Tuesday, March 15, 2011

AJ's Bar & Grill in Mt. Sterling

Mt Sterling is a small town on a small hill with two claims to fame. When the local mayor tried to outlaw lying in 2003, New York Times sent a reporter to AJ's Bar & Grill to interview locals, and other media outlets picked up the story nationwide. The second claim to fame is the gigantic tenderloin known for "miles around" in the hill country just north of the Missouri Border. A local newspaper article compared AJ's Jumbo Tenderloin to the Gunderburger in terms of local legendary giant sandwiches. I had to check this place out after someone from the local tourism office pointed me in the right direction.

Location: 101 Elm St. in Mt. Sterling (population 36), in Van Buren County, Southeast Iowa. This is about as far out of the way as it gets.

Directions: Highway 2 is the main road through the southern tier of counties in Iowa. Take County Road W20 4 miles south to Mt Sterling. Follow the sign pointing to AJ's.

Online at: try the Villages at Van Buren website, one of the best local tourism site in Iowa, HERE.

The Tenderloin: This one is significantly bigger than the plate it is served on. It has the usual attributes of the super-jumbo tenderloin, extreme thickness in some parts, edges a little crispier than the middle. Juice bursts from the center when a fork is stuck inside. The fork and knife that give the picture scale are necessary to cut the edges off and make the thing workable. The breading seems to be a double dip of egg wash and seasonings before deep frying. They put the ketchup on the mustard on for me, but I would not have added this much ketchup. Overall 8.5 out of ten, worth the trip off the Highway.

Price: $9.00

Also on the menu:
There is a smaller tenderloin, a tenderloin bits appetizer, along with the usual burgers and fried stuff.

One lady was working the bar while a guy in back cooked. I think they were the co-owners.
Ambiance: This is a Hunters Lodge with exposed concrete floor, wood paneling and particle board walls, along with taxidermy animals of all local varieties mounted on the walls between beer signs. The windows have a great view overlooking the Fox River Valley, and its acres of protected wetlands and tree groves.
Final Thoughts: Any person who has traveled most of Iowa would be surprised to see how much land isn't being farmed when driving the county road into Mt. Sterling. This small part of Iowa is turning into a hunters paradise, with hundreds of acres of fallow fields, and shallow water wetlands and wooded areas filled with animals. AJ's Bar & Grill and the rest of Mt Sterling is a welcoming place for these people. The town with just 36 people, and which may have had more dogs than people at one point, seems to be hanging on. Check out the antique church on the way into town, the locals have been trying to maintain it for a while now.

AJ's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon


  1. Oh my goodness!! Is that a regular bun because the size of that tenderloin makes it look doll size?!

  2. I run a wine shop in Iowa City and a co-worker showed me your site. It is magnificent. I sent this email out to my mailing list today. Hope you don't mind the links to your site. Keep up the good work. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate is the Bible of wine ratings worldwide. You need to swipe the moniker. Please accept it as a gift from an unworthy admirer.

    "Completely un-wine related but dedication like this should be recognized and rewarded.
    Des Loines, a blog utterly devoted to the Iowish National Foodstuff, The Pork Tenderloin.
    Sure, it seems easy until you look at THE MAP and realize the thousands of miles and hundreds of hours that went into assembling this valuable store of knowledge in one place. I personally name him Robert Porker Jr, The Swine Advocate"

  3. This is a HUGE loin, with tremendous taste! Do what you can to get to the bun because it too has great flavor. (Butter filled) My buddy and I have been rating loins for 4 years and this one rates #1.
    The manager Toni is a hoot! She and the owners wife, and another gal were there on the Saturday we went to AJs,extremely friendly and fun.

  4. I am the ex daughter in law of the owners and use to spend HOURS in the back room pounding those tenderloins out by hand and breading them! NOT fun! However, I do miss everyone up there. I liked working there with Toni. She made me laugh constantly, and of course I miss ol' Mayor Joe, Bucky, the Clamans, KR,....I miss alot of people! Wish I could visit someday. Terri Branch

    1. Terry, when you mention "Bucky", I believe you are talking about my Uncle Danny Parish? I'm the daughter of Don Parish--and my family visits A.J.'s at least once per year. A.J.'s tenderloins are amazing! I've never tried the "Bucky Burger" listed on the menu since I enjoy the tenderloin so much, but one of these days I'll have to try it. It must be nice to have a sandwich named after you; I'll have to ask Uncle Danny how many he ordered before it became an official menu item. My teenage sons would vote for A.J.'s double bacon cheeseburger. No matter what my family has ordered over the years, no one has been disappointed yet--and we never leave hungry!

      Deanna Gray

    2. That's Bucky. The Bucky Burgers are great!!!!!! Yes you definitely get a ton of food!! And the bacon burgers are great...all of the food is great. I miss the food alot!

    3. Yes the burgers were wonderful and yes that's the Bucky I'm talking about. The Bucky Burgers are great!!

  5. That looks amazing!!!

  6. Tenderloins were utterly fantastic!!! We rode 90 miles on 9-16 to check out AJ's & we were not disappointed! Great place--can't wait to visit again!

  7. I went there last week and had one, delicious! I will go back!

  8. Asked the bartender if the tenderloins were large enough to share. In her opinion, "Probably not." IN MY OPINION, "You bet." If the loin doesn't fill you up the basket filled with fries will!!

  9. How do they get it so big? Is it multiple smaller pieces "attached" or 1 huge chunk of loin pounder out?