "World's Largest" and definitely bigger than the oft-cited Joensy's in Solon, IA. Not only that but it was way better tasting.

    7. The Rockwell Inn, Morris, IL - This one was a chance surprise. I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. I flipped a mental coin between this place and the Igloo in Peru, IL and was glad I chose it. It had size, tenderness and very good breading.

    8. Jerry's Woodsweather Cafe, Kansas City, MO - This is a place to love and the tenderloins are made with loving care.

    9. Billy O'Neal's, Indianapolis, IN - Another surprise. I went there only because the bar was named after a high school classmate of mine. But wow!

    10. Muldoon's, Carmel, IN - An Irish Pub in old downtown Carmel. It was worthy and better than the Nickel Plate in Fishers, IN that was the winner of Indy Men's Magazine 2005 64 restaurant BPT taste down tournament.

    Beyond these 10 there are several deserving but interchangeable tenderloins as far as ranking goes. Then it gets into recommendations that don't pan out or tenderloins that were over-hyped. The over-hyped ones to not bother with and you would do better at Culver's in my opinion were...

    Mug'N'Bun, Speedway, IN - It was what one would call a fritter or a formed meat patty. The Mug'N'Bun's reputation was made on the former owner, Morris May who sold the place in the late 90s. Things do change.

    The Igloo Drive-In, Peru, IL - This had to be a Sysco supplied frozen tenderloin but Illinioisians rave about it.

    Joensy's, Solon, IA - Oft quoted and recommended and self-billed as "Biggest and Best in Iowa". Not even close. Too thin and breaded with corn meal. I understand the place was closed by health inspectors.

    Gnaw Bone Food & Fuel, Gnaw Bone, IN - Since closed. It got a lot of national publicity (including Roadfood.com) but I am sure it was more for the uniqueness of the name and the place (gas station) as well as some great promotion but the tenderloin was nothing special. OK, but not as good as stated. It can still be had at a nearby private golf club. That isn't the same.

    There are a couple more places in Iowa I want to try but am not expecting any Top 10 surprises. There are still several Indiana places that have potential from those that swear they are the best. The major ones are Mr. Dave's in North Manchester, IN and several in and around Indianapolis. I haven't got to all seven I know about right in my hometown of Speedway, IN (about 12,000 population).
    #19
    chainsaw
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 23:00:38 (permalink)
    if you want the best tenderloin in illinois you should head over to the small town of leonore (between streator and ottawa) and go to schmitty's... the place appears like a dive, is always packed, and is known for their HUGE tenderloins which cost less than $5!!!! i live near both schmitty's and the igloo, and all the real locals know that the igloo is overpriced and has bad food and service, but schmitty's is a rare gem!
    #20
    JRPfeff
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/29 23:08:39 (permalink)
    DavyDD,

    We are not worthy.

    jrp
    #21
    janicks
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/30 21:01:43 (permalink)
    David, Thanks for the great posts. It looks like you had a great time.
    I am honored to be your number one pick.
    I was wondering of you will be making a trip to Indiana anytime soon.
    Jean Anne
    #22
    desertdog
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/30 21:36:36 (permalink)

    Great job, Davydd! Thanks for doing the tour I wish I could do. I must make time to visit my childhood stomping grounds again. This year's plans went by the wayside do to work......at least I got to do it vicariously through you and your bride.

    Cheers.

    DD


    #23
    John A
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/31 07:24:11 (permalink)
    Great trip report & pics. Has anyone ever ate the whole thing at St. Olaf's, that's a monster? " />
    #24
    Davydd
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/10/31 11:40:55 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by John A

    Has anyone ever ate the whole thing at St. Olaf's, that's a monster? " />

    We were in the St. Olaf Tap for about three hours last fall. Yes, I actually saw some people eat the whole thing but I have to admit this was the first BPT that I brown bagged part of for later. The Tap was a place fathers seemed to bring their young teens in for their baptismal eating the BPT. That ritual was played over a few times that afternoon. Young boys eyes light up. They dig it.
    #25
    Perkeo
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/11/09 15:32:17 (permalink)
    I've been watching your breaded pork tenderloin persuits for awhile now Davyd, and I was just back in Iowa at the beginning of September, we drove from Minneapolis thru Mason City (mainly for the Prarie school/Frank Loyd Wright architecture) and then over to Dubuque (my birthplace). Anyway, my radar was definitely ON for the tenderloins, and I managed to spot Suzi Q in Mason City right away. Needless to say I grabbed one and as my first Iowa tenderloin sandwich, I was fairly awe-struck, really really good like you say, and to find out that it's now your top rated one in all of Iowa, man, what luck!!! I took some pictures at the time and was gonna post 'em but I procrastinated, maybe I'll get 'em up soon. I didn't have any more tenderloins on that trip (except for a fritter type at a Culver's in Wissconsin) but I did have an awesome meal at Northwest Steak house in Mason City (the other "must eat" there) and a very memorable visit to Breitbach's Country dining outside of Dubuque, where all the locals were crammed in to see themselves on "Feasting on Asphalt" on the food network! When Alton Brown was interviewing the owners and they were talkng about how Iowa family farms are dieing out, the place was silent, a very touching moment man, I all most cried! Breitbach's had a tenderloin but it was buffet night and I couldn't pass it up. FWIW, I noticed at Suzi Q that they also offered a non-battered, grilled tenderloin sandwich, I'm thinking maybe that's the spic and span (i.e. "clean") version? Didn't ask but it's a thought...anyway keep up the good work, I hope to go back next summer and track down more tenderloins!
    #26
    cecif
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/11/09 15:54:15 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Davydd

    Pork tenderloin sandwiches . . . pies. If I keep going on like this I am going to have to switch my pursuits to best eating apples for my health. But, alas, I have already decided. Honeycrisp!


    Goshdangit Davydd, I swear we are related!!! I adore Honeycrisp apples. One is sitting right here (amazed to find a late one). I once mailed Honeycrisps from VT to a friend in CA. I'd follow your taste buds any day (and you know it's not just the apples that make me say that...)

    Back to the topic at hand, or sort of, I found Leinenkugel's beer here yesterday! Yahooooo!

    p.s. Welcome to RF Perkeo & Belated Welcome to chainsaw too!
    #27
    Davydd
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/11/09 16:40:38 (permalink)
    Perkeo,

    Welcome to Roadfood.com. Don't be a stranger. If you find 'em post 'em. I seem to have stirred up quite a bit with my listing a Top 10. I'm getting feedback from all over. BTW, the Culver's tenderloin is real. it is not a fritter. Gotta give them credit for that.

    cecif,

    The Honeycrisp apple was developed by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in orchards just 3 miles south of my house. We go right to the source for ours. I noticed today in SuperTarget that Honeycrisp were going for $2.29 per lb and most all the other apples were selling for $0.99 to $1.49 per lb. I get them much cheaper from the Arboretum Applehouse store but it closed November 1 for the season. My property used to be part of the State Fruit Farm and before that the lands of Peter Gideon who developed the first apple to endure Minnesota winters, the Wealthy apple, back in the 19th Century. That apple could very well be the ancestor of the many apples the University of Minnesota has developed.
    #28
    Sfreader
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    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/11/27 17:48:26 (permalink)
    Great report, but I shouldn't have read it just before supper time. I'm drooling.

    I've had quite a few pork tenderloin sandwiches across Kansas in the past couple of years. Timbercreek in Louisburg gets my vote for the best.

    KEith
    #29
    ennajean
    Junior Burger
    • Total Posts : 6
    • Joined: 2007/12/01 15:45:00
    • Location: Manitowoc, WI
    • Status: offline
    RE: An Ambitious Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich Pursuit 2007/12/01 15:51:41 (permalink)
    Davyd your pictures of the pork tenderloin sandwiches add 100% to your report. Havent found too many places in our part of Wis that have them. But I'll keep looking.
    #30
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