My friend and long-ago mentor, Nicholas Vlahos, who gets mad at me sometimes on Facebook because I’m a level-headed reasonable progressive and he’s a wild-eyed loony-tune conservative, had a great online column posted Friday morning for his newspaper, the Peoria Journal-Star.
How’s that for a long, clause-filled sentence?
Anyway, Nick wrote about one of the great American delicacies that hasn’t yet made its proper splash in Fargo-Moorhead — the pork tenderloin sandwich.
How breaded, fried, tender, juicy, salty, greasy, orgasmic pork tenderloin sandwiches have not yet become a thing in the Plus-Size Capital of the U.S. is beyond me. I mean, have you seen those crowd shots from North Dakota State football games? We’re big people. We like to eat. And drink beer. And, also, eat. But they have not. In fact, I don’t know of one restaurant in F-M that serves a killer, fresh-made pork tenderloin sandwich. I’ve ordered them at restaurants and what comes to the table are clearly frozen “pork tenderloin sandwiches” that have been taken out of a bag and dunked in a deep fryer.
No, no, goddamn no. A proper pork tenderloin sandwich is a fresh cutlet pounded with a mallet, salted generously, dusted in flour, dipped in egg wash or buttermilk, coated in crushed saltine crackers and pan-fried to golden-brown coronary perfection.
Then it is served on a bun (or perhaps Texas toast) that is too small and served with a swirl of MUSTARD. No ketchup or fancy-ass chipotle/hickory/Cajun mayonnaise crapola concoction. Mustard. Anybody poisoning a real pork tenderloin sandwich with ketchup, in fact, should be sent to Arkansas for proper handling. The only allowable side is French fries. There are three legal drinks to go with your tenderloin sandwich: cold beer, cold real (not diet) Coke or cold white milk. You try to drink a glass of wine with a pork tenderloin? Off to Arkansas with you.
My first and best exposure to pork tenderloin sandwiches was when I was growing up in the Twin Cities suburbs. There was a place in New Hope, Minn., called Sully’s. I don’t remember much about it, or if it survives (Google says “no”), but I do know that a special night in the McFeely house was when my dad, the great union man Stu, would stop at Sully’s and pick up a bag of pork tenderloin sandwiches and French fries.
Perhaps it is only my imagination, but I seem to recall two things distinctly: the ungodly wonderful smell of fresh, greasy sandwiches and fries; and the plain white lunch bags in which the food came, so greasy they were nearly translucent (this was before the days of Styrofoam containers for takeout). To this day, I don’t know how the sandwiches and fries didn’t fall out of the bottom of the bag.
I’ve yet to find a pork tenderloin sandwich that’s come close to Sully’s, or at least the memory of Sully’s. Even on numerous trips to Iowa, Illinois and Indiana while chasing the NDSU football team, I stupidly haven’t sought an honest-to-goodness pork tenderloin sandwich (even though The Forum’s Tracy Briggs wrote an article about the great tenderloins available in Iowa). This has been a tragic mistake. Although, I admit devouring a couple of the famed Ugly Steaks at the Red Ox Supper Club in Macomb, Ill., was a pretty fine consolation prize.
As for Fargo-Moorhead, I wouldn’t know where to start. Maybe there’s a cafe in town that serves a good one, but in 30 years year I haven’t heard about it. In the surrounding area? Don’t know.
I’ve made homemade pork tenderloin sandwiches several times, slicing my own cutlet off a tenderloin and pounding and seasoning and coating and frying. And they were good. But when I tried to open the gates to TenderloinWorld with my wife and daughter, their response was meh. It was at that point I seriously considered abandoning the whole idea of family — house and dogs and all — to find a household of true Americans, but my lawyer said it’d be cheaper to keep the family and make pork tenderloins when they’re not home.
I’m jealous of my friend Nick because he lives in the town Wikipedia calls “the pork tenderloin capital of the world,” Peoria, Ill.
We’ll pick up Nick’s column from there, when he says he’s a relatively late tenderloin convert:
In our ancestral home of Chicago, such sandwiches are impossible to find and not at all ingrained in the culture. No surprise, considering Chicago and downstate are separate worlds in just about everything except political geography.
Venture into almost any diner or bar from Quincy to Danville and you’ll probably find tenderloin on the menu. Some are perfunctory, cookie-cutter jobs from a freezer bag, akin to something you’d find in the cafeteria of a college dormitory.
But others are handmade works of art, almost as good as sex. Almost.
He then goes on to list the best pork tenderloin joints in the Peoria area. Places like the Amvets Peoria Post (awesome), the Hungry Moose and Busy Corner.
You can read Nick’s entire column here: Five Great Tri-County Tenderloin Sandwiches.
Nick worked on the sports desk at The Forum in the late 1980s, when your tenderloin-less columnist was a smart-ass college kid who knew less than the little he knows now. He helped me learn and taught me the newspaper ropes — telling me numerous times an article or headline I’d written just wasn’t that good, puncturing the substantial ego of a know-it-all (the role filled by wife and daughter now) — even though he was just out of college himself. He also liked to drink beer in ungodly amounts, as I recall, and probably corrupted me further than I’d normally have been corrupted. That’s why you gotta love the guy.
For that, I owe him much. I also owe him in a thank-you in the short-term for writing about pork tenderloin sandwiches. It has lit a fire in me: Find an above-average pork tenderloin sandwich in Fargo-Moorhead, or within easy driving distance.
So there it is, dear readers. Help me. Which restaurant within an hour or two of Fargo-Moorhead has a knockout tenderloin sandwich. Homemade. Greasy. Salty. Delicious.