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Indy Tenderloin Tour – Iowa Speedway Edition

I’m a breaded tenderloin snob.  I know its history (the schnitzel German immigrants brought to America), and I know the good from the bad.  The bad generally means a frozen fritter, one dripping in grease, or just bad meat.  I consider myself an aficionado of the sliced, beaten, breaded, and fried pork sandwich.  This pork hubris led me to start my “Indy Tenderloin Tour” during the month of May to introduce out-of-state Indy 500 fans to this local delicacy, the likes of which can only be found in Indiana.  And then I went to Iowa Speedway.

I was minding my own business.  Oh, I noticed the pork chops and stopped to talk to the fine folks from the Tama County Pork Producers.  These were just the type of grilled pork offerings you would expect from Iowa residents.  They were quite tasty.  But of course, they weren’t breaded tenderloins.  And then I walked past The Machine Shed, a local restaurant that operated one of the concession stands.  It was very hard not to notice The Machine Shed, since this was cooking directly in front of it.

Yep.  That’s a whole hog roasting its way to succulent perfection.  Again, wonderful pork presentation, but not a breaded tenderloin.  But as I scanned the menu, it jumped out at me.  There it was: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich.  But so far in Iowa, most pork products were naked.  The pork loins, pork chops, and pork burgers might be seasoned, but they were not breaded.  After a brief moment of discussion, I found that the tenderloins here were indeed breaded, so I ordered up one of the breaded babies.  Here is what arrived:

I believe I insulted the workers in The Machine Shed when I asked if the tenderloin was a frozen fritter.  These tenderloins are sliced from the loin by The Machine Shed in their cutting room, pounded by real human beings, and breaded/battered in their own recipe.  I was also pleased to learn that the pork is locally sourced.  Iowans care about their food.

All that’s nice, but what about the taste?  Well, I included this sandwich in my “Indy Tenderloin Tour” didn’t I?  Doesn’t that tell you something?  My first bite told me that these Hawkeyes knew what they were doing.  The meat was thick and cooked to perfection.  Tenderloin fans know that you hide bad meat by pounding it thin and breading it heavily.  This was a thick piece of meat with nary a bit of gristle.  The coating was more of a batter than a breading and was crispy, bordering on crunchy.  My personal preference is for breading instead of batter, but that does not change the fact that this was a great tenderloin.  If you are in Iowa and are lusting after a breaded tenderloin, The Machine Shed is ready for you.

I have to give The Machine Shed a checkered flag.  My hat is off to my first out-of-Indy stop on the “Indy Tenderloin Tour.”

Ratings:
Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

Indy Tenderloin Tour – Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steak House

In the previous stops on the Indy Tenderloin Tour, we have only visited Speedway once.  This final edition takes us to an absolute “must see, must eat” stop.  Within sight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and across the street from the Dallara facility, you will find Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steak House at 1038 Main St. in Speedway, Indiana.  If you are in Speedway and need to mainline a breaded tenderloin, this is the place.

From the outside, Charlie Brown’s is nondescript.  The awning is faded and in need of repair.  But when you  walk in the door you are greeted with a life size photo of Sid Collins, for many years the voice of the 500.

Once inside the door, the walls are a tour of Indy memories.  Any place that has a Parnelli Jones painted 98 picture hanging from the ceiling is aces in my book.  Take your time and stroll around the joint.  It’s OK.  The management understands its patrons.  Look in the display case.  Check out the quilt over the waitress station.  Look at the walls as you go to the lavatory.  This place is an Indy fan Mecca.

Seen enough yet.  I don’t think so.  Now it’s all about the tenderloin.  Make sure you CAREFULLY order the “Hand Breaded Pork Tenderloin.”  Do NOT order the pork fritter.  The fritter is frozen; the hand breaded tenderloin is not.  Shannon, our overworked waitress on an incredibly busy Saturday, tells us she was just a part-timer…33 years ago.  She knows her stuff.  The tenderloins are pounded and breaded on site with a commercial breading that has a few added (secret) ingredients.  My suggestion is to get the platter; it comes with fries and slaw.  The slaw was delivered promptly and was tasty.  Within minutes, our breaded beauties arrived.  Looks great, huh?

I loved the sandwich.  Charlie Brown’s does it a little differently.  In other posts, I have commented on sandwiches that have a thick pork center.  This one was pounded thin with a breading that stayed on the pork.  No slippage.  I dislike breading that slides off the meat.  This was great meat pounded very thin.  It’s a great counterpoint to some of our other stops.  Stop here for the whole package: the platter for $7.15, the kitsch on the walls, and the meat between the bun.  THIS is a Hoosier classic.

Our rating?  This is an absolute checkered flag!  Do not miss this sandwich and this shrine to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ratings:

Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

I hope our little tour has been informative and entertaining.  An Indiana breaded pork tenderloin is a great way to enhance your visit to the track.  Bon appetit!

Indy Tenderloin Tour – The Red Key Tavern

I am an unabashed lover of kitsch. [1]  Tacky?  I love it.  Over-the-top odd?  I’m there.  That is why I absolutely love the Red Key Tavern at 5170 N. College Ave. in Indy.  It suits me.  The term “eclectic” [2] comes to mind when you walk in the door.  It is a neighborhood tavern in every sense of the word.  The regulars all know each other.  You can leave your money on the bar when you hit the head.  The jukebox has Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Bing Crosby on it.  How cool is that?

The bar was owned by Russ Settle, a WWII bomber crewman, who passed away in 2010.  You MUST read his obituary in the Indy alternative paper NUVO, as written by one of his former employees. [3]  It explains everything from a much more personal perspective.  I know my limitations; I can’t tell his story like Nora Spitznogle can.  And it’s his story that makes the bar.  He had rules you had to follow and expectations you had to meet.  Everything in the bar, from the songs on the jukebox to the model planes hanging from the ceiling, defined him.  The Dan Wakefield novel Going All the Way, had scenes set here.  The movie of the same name starring Ben Affleck had scenes filmed here.  If “keeping it real” is just a phrase to you, don’t stop.  If you want a real experience – and a great breaded tenderloin – this place is a “must see.”

How about that tenderloin?  Our friendly bartender Robin told us the meat is pounded and breaded on site.  The breading is nothing fancy.  It’s just a commercial product.  But that’s OK.  The magic is in how this baby is cooked.  Most places deep fry their breaded tenderloins, but the Redkey has no deep fryer.  What they have is a 60-year-old flat-top grill.  The breading is light because they cook your breaded beauty on this grill with just a splash of oil.  And pause for a moment to consider the flavor that a flat-top grill has burned into it over 60 years.  That’s called seasoning.  Get the picture?  This is a great sandwich because of how it’s cooked.  Add a couple of locally brewed Sun King Cream Ales and you have a great meal.

Russ Settle had his rules.  Here are my rules for visiting the Red Key Tavern

  • Get there early if you want a tenderloin.  They run out.
  • Order the potato salad.  Again, they run out.
  • If the tenderloins are gone (you have been warned), then get a hamburger.  They are cooked on the same seasoned grill.
  • They have no beer on tap.  They do, however, carry locally brewed products.  I suggest the Sun King Cream Ale or the Sun King Wee Mac.
  • Play the jukebox.  Try something you have never heard before.
  • Behave yourself.  Follow the rules.
  • BRING CASH!  The Red Key does not take plastic.  Old school, baby.  This is the kind of place you might expect to see Blue from the movie Old School. [4]
  • Enjoy this place.  Bars like this are vanishing pieces of Americana.

I have to give the Red Key Tavern a checkered flag, not only for the tenderloin, but for the whole experience.

Ratings:
Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

_____________________

1.  Here’s a good primer on “kitsch.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsch

2.  For the vocabulary impaired, “eclectic” is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as “deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources: her musical tastes are eclectic.”  And yes, I am a supercilious prick for using the term “eclectic” and for assuming that the reader does not know the definition.

3.  Here’s the NUVO obit.  http://www.nuvo.net/FoodDrinkBlog/archives/2010/04/05/red-key-taverns-russ-settle-died-sunday

4.  Here’s Will Ferrell’s tribute to Blue from the movie Old School.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnywlzr7Y1o

Indy Tenderloin Tour – The Mug-n-Bun

(Third in a series of five appearing every Tuesday through May 22, 2012)

What could be better on warm spring evening than curb service at an iconic drive-in?  Nothing!  If only that was our evening at Mug-n-Bun, 5211 West 10th St. in Speedway.  It was cool and rainy, but we persevered and ordered our breaded tenderloins, onion rings, french fries, and frosty mugs of root beer.  Here is the view out of my window:

Even in the rain, that looks GOOD.  And the rings, fries and root beer were good.  Which brings us to the tenderloin.  Our lovely and rain-soaked car hop Heather told me that the breaded tenderloins were really…fritters.  It is acceptable to gasp.  The meaty mecca of Robin Miller fame serves frozen fritters. All of you pork pros out there know that a truly good breaded tenderloin is hand-pounded and hand-breaded, never frozen.  I was so saddened that I needed another root beer.

This is not to say that the visit was disappointing.  The ambiance of a Speedway landmark combined with curb service and home-made root beer almost negated the fritter…but not quite.  This is, after all, the Indy Tenderloin Tour.  My advice: go.  If the frozen fritter leaves you cold, order a foot-long coney.  Be sure to order your root beer in the mug to drink there, and when you leave order a root beer to go in the large plastic souvenir cup.  If you don’t like the in-car experience, you can always sit at a picnic table.  It’s a drive-in.  Just have fun.

My rating: A Checkered Flag for the ambiance and root beer and Green Flag/Yellow Flag for the fritter.

Ratings:

Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

Indy Tenderloin Tour: Binkley’s

(Second in a series of five appearing every Tuesday through May 22, 2010)

This installment of our “Indy Tenderloin Tour” finds us in Broad Ripple, one of Indy’s trendy districts.  If you want to party with the young people and crawl a few pubs, this is the place.  College Avenue is a north-south street that takes you by the Italian favorites Iaria’s and the Milano Inn downtown, past Sun King Brewery, and eventually becomes a wide path leading you to party town, aka Broad Ripple.  As you cruise past the corner of College and Kessler you will see Binkley’s Kitchen and Bar at 5902 N. College Avenue.

Binkley’s took its name from the drugstore that sat on the corner from 1928 until the early 70’s.  You have to like a place that gives a shout out to history.  During the winter you can expect big crowds on the nights Butler [1] plays a home basketball game.

We sat on the patio and were assisted by the lovely and vivacious Deborah.  One recommendation is to order an Indiana brewed beer.  On tap at our visit were beers from Sun King, Three Floyds, Flat 12, and Triton. [2]  You cannot go wrong with any of these breweries.  Remember: drink locally, race globally.

As expected, we ordered breaded tenderloins.  The lovely and vivacious Deborah (bartenders and servers LOVE to be called lovely and vivacious) informed us that the tenderloins at Binkley’s were cut and pounded on site.  The meat is dredged in white flour, fine corn meal, and spices.  The buns are delivered five times a week from Chicago.  Here’s what graced our table:

Tenderloins tread a thin line sometimes.  If they are pounded too thin, it’s all breading without substance.  If they are not pounded enough, the meat is not completely cooked.  The tenderloins at Binkley’s are thick enough to be meaty, yet thin enough to be cooked thoroughly.  Yahtzee!  The buns were toasty and firm and held up well.  Bun sustainability is vital for a great breaded tenderloin.  These babies sustain!  As always, my condiments of choice were mayonnaise and onions.

I have to give this breaded baby a Checkered Flag.  It’s worth the trip to Broad Ripple.

Ratings:
Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

_______________________

1.  Here’s a link to the ESPN Sports Science segment that analyzed Gordon Hayward’s final shot versus Duke in the 2010 NCAA championship game.  If this shot had gone in, Butler would have been the 2010 NCAA champion.  Hoosier Hysteria, baby! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQs-d_9iJ14&feature=related

2.  What does everyone need?  Links to great Indiana breweries.  Enjoy!

Indy Tenderloin Tour – Plump’s Last Shot

(First in a series of five appearing every Tuesday through May 22, 2012.)

Any food tour needs to include things iconic in nature.  Other than the Indy 500, what else is synonymous with Indiana?  You got it – high school basketball.  And what basketball movie is most connected with Indiana?  No, it’s not Blue Chips.  What’s wrong with you?  It’s Hoosiers.  Filmed on location in Indiana,[1] the fictional Hickory Huskers were inspired by the small school Milan Indians of 1954 [2].  The player who took the last shot to beat Muncie Central that day was Hoosier hero Bobby Plump.[3]  Bobby, who still advocates a return to a single-class basketball tournament in Indiana, is the owner of Plump’s Last Shot in Broad Ripple, an Indy neighborhood near Butler University.  And a bar with that kind of pedigree MUST serve a breaded tenderloin sandwich.  They call it The Hoosier Tenderloin.

We rolled in on a Sunday at noon.  Plump’s radiates…something.  And that’s not a knock.  It has a hippie/hiker/neighborhood vibe.  The location is an old house adjacent to the Monon Trail [4] and off the main drag.  It’s dog friendly with a great outdoor seating area.  Our friendly bartender Robin offered up menus and beer specials.  We ordered two breaded beauties and watched ESPN while we waited.

Here’s what arrived.

Look good, huh?  The sandwiches were HOT.  As we decided our plan of attack, we heard a serious pounding coming from the kitchen.  My son and I exchanged knowing glances.  It was Fred, the cook, pounding out pork loin for the sandwiches of the people who had just ordered.  I believe that’s called “fresh.”  Zach chose to cut his tenderloin in half and double it.  I sliced the overhang off and dipped it in mayo until the sandwich was small enough to hold.  It was great.

When Fred emerged from the kitchen, he told us that Plump’s cuts, trims, and pounds its tenderloins daily.  Nothing frozen here.  It’s coated in buttermilk and dredged through panko bread crumbs, flour, and spices.  The panko gave it a really crisp texture that held up for the half-hour it took to eat it.  With pickles, onions, and mayo, it was an absolute game winner.  My rating: it’s a checkered flag.

Ratings:
Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

___________________

1.  Here’s the link to the gym that was the home of the Hickory Huskers in the movie.  It’s in Knightstown, Indiana, just a short hop on US 40 or I-70 east of Indy.  When I was in high school, we would occasionally sneak in and play ball on a weekend.  The gym was no longer used for competition.  We would crawl through the window of the old Wilkinson High School gym to do the same thing.  Good times.
http://www.thehoosiergym.com/

2.  This is the true story of Bobby Plump and Milan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_Milan_High_School_basketball_team

3.  Bobby Plump is truly iconic.  Here’s his Wikipedia page.  The links to the USA Today and The NY Times articles are worth the click.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Plump

4.  The father coaching the team in Hoosiers tells Gene Hackman: “Fact is, mister, you start screwin’ up this team, I’ll personally hide-strap your ass  to a pine rail and send you up the Monon Line!”  We really do talk like that in Indiana.  The Monon Trail is a hiking/biking trail in the Indy area that was called the Monon Line when it was still a railroad.  Pretty cool.  Here’s a link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monon_Trail

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