Breaded Pork Tenderloin

The Breaded Pork Tenderloin is big in Indiana and Iowa – big as in size and big as in popular. These sandwiches can sometimes be found in other parts of the Midwest, especially in Illinois, which is sandwiched between these two pork powerhouses, but there is no place that displays the level of devotion to this sandwich greater than Indiana and Iowa. It has been estimated that breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches are served in at least fifty percent of Indiana restaurants. This sandwich is also listed on many menus in Iowa. In Indiana and Iowa, customers will ask for a tenderloin sandwich assuming it is breaded and that it is pork (an assumption that can lead to disappointment when traveling out of pork country). People in both states take pride in their prized sandwich and are politely dismissive of other state’s claims of pork prowess. Where is the true home of the Breaded Pork tenderloin Sandwich? It is really too close to call – this sandwich belongs to both Hawkeyes and Hoosiers.

Many experts place the birthplace of the pork tenderloin sandwich in Huntington, Indiana and credit Nicholas Freinstein as the founding father of this heartland creation. He opened a restaurant, Nick’s Kitchen in 1908 after years of peddling his sandwiches on the street. Legend has it that his brother Jake, having lost function of his hands to frostbite after an unfortunate wintertime carriage accident, used the stumps of his forearms to tenderize the pork. Today, pork tenderloin purveyors have found alternate means to tenderize the meat but it is still as good.

The basic breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is generally starts a large cut of pork loin. The meat is tenderized until it is the desired thickness, usually 1/4 inch thick but sometimes up to a 1/2 inch. The breading is customarily a simple mix of water, flour, salt, and pepper. Some places will add cornmeal or another special ingredient but the standard is to keep it simple. The sandwich is typically fried or deep-fried. The tenderloin is always significantly bigger than the bun which is typically a hamburger bun or sometimes a Kaiser roll. The condiments of choice are basic – usually pickles, often onions, and occasionally lettuce. In Indiana – expect mustard and/or mayonnaise while in Iowa it is most often mustard and/or ketchup. What a difference a few hundred miles can make. The sandwich is always a meal and taking some to go will have no negative effect on ones reputations with the locals.

Jim Ellison
CMH Gourmand

29 responses to “Breaded Pork Tenderloin

  1. The story about Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington IN has no merit whatsoever. They used beef in their tenderloin sandwiches for the first half of the century. The sandwich could only have come from the Czech community in Eastern Iowa.

    • any state that would put ketchup (KETCHUP?!? SUGARY TOMATO PASTE?!? REALLY?!?) on a good tenderloin loses all credibility. Sorry

  2. TRZIOWA is 100% WRONG! I was born and raised in Huntington, as was my father. My grandfather was born a mere 30 miles from here in the late 1800’s. That said, I can state with positive assertion, Nick Freinstein IS the originator of the Tenderloin sandwich as it is known. Always pork, not beef. Should you ever find yourself in our fair city, make sure to stop in at Nicks and check out the memorabilia and documentation of it’s history. You will of course be greeted with “Hoosier Hospitality” and made to feel welcome. In closing, I can only say the only place other than in Indiana I have had a Tenderloin worthy of the name was in Iowa.
    John McKinzie

  3. TRZIOWA is only wishing with no documentation that the Czech’s in Iowa started the pork tenderloin sandwich. Nick’s Kitchen is well documented and if one understands the history of the northeast Indiana region they would know it was heavily settled by people of German ancestry long before any Czech arrived in Iowa. The European version was indeed breaded veal as in traditional Weiner Schnitzel. But in America veal was not common and pork was always substituted especially for an inexpensive sandwich. The name veal persisted though it was not veal. The name is now persisting as pork tenderloin though it probably should properly be called a pork loin sandwich.

    Selling a tenderized and fried breaded pork sandwich from a street cart most likely required a portable method of carrying it and a bun and sandwich made adoptive sense. It is totally plausible Nick Freinstein was the first in starting with a street cart. To this day eastern European oriented restaurants still serve fried pork tenderloin in a more traditional way with gravy and if they call it a sandwich it is more likely open face style with two soggy pieces of white bread under the pork. Eastern European ethnic Chicago restaurants like Petros and New Archview are typical of this.

    The Czech’s in Iowa indeed had to have had their version as tenderized fried meat is ancient but they have no documentation they served a sandwich and derivative evidence might suggest they didn’t until the Hoosiers passed the idea on.

  4. Ya know, I dont care who started it, its one good sandwich! Here in Los Angeles I have only had one great one and it was at the OC Air Show. Place was called Derb’s and I tried finding them on the net. They appear to be setting up some lunch trucks and will have the same sandwich. Hope they hi my neck of the woods! http://www.derbsla.com

  5. I am from Iowa, and former Pork Queen, and I like what Dave from LA said. I have been trying to find one in Chicago since 1976 and they have no clue here what I am talking about! I have brought them back from home to show my friends that I am not making this up. I also have a friend from Indiana here, and we search for these sandwiches when we travel to southern Illinois. I just wish someone would start serving them here in Chicago. I cannot drive 4-5 hours to get my fix! By the way, I have also learned over the years, that they are also popular with people in Ohio as well. We need more sources for our beloved fried pork tenderloin sandwich.

    • if you’ll just get on 290 andf go south out of the city and stay on that road till you get to Indiana. you’ll fild little Crows Drive in on the left before youb get to hwy 41. He has the best tenderloin around. when I was trucking I stopped there all the time, haven’t been there for afew years now. hope this helps you’ll pass the right turn off for hwy 17w but do not turn off this road..

  6. Charlie Rogers

    I’m traveling on business to Indiana tomorrow and, recalling a conversation I had a couple of years ago on an airplane to Indianapolis about “the world’s best tenderloin” an hour south of Indianapolis, I went on line to find the place. (I found the Marathon gas station in Nashville, Indiana.) Anyway, I found this site as well. I want to let folks know that there are great tenderloins (by which I mean deep fried breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches) in Missouri, as well. There are a couple of great places in Cole Camp, MO, just west of the Lake of the Ozarks, for example. Ross’s Grill in downtown Kansas City served the best I’ve ever eaten, but they closed a few years ago. The Tender Shack on US 24 east of I 435 was another great Kansas City place. I don’t know if it is still open.

    • Dear Charlie,
      I just ran across your comment about the Ross’ Grill tenderloin in Kansas City. I wanted to tell you that Ross was my father! I worked a few summers in the restaurant, as did all my sisters. Dad was quite a character, as I’m sure you saw if you were a regular. But you are right; no one served a better tenderloin sandwich. I have not tasted one like it since he died. My half-sister, Annette, has an Italian deli in Riverside called Sorrento’s, and she serves one something like dad’s. Not as good, but good. you might try it.
      Thanks! Angelee (Cambiano) True

      • Not sure if this will get to you since you last responded in 2011, but I loved Ross’ Grill. The tenderloin was to die for, but I really liked their Turkey Sandwich. There was something about it that was different from other restaurants. I really wish that Ross’ had never closed. It must have been awesome to have great cooks in the family. Take care.

  7. Charlie Rogers

    I’ll share my Nashville, IN experience next week.

  8. Hey Charlie,
    I couldn’t find The Tender Shack by googling : ( Really looking forward to what you find. Great sandwich, The Pork Tenderloin. If you would like to guest post, that would be great. Just let me know!
    Midnight Snack

  9. Marathon gas station highly overrated. Much better ones inIndianapolis.

  10. The Tender Shack and Ross’s Grill are gone the corner cafe in riverside mo has agood one

  11. Lisa – you are absolutely right about Indiana tenderloins. I have no experience with Iowa’s but grew up in Indiana and miss those sandwiches. The most important thing you could add to this conversation thread is the name of a restaurant in the DC area where I can go get one right now.

  12. Bobby Stephens

    Nick’s Kitchen is what I remember when I think about a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich (Huntington, Ind.)
    I am from Atlanta, Ga.

  13. Where can I find a breaded pork tenderloin in the Cleveland, Ohio area?

  14. George Mitchum

    The Ice House on the south side of Indianapolis is probably the best the city has to offer (as tenderloins go). The building is an old Ice House (before the electric ‘fridge) and the door leading is is more than 5 inches thick for insulation. Bar on the left with high-def sports on TV and on the right is the “family” area. Quiet and decent place to take the family.

  15. I’m still looking for a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in the DC metro area! If anyone could clue me in, i’d be so grateful!

  16. i’m looking for the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in the DC area such as great falls, tysons, vienna,etc.

  17. Angelee,

    You’re right, your dad’s tenderloin was the best (Ross’s Grill in KC). I used to eat there all the time in 1979 when I worked downtown, and could not believe how big (not diameter, but thickness) it was. By the time I returned to working downtown ten years later, it was closed. Miss it!

    Steve Popejoy

  18. I winter in ft. myers fl. from ft wayne In. and a patron from ind. at Websters grill told them how to make pork tenderloins and they did it and they are really good!! they are now their best selling sandwich. Of cource all us hoosiers found out about them at webster’s and go there just for that. For a guy from va.who never heard of a pork tenderloin, he makes one that is one of the best I’ve had

  19. I’m a Hoosier and although I have tasted many excellent tenderloin sandwiches in my day – including in Huntington – the very best mouthwatering and crunchy tenderloin I’ve ever had is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Penthouse barbeque stands. Thick and fresh, yet well cooked. And regualr size (I hate the oversized and thin variety).

  20. Don’t know if Laura or Ann are still looking into this, but Murphy’s Irish Pub in Old Town Alexandria has pork tenderloin sandwiches. They are okay, but I’m from Missouri and have had far, far better. Sometimes you’ve got to take what you can get, and I usually get two when I’m at Murphy’s :)

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  23. Hi Lindsey,

    Thanks so much for reading! I look forward to further comment from you. Greetings from the east coast and enjoy every sandwich!

    Midnight Snack

  24. For those looking for a good breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in the Washington DC area, go to the Chuckwagon Restaurant in Nokesville, VA. The owner is a former Indiana resident.

  25. The owners of Grill 4 Hundred in Dallas TX are former Hoosiers. You will find it listed on their menu as “Famous Hoosier Classic Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich”. It is exactly what you are looking for if you are from Indiana and are in the Dallas area.

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