In the ever-changing world, there’s one thing that remains constant in Indiana – you can find a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich just about everywhere you go. Today, Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Barbara Brosher dives into the history of this Hoosier favorite.
Bloomington resident Melissa Bower wanted to know more about Indiana food, so she met us at Come ‘N Git It in Martinsville.
“My question was what foods are Indiana originals?” Bower says. “And, the reason why I asked that question is because I’m originally from Maine, and when I moved here I noticed all the foods that I was used to were created a little bit differently out here.”
She’d heard of Indiana favorites like sugar cream pie and persimmon pudding. But, somehow, the sandwich many Hoosiers consider synonomous with the state never came up.
“People are so used to tenderloins that they just don’t realize that this food is part of Indiana history,” she says.
We set out to find out how pork tenderloin became so popular in Indiana. And, everyone kept pointing us to the same place.
Nick’s Kitchen Known As Home Of Indiana Tenderloin
Nick’s Kitchen has been a staple in Huntington for more than 100 years. Local entrepreneur Nick Freienstein opened the diner in 1908, after he found success selling hamburgers from a food cart.
But, Nick’s Kitchen quickly became known for another dish.
“He started selling his version of a new recipe, similar to the wienerschnitzel, that is now known as the pork tenderloin sandwich,” says Lindsey Skeen, marketing and media director for the Indiana Foodways Alliance.
The big difference between the two is that a pork tenderloin sandwich is deep fried, not pan fried like schnitzel. The dish caught on.
Freienstein sold his interest in the business to two local men in the 1920s. While owner Jean Anne Bailey’s made a few changes over the years, she says they still use a recipe that’s true to the original.
“The tenderloin itself, we slice them here and then we run them through a cuber which it tenderizes the meat,” she says. “And, then we marinate them. And, that is the key right there. We marinate them in a buttermilk and egg and flour mixture for more than a day.”
Then they’re breaded in cracker crumbs, deep fried, and served up fresh.
“People eat them different ways,” she says. “Some people fold them over. Some people eat all the edges around first. Some people just cut it in half and dive in.”
Year after year, Hoosiers vote Nick’s tenderloin the best in the state. So, it’s no surprise that people from all over travel to Huntington just to taste the sandwich.
Larry Wiedman is a professor at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne. He’s been bringing student workers here for years. And, he has his own method for tackling the monstrous tenderloins.
“When I come, I cut the edges off because they’re so much bigger than the bun,” he says. “And, then, I make a two tier.”
Like Wiedman, Richard Moorison is considered a regular at the diner. He started coming in the 1950s when he was in high school.
“It was a place to come, and there’s a lot of people in here we knew,” Moorison says.
You’ll get the same atmopshere if you visit Nick’s today, where Bailey knows many customers by name. Many say, after the tenderloins, it’s her hospitality that keeps them coming back.
Pork Tenderloin Considered Indiana’s Unofficial Sandwich
While Nick’s is often referred to as the birthplace of the Hoosier tenderloin, its prevalance in Indiana leads some to call it the state’s unofficial sandwich. Indiana is the fifth in the country for pork production, so you can find a tenderloin in just about every town.
The Sunoco near I-74 in Crawfordsville may look like a regular gas station. But, you’ll notice something different once you step inside. There are two small tables that are often full of a loyal lunch crowd. Many of them order the tenderloin, which owner Trish Schwabe hadn’t heard of until she moved to Indiana several years ago. Once she had a bite of a handbreaded one, she decided to start offering pork tenderloin at her gas station.
The meat comes from a local butcher in Waynetown. It’s handbreaded and deep fried, and Schwabe says they sell a couple hundred pounds a week.
“I want it to have that initial crunch when they bite into it, and the juiciness of it and just a burst of flavor in their mouth,” she says. “And, I want them to go ‘Wow, did I just get that at a gas station?’”
Even the state’s only Indonesian restaurant offers a tenderloin – four different kinds, in fact. Only one of them is breaded.
“I want them to try that the meat is actually not just the breading, but you can do everything with the tenderloin,” says owner Mayasari Effendi.
It all started after a friend invited Effendi to participate in an annual tenderloin throw down.
“And, I said ‘What’s a tenderloin?’”
Never having had a tenderloin didn’t prove to be a problem. Effendi placed in half the categories, then took home all but one award the next year.
Now she offers her creative tenderloins at her restaurant in Greensburg, alongside more traditional Indonesian foods. One version is grilled, topped with avocado and placed on a yellow rice “bun.” Another spin on the classic is her Bumbu Bali tenderloin, or curry tenderloin. That’s the one she hopes customers will order.
“It will make me happy when I cook in the kitchen ‘Oh ok they actually understand tenderloin can perform in different versions,’” she says.
It seems every place has its own take on the Hoosier classic. Some people like their tenderloin pounded thin, others thick and juicy.
We found the answer to Bower’s question about Indiana food, but we still had one thing left to do. Despite living in Indiana for 13 years, she’d never tasted a tenderloin. We had to change that. And what better place to do that then at one of the stops on Indiana’s Tenderloin Trail, Come ‘N Git It.
And, after a couple bites, she gained a better understanding of why, to Hoosiers, it’s much more than a sandwich.
“It’s people’s way of celebrating their history, whether they know they’re doing it or not,” Bower says. “They’re eating this food every summer at the fair, or in diners like this one. It’s their way of celebrating their heritage.”