Iowans take their breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches seriously. They have a fervor equaled only by Indiana but Iowans have their act together in promoting them. Every year the Iowa Pork Producer's Association holds a judging contest to determine who has the best breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. They put out a call for nominations then narrow the field down to the successful restaurants that have multiple nominations. Then the tasting begins. Their contest just concluded its sixth year.
To digress, I have now done my own sampling of all the winners and some of the runner-ups. It has been a fun pursuit in our Class B conversion van motorhome and I feel this Minnesotan expatriate Hoosier may know more about the state of Iowa now than most Iowans and maybe Obama. I've covered the whole state in pursuit and camped in many of its parks. So let's review.
Starting in 2003 Darrell's Place in tiny Hamlin was the winner. I stopped there last year and sat down at the counter unknowingly at the time next to Jeff Munch, the owner. Jeff explained how he made his tenderloin by slicing a 4 ounce cut by experience, not weight, making his sandwich the smallest of all the winners but equal in taste. Jeff admitted that you could go to any small town cafe and get just as good of a sandwich. I suspect Darrell's Place felt lucky in that regard to be chosen the first. That might be a true assessment in seeing over 6 years there has been no repeats in winners or runner-ups. Let's say Iowa has depth.
Earlier this past spring I finally sampled the last to date the 2004 winner in the Suburban Restaurant in Gilbert a few miles north of Ames. The Suburban tenderloin proved to be a worthy winner. I felt at the time they had just the right combination for their sandwich. It resembled to me to be the closest match to the Nick's Kitchen tenderloin in Huntington, IN where the sandwich reputably started.
The day before I sampled the 2005 winner, the Dairy Sweet in Dunlap. Again an impressive winner. It was a big thick sandwich, the kind to impress anyone trying one for the first time. Like all the restaurants the Dairy Sweet was very proud of its accomplishment and advertised it well in the restaurant.
2006 brought us another tiny town in Wellsburg just west of Waterloo off US 20. We made a special trip last year in the spring to sample the Townhouse Supper Club sandwich. The name left me a vision of a tony place before I got there but it proved to be a small cafe typical of small towns with NASCAR racing memorabilia as decoration - my kind of place. The name came from the owner, Terry Town. They too were proud of their sandwich and kept an updated count on a sign outside.
Last fall I made a special trip sampling several pork tenderloin sandwiches throughout Iowa including the Suzie-Q Cafe in Mason City and the Farmer's Kitchen in Atlantic. The primary goal was Larsen's Pub in Elk Horn, the 2007 winner. Larsen's Pub and Catering competes with the Danish influence, the restored Danish windmill and a Danish restaurant down the street. I imagine it was overlooked by tourists until they won.
With a completed sampling of all the year's winners I could now concentrate on the newest winner. We had been on the road camping for 18 straight days in the southwest. We learned of the newest winner on the road so planned our return to Minnesota accordingly. We drove the old Sante Fe Trail through the pan handle of Oklahoma into Kansas and stopped at a KOA campground near Salina, KS. I gave Missouri one more chance to announce their best breaded pork tenderloin sandwich they promised in October in trying emulate Iowa. No such luck, That left Iowa's winner to concentrate on and we set out for it with about a 150 mile detour from heading directly home.
Once we crossed into Iowa on I-35 we stopped at the first rest stop and info center. Iowa rest stops have free WiFi. I was able to get the phone number of the restaurant and my GPS, though 175 miles away, said we would arrive about 5:18 PM. So I allowed for another rest stop and called the Augustana Restaurant in Oxford, IA to make a reservation for 5:30 PM. They said they couldn't take reservations because of the BPT winning publicity and that they were swamped. I explained I was coming from 500 miles away for this sandwich and needed assurance. Actually I was concerned with finding a campsite before sundown. That did not cut it with them. So I reluctantly pulled out my hole card and told them I was the porktenderloinsandwich.com website owner. I don't normally pre-announce my visits. They evidently were well aware of my website. That changed the tone. When we arrived, despite the place being swamped with bikers, there was a table waiting for us conveniently next to the window when we arrived at 5:29 PM. You gotta love those GPSes.
The Augustana Restaurant is owned by Jeri and Ben Halperin, former New Orleans residents driven out by Hurricane Katrina. It was Iowa's gain. The Iowa Pork Producer's Association got this one right this year. Their pork tenderloin sandwich is the best of the best of all the previous Iowa winners. The BPT was actually an anomaly on the menu. The menu was strongly New Orleans Cajun influenced. So we started off with a crawfish beignet appetizer.
We followed with the IPPA 2008 best breaded pork tenderloin sandwich accompanied with homemade sweet potato chips.