Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shane's Rib Shack in Clive

Shane's Rib Shack is a chain of BBQ restaurants founded in Georgia, each has a photo of their smiling fat guy founder, Shane, posted inside. I was quite surprised to see their window advertising homemade tenderloins while driving through Clive, so I decided to stop in and give it a try.

Location: 12695 University Ave. in Clive, Iowa.

Directions: Take University Ave in West Des Moines to the intersection with Granite City and Biaggi's, look for this place in the strip mall behind Walgreen's.

Online at:
The Tenderloin: This was something new. The bright white cut of pork was not tenderized at all, just cut across the grain. It was tough to bite into at first, but fell apart with chewing. The thin cut of pork was floppy when lifted off the food basket, with the meat was thinnest at the center. Breading was lightly seasoned southern-fried chicken tasting crunchiness. The selection of BBQ sauces to top the sandwich were a plus. Served on a toasted bun with all the fixings 6.7 out of ten.

Price: $5.49
Also on the menu: Southern style BBQ favorites like Chopped Pork, Beef Brisket, and Ribs, sides including a thick stew and fried okra.

Service: Counter service with food brought to your table.
Ambiance: Over-done decorations for someplace in the suburbs. Tables and booths to sit and watch sports on TV. A bright multi-colored interior with BBQ shack decorations.

Final Thoughts: I am encouraged by this menu addition by the local franchise of a Southern BBQ chain. In order to make the tenderloin better, they need to tenderize it first. Its a good option in the tenderloin desert that exists in the suburbs of any big city in Iowa.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Misty's Malt Shop in Keosauqua

Van Buren County is known for its old-fashioned small town lifestyle without the modern life amenities of electric stoplights or fast food. The small towns are charming and unspoilt. Along the main street of Keosauqua just north of the Des Moines River is a small ice-cream shop with a selection of sandwiches including a homemade tenderloin.

Location: 106 Main St. in Keosauqua Iowa, (population 1,066) the seat of Van Buren County in Southeast Iowa. At least 2 hours drive from anywhere busy or important. Well outside cell-phone range.

Directions: Take the only road leading into town, State Highway 1, just north of the river. The Malt Shop is the second building on the east side of Main Street.
The Tenderloin: This clearly stuck out beyond the sesame-seed bun, showing the classic triangle tenderloin shape. The massive size was a great value and the sandwich was truly filling. From the sides, a slight warping was apparent. Beneath the dusty breading was a soft and moist white pork inside. Steam rose upon easily tearing edges off the tenderloin. The edges were a little dryer and not as tender, with some parts browner than others. Overall 7.9/10

Price: $5.00
Also on the Menu: A full selection of Ice Cream choices, homemade chips, other fried stuff and breakfast in the mornings.

Service: Counter service inside with a window for people to order from outside. The tenderloin took about five minute to fix.
Ambiance: Brightly lit interior with tables and booths for seats. Windows were heavily decorated for High School Homecoming Week during my visit. There is a mural of a cow painted on the front of the building.

Final Thoughts: Van Buren County is one of the nicest parts of Iowa that few people ever visit. Its food scene is mostly untainted by the commercial fast food and pizza chains that take up so much space in town squares across the state. This small ice-cream shop is just a part of the great places in Van Buren County.

Misty's Malt Shop on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Findlay's Old Time Butcher Shop & Delicatessen Des Moines

Update #2 Winter 2010/2011: Sometimes restaurants move to new locations, only to come back to the same spot a few years later. I went to Findlay's and they have the same tenderloin, and some good mac 'n cheese side too. You can buy smoked meats in bulk now.

UPDATE: Findlay's moved to Knoxville in late 2009, they are just a block off the main square. I saw it was just a BBQ place with the same menu but no meat market. This current location is now named Two Rivers BBQ Market and Deli, they have a tenderloin but I haven't made it in try one yet.
This butcher shop has a wide variety of meats for sale, and a lunch menu that includes a homemade tenderloin. The big meat smoker outside told me that tasty meat would be served here. Unfortunately, subsequent visits have revealed the tenderloin is no longer on the menu. Bummer.

Location: 1951 Indianola Ave on the south side of Des Moines.

Directions: Take south 7th St. from downtown, turn on Indianola and find this building beside Italian-American cultural center.

The Tenderloin: The first thing I notices was the three-point shape of the meat. The dense, chewy consistency of the meat and exceptional pork flavor makes me wonder if this was slow cooked before breading. Dollops of mustard, ketchup, and red onions are between the bun and the tenderloin. Served on a soft but cold kaiser bun from a local bakery. Overall a solid 7.5 out of ten.

Price: 4.99 , with chips and a side for $1.50 more.

Also on the menu: Smoked meat BBQ sandwiches, a full meat selection for large orders including Turducken. Jerky was in stock when I stopped by.

Service: Counter service, it can take a few minutes to get your food.
Ambiance: Bright light from windows comes into dining area. There are signs with meat prices outside. The place gets crowded for the lunch rush.

Final Thoughts: Smoking the pork loin before breading and frying can bring out a world of flavor. This relatively new butcher shop has a solid tenderloin worth checking out, its too bad it was discontinued or moved to "seasonal" status.

For emergency Tenderloin craving: head further down Indianola and turn on Hartford to reach B&B Grocery for their Big Piggy Pork Loin or Real Tenderloins.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Starbuck's Fast Food in Nevada

This dive on the Lincoln Highway is another former one-stop filling station, drive-in cafe, and mobile-home dealership. The name is clearly grandfathered beyond any lawsuits that a newer business sharing the same name would encounter. Today, only the cafe is left, with its bright yellow signs pulling travelers in for ice cream, beef burgers and multiple pork sandwiches.

Location: 1620 Lincoln Highway, in Nevada, Iowa the seat of Story County. About thirty miles north of Des Moines.

Directions: Take the Lincoln Was exit off I-35 in Ames and turn right. Starbuck's Fast Food is on the East side of Nevada on the Old Lincoln Highway route. Old Lincoln Highway also leads to another, more famous, Starbucks in Ames.

The Tenderloin: Described on menu as homemade. This came with two wrappers for its slightly large size. Taking of wrappings revealed a thin piece of pork loin stuck to a large half dry bun. the moisture of the tenderloin had moved into part of the bun. The cut of pork loin was thin enough to have a slight wave form, with a small thick part on one side. The breading was thick
with more crunch than steamy pork. Overall, not inspiring, 5/10.

Price: $4.75

Also on the Menu: Full ice cream menu, "pork fritter" hints at another low-quality fried pork sandwich. Breaded pork chop is an occasional special. Coney dogs and loose meat burgers complete the menu.
Service: Counter service with number called when order is ready. A team of high-schoolers was working the kitchen and register.

Ambiance: There is an austere dining room with wide windows and natural light and one picture box with the history of the restaurant. There are booths and tables for seating.
Final Thoughts:
This is another thin cut of pork loin with minimal effort to improve the sandwich. Its not any better than some frozen or pre-formed tenderloins. The one-stop service
and food stations on the Lincoln Highway have some great greasy food experiences, this just isn't one of them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

St. Olaf Tap and the Biggest Tenderloin Ever....

Making the trek to St. Olaf is like a pilgrimage for the faithful followers of the Breaded Pork Tenderloin. The biggest tenderloin in Iowa is not easy to find, but its light breading texture makes it easy to eat. Driving through the bluff country of northeast Iowa is like driving through another country, you can't see the next town from 10 miles away. You won't want to miss this sandwich.

Edit for Spring 2011, New owners and name, check out updated blog entry HERE.

Location: 106 S Main Street in St. Olaf (population 136), in Clayton County, in the northeast corner of Iowa.

Directions: Take State Highway 13 or Gunder Rd from Elkader in the south, or Postville to the north. The St. Olaf Tap is the only place open for business in the nearly abandoned main street. Gunder Road also leads to the legendary Gunder Burger in an unincorporated township to the north.
The Tenderloin: This was what I had been looking for so long. Its sixteen ounces of tenderized pork. The breading is light and stays on the meat. The moisture of the meat moves into the breading to make it stick and shine. There is a pinch of pepper that does more for the visual appeal in the close-up than anything else. The meat was especially white and well-cooked. The most impressive thing is the great job of trimming the huge cut of pork. There was almost no fat to chew on in the pound of meat. Overall this is the least filling of all the super-jumbo tenderloins. The lightness makes it easy to get through, with little gastro-intestinal disturbance that other tenderloins bring. Overall 9.2 out of 10. I had to finish it in my car, but I did finish the whole thing in about 20 minutes.

Price: $9.95 for the 16 oz., also available in 8 oz. and 4 oz. sizes.

Also on the Menu: Fried chicken, burgers, sweet potato fries and other bar food favorites.

Service: One person in denim overalls worked the bar, waited tables, and cooked. This isn't difficult when only one person is here. Jim made conversation and described St. Olaf as a "dying town". He claimed the tenderloin was cut, tenderized, and breaded just a few hours earlier by a eighty year-old man who had been doing it for decades.
Ambiance: The bar area has a TV playing at loud volume. There are booths and tables for seating. The dim light made photos difficult, I was the only person there on a snowy day. The walls are covered with normal pub and grub junk, you can purchase t-shirts with the St. Olaf Tap logo from the sign. Lights dimmed to save on electric bills meant that my pictures didn't turn out as good as the should have, the sandwich looks better in person.Final Thoughts: Finding the biggest tenderloin was like spotting a Yeti while trekking through Iowa's version of the Himalayan Mountains. The town is hidden, the road is less-traveled, and maybe St. Olaf will disappear from the map someday. But this tenderloin is the biggest you will find anywhere in Iowa, bar none.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Iowa's Best Burger Cafe in Kellogg

This burger place inside a gas station is not humble. They think their burgers are the best in Iowa. they also serve a homemade tenderloin, so a detour from the highway was in order after a recent visit to Kellogg.

Location: At intersection of I-80 and State Highway 224, just south of Kellogg, Iowa.

Directions: Exit the Interstate at Exit 173, turn north at "Burgers, T Loins, Camping" sign.
The tenderloin: For the small price you get a small tenderloin. The edges barely get past the bun. the inside is moist with juicy pork. The breading has a pinch of pepper that adds just the right amount of flavor. This is one of the better small cuts of pork loin you will find. Overall 6.5 out of 10.

Price: $3.19

Also on the menu: burgers, obviously, from a broiler oven. There is also ice-cream and chicken.
Service: Its counter service with one counter for gas and food customers.

Ambiance: Cramped interior with shelves between counter and booths. Beef jerky seems to be everywhere. Picnic tables with birds eating crumbs are outside. Sign outside reads "free restrooms".

Final Thoughts: Its too bad
I don't eat hamburgers. This is an okay small tenderloin. The place has classic gas station atmosphere. Its also very close to the highway. However, I don't think I will be spending the night here anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Suzie-Q Cafe in Mason City

Updated 2012: scroll to bottom of post for updates from subsequent visits!

This is a small boxy diner, in a building originally built by Valentines Manufacturing in Wichita, Kansas and loaded on a train to be brought to its location just north of the central loop in Mason City. The place isn't big, but its hard to miss with its bright paint job and busy front door.

Location: 14 2nd St NW in Mason City. Just north of downtown loop. Halfway between Des Moines and Minneapolis, about a two-hour drive.

Directions: Exit I-80 and drive past miles of sprawling retail development to get to downtown Mason City and find this place one block off of busy loop area.

The Tenderloin: The Spic 'n Span tenderloin is advertised on the front door of the Suzie-Q, they definitely want people to try it and get hooked. This is a battered piece of bright white pork meat. The batter has a touch of black pepper that hits your tongue upon breaking past the flaky layer to the pasty warm underneath. It just has tons of flavor. The batter has large amounts of grease, but the nice warm bun keeps your hands clean. The pork is nice and firm inside, with moisture held in during preparation. This is a great tenderloin. 9/10

Price: $5.35, or in meal for $6.75.
Also on the menu: full breakfast and omelet choices, and their self-proclaimed best burgers in town.
Service: Two people were working inside. The food is cooked right in front of you. Take-out window not in service when I visited.
Ambiance: Nine stools are provided for sitting, with little space for standing. There is a busy atmosphere with cramped quarters and constant movement of patrons and staff. Everything can be smelled from the stools. The staff were very familiar with the patrons during my visit.

Final Thoughts: While visiting the Music Man Theatre and Frank Lloyd Wright building, this place is perfect for a quick bite. My informants tell me that battering of tenderloins, or nearly anything else, is more common north of the Minnesota border. This place certainly does their tenderloin right, its a can't miss sandwich while in the northern part of the state.

Update 2012:

Some things have changed since my initial write-up in 2008, but a lot more has stayed the same. The guy that runs the Suzie-Q Cafe is still doing magic tricks and cooking sandwiches to order in the middle of the day. The Suzie-Q added evening hours but I think the extra staff just don't give the same service. If you walk in here and the extroverted magician isn't in, maybe its better to come back another time.

The biggest addition to the menu is the Spic-N-Span Melt, which takes the same battered spicy tenderloin and adds grilled onion, melted cheese, and toast to add even more flavour to this sandwich:
The thing I've learned from subsequent visits is that this place is run by a perfectionist who is constantly making small changes or adding things to the menu. Burgers are always hand pattied, and there was once a machine for making curly fries to order.

This was a special Tender Bender Burger, with a grilled tenderloin over a hamburger, served on the same tasty bun. I don't think its on the regular daily menu:

The Suzie-Q has always had taken breakfast seriously, but I rarely get to eat breakfast. I can thank my busy morning for that. I was able to grab an omelet platter here once, it was made from several eggs wrapped around bacon and sausage, topped with cheese. Served with hash browns and toast for less than seven dollars if I remember correctly.

The biggest difference is what downtown Mason City is like compared to 5 years ago. I remember looking at the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel downtown and thinking "this is it?" But after an impressive renovation the hotel is jaw-dropping. Both the Park Inn Hotel and the Stockman House are worth the ten minute drive off Interstate 35 by themselves. The center of Mason City no longer feels like a bunch of empty buildings and a dead mall. The Suzie-Q itself might be getting a makeover someday too.

Suzie-Q Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 15, 2008

44 Drive-In of Panora

Highway 44 brings a small but steady stream of traffic to the area of Panora and nearby Lake Panora. The location on the west side of Panora means that the tourism traffic to the lake never reaches this place. The 44 Drive-In is an old-fashioned small-time burger joint just off this rural route. I may have rolled through town during the slowest time of year.
Location: 104 NW 5th St. in Panora, population 1,175, in Guthrie County, about 50 miles west of Des Moines.

Directions: Take Highway 44 through town, the 44 is on the north side of the street on the west side of Panora.The Tenderloin: This is full-sized piece of pork loin. It has been pounded into a half-moon shape. It has the typical breading and average thickness. The "large" size sandwich sticks out just beyond the bun. There is modest amount of moisture inside. Served with the fixings on a large, toasted bun. 6/10

Price: $5.50, or $4.00 for small size. Grilled tenderloin also available.

on the Menu: Homemade Chili, onion rings, ice cream sundaes, and the house special is the "44 Burger". Service: A counter inside and window outside give you access to the skeleton staff working here. You pick up your food after your number is called.

Ambiance: The busted-up sign tells you this place is a dive. The driveway isn't paved, there is dust all over the picnic tables in front. The inside is clean but the decorations are nothing special.

Final Thoughts: This may not be the best homemade tenderloin in Panora. It may not even be the third best in this small town of many tenderloins to be detailed later. But it is a homemade in Iowa, so it gets documented here.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Starlight Cafe in Winterset

Winterset is the home of John Wayne, and is located between the covered bridges immortalized in a Robert James Waller novel. The tourism has dried up in the decade-plus since the film came out, and the town isn't touched by commuters from Des Moines as often as its location would lead you to believe. It is home to a former one-stop diner and gas station on the south side of town. The Starlight Cafe does not impress from outside, but has a worthy tenderloin to give its customers.

Location: 422 South 1st St. in Winterset, in Madison County, about 30 miles from Des Moines.

Directions: The Starlight Cafe is on the main north-south road through the middle of town. Its behind some buildings but the sign is visible from the road.

The Tenderloin: The "Giant Breaded Tenderloin" described on the menu came after a 5 minute wait. The meat inside was a good consistent white color and mostly steamy and moist inside. The whole thing was a little thicker on one side, and roughly triangular in shape This gets a half-point deduction for the parallel marks along the top from being frozen after breading. The breading has little grease of crumbs to leave on your fingers or the plate. Overall an impressive and large tenderloin. Served on a lightly toasted bun. 7.5/10

Price: $4.99 for the sandwich with whatever fixings you choose.

Service: a single lady took my order and fixed the tenderloin herself.

Also on the menu: a full breakfast menu, homemade mashed potatoes, fried chicken, sandwiches and ice cream.

Ambiance: The inside is a small and cramped area with booths and a dining counter, ancient furniture is too big for the small dining area. The wood-panelling is old and there is a crooked feel to the building. A toy shotgun on the wall reminds you this is John Wayne's hometown.

Final Thoughts: This is a roadside dive with some good food served inside. Its been in operation since 1946, the dining area was once even smaller. This place is worth seeking out on the south end of Winterset.

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