eater's digest

Love Me Tenderloin: Beloved Pork Sandwich Learning New Tricks

By / Photography By Katie Eberts | September 15, 2014
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Love Me Tenderloin

When I was asked to write a story about the pork tenderloin sandwich, I had to admit: I didn’t know what it was.

But when I spotted the food truck at the Fourth of July event with its blazing sign advertising the Midwestern specialty, I thought, “Of course I know what a pork tenderloin sandwich is! It’s a Frisbee-size wedge of breaded, deep-fried pork between two slices of white bread.” I’ve probably eaten that hot, crispy sandwich dozens of times.

I was so used to seeing the pork tenderloin sandwich advertised at every fair, festival and food truck that I didn’t realize it was considered a “dish,” much less a pillar of Midwestern culture. To me, it was as commonplace as a burger or a hot dog, not a display of my regional identity.

The Midwest and its cuisine are often depicted as bland and unsophisticated, and the ubiquity of heavily breaded pork on white bread doesn’t do much to challenge those stereotypes. But the truth is that the pork tenderloin sandwich and the landscape it comes from are more inspiring that we often give them credit for.

A pork tenderloin sandwich truck

When I visited Colorado for the first time last summer, I was awed by its beauty. “I don’t know how I’ll ever find my fl at-as-a-blueberry-pancake homeland beautiful again,” I thought. But then a strange thing happened. On the long drive home, when the terrain turned into long green rows of corn and bright red barns and a wide pink sky at dusk, I found myself...wistful. Nostalgic. Strangely delighted.

This place, I found myself thinking, is throat-catchingly beautiful. Every bit as beautiful as the mountains, and absolutely incomparable—a beauty all its own.

I did some soul searching as to why that might be. And I think I’ve discovered it: It’s the dirt. Midwestern dirt is rich and black, and the things that grow from it are rich, too. Its spring is verdant, bright as jewels. Its autumn blazes with color and crop. Its summer is sweeping green, and the harvests it gathers from its land are full of color and flavor.

Midwestern cuisine is inspired by our best resource: our fl at, magnanimous farmland. Contemporary Midwestern cuisine embraces that truth about itself fully— that our quiet terrain is a veritable cornucopia—and reimagines our basic yet sustaining dishes with newer, more graceful forms.

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Take our good old pork tenderloin sandwich.

Rumored to have been invented by Nick Freienstein in 1908, the pork tenderloin sandwich is a staple in this part of the Midwest. You can still visit Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana, and order the original recipe today, but other Indiana chefs have modified the basic comfort-food recipe into some truly amazing dishes.

Take Three Crowns Coffee in Warsaw, Indiana. The coffee shop offers a small specialty lunch menu that changes every week. This summer chef Gabe Rager served a delicious dish of grilled pork tenderloin on fresh bread with caramelized onions, peach glaze, Boston lettuce, rustic mustard and goat cheese. Is your mouth watering yet? With a side of orzo and arugula salad, the dish is truly an everyday Midwestern masterpiece.

Or how about Cerulean restaurant (Winona Lake and Indianapolis), which serves a pork tenderloin dish featuring Sichuan pork tenderloin sautéed with garlic and sriracha, celery, shiitake mushroom, red pepper, garden bell pepper and scallions. It doesn’t even need a bun.

Not so hick anymore, are we?

A barn in the middle of a field.

Contemporary Midwestern cuisine is in a class of its own not only because it offers the best produce, taken straight from the garden to the table; it’s because we also know how to take the best of our harvest and our traditions and turn them into something unforgettable that still feels familiar and true to who we are.

Of course, we still have sweet corn out our ears (pun intended). And our deep-fried everything at the county fair. We still have our Indiana chicken-and-noodles and our Buckeyes laced with peanut butter and powdered sugar.

And we still have our pork tenderloin sandwich, in all of its flatland glory. But sometimes it comes with peach glaze and goat cheese and that’s a good thing indeed.

Three Crowns Coffee
114 S. Buffalo St.
Warsaw, IN

1101 E. Canal St.
Winona Lake, IN
339 S. Delaware St.
Indianapolis, IN

Nick's Kitchen
506 N. Jefferson St.
Huntington, IN

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1101 E. Canal St.
Winona Lake, IN
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