You better head to Iowa if you want the best breaded pork tenderloin

CJ Coombs
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Pork tenderloin sandwich from Joensy's Restaurant in Solon, Iowa.Photo byGlane23, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Breaded pork tenderloin is supposed to be "the outstanding dish in Iowa" according to Stacker.

Every year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association has a Best Breaded Pork Tenderloin Contest. The winner for 2023 was Cliff's Place in Manning, Iowa.

runner-up was The Roadhouse from Orange City, Iowa, and the other three in Iowa that are part of the top five include Spillway Supper Club (Harpers Ferry), Stumpy's Bar & Grill (Duncombe), and Tojo's Bar & Grille (Jamaica).

This breaded and deep-fried piece of pork loin is popular in the Midwest. Made from a thin slice of pork loin, hammered for tenderness, breaded, and fried, it's then placed on a bun that usually isn't big enough to hold the pork. Fans of the sandwich don't really care. It's good no matter what.

When you tenderize the pork tenderloin thin, once you bread it and fry it briefly, you get a piece of juicy pork. The breaded pork tenderloin is very popular in Iowa even though you can find it in Illinois and Missouri too. I'm not saying you should eat this every day, but when you want one, know where to go.

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Photo byFacebook/Nick's Kitchen, Huntington, Indiana.

How breaded pork tenderloin got popular

One story tells how it was invented in Huntington, Indiana at Nick's Kitchen, which is still operating! In 1904, Nick Freienstein was selling hamburgers out of his cart with a lantern, and four years later, he opened his own place. That's when his sandwich took off. Even this restaurant's website indicates it's the home of the breaded pork tenderloin.

But, wait, it could be this story too. Around the 1850s, many immigrants from today’s Czech and Slovak Republics settled chiefly in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area. They worked in the meatpacking plants. The Bohemians were one group of people from Czechoslovakia.

As the story goes, they wanted to make traditional German-Austrian schnitzel but didn't have enough traditional veal. Texas immigrants used beef (chicken-fried steak), and in the Midwest, the immigrants used pork, deep frying it instead of frying it in a pan.

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Photo byFacebook/Schooners, Peoria, Illinois.

The breaded pork tenderloin is also a popular item in the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. It's been said the best breaded pork tenderloins could be served at the following restaurants in their respective states:

Illinois - Schooner's in Peoria, Illinois

Indiana - Nick's Kitchen in the small town of Huntington

Missouri - Kitty's Cafe, Kansas City (earned an accolade in 2022 from the New York Times)

Some say every town in Iowa has the breaded pork tenderloin in a restaurant so taking a pause to value that history in Iowa is showing some appreciation. It's definitely a culinary icon in the state that makes all the locals and tourists happy.

The origins of the BPT, as some call it, can be traced back to small-town diners and family-owned restaurants that have been serving up their own unique versions for generations.

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich contains that juicy and tender pork cutlet that is nearly fried to perfection. The crunch, the flavor, and your favorite toppings make it a fun eating experience. Mouthwatering, for sure.

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Photo byFacebook/Tojo's Bar and Grill.

This sandwich is part of Iowa's culinary identity. Imagine the different variations displayed by local chefs. Next time you're traveling through Iowa, go check out one of the top five Iowa restaurants above.

Thanks for reading.






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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO
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