Indy Tenderloin Tour – The Red Key Tavern
I am an unabashed lover of kitsch.  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”  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.  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. 
- 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.
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