Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Tender Trap in Burlington, Iowa

The Tender Trap had a drawing of a raccoon on the front of the menu, and its not the first place with racoon graphics where I have stopped in for a tenderloin. I get around Burlington often, and this place was near the top of my list for a recent visit.

Location: 2222 Summer St in Burlington, Des Moines County, Southeast Iowa.

Directions: Just fly in on your private jet because its right by the airport.

Online at: Tender Trap used to have a website with a menu, pictures, and mail order but it isn't there anymore.

The Tenderloin: The heart of the sandwich was a giant triangle of tenderized pork loin. It easily filled the takeout package it had been stuffed into. Interior meat was juicy. The crackermeal breading had been fried to a deep golden brown with great crunchiness and crumbs spreading everywhere. Served on a large toasted bun. Overall 8.2 out of ten.

Price: I think it was $8.50 with two sides thrown in, but my notes are short so don't quote me on that one.

Also on the menu: The menu is huge with the usual fried stuff, chicken tenderloin sandwiches, steaks and prime rib along with daily specials. The special sandwich is The Trapper made with chicken breast, ham, and bacon.

Service: I ordered take-out from the bar the two times I stopped in. Nothing to complain about.

Ambiance: This is a racing themed bar with booths, a bar, and a ton of space for seating. There is a serenity fountain tucked away in one corner, weird.

Final Thoughts: This was better than the other tenderloins in the Burlington area I have already tried. It might take me a while to decide how it compares to restaurants further out in the Southeast Iowa region like Apron Strings in Mediapolis, Short Stop in New London, or the Hawkeye Restaurant in Keokuk.
Tender Trap Limited on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Racers in Sexton, Iowa

Wikipedia has Sexton, Iowa listed as a ghost town with an old grain elevator remaining. That is odd because I remember not just the grain elevator but also a handful of houses. I also remember stopping by a roadhouse named Racers with a giant menu and wall-to-wall racing decorations.

Location: 1826 Highway 18 in Sexton, unincorporated township outside Algona in Kossuth County, Northern Iowa.

Directions: Its in "downtown Sexton" which means the one cross street along Highway 18 between Algona and Britt.

The Tenderloin: Exceptionally thick and juicy, barely tenderized meat to chew through slowly. The trim job left some bits of fat out inside. The outside is a thin batter with deep amounts of black pepper and spices. The battered tenderloins have a way of locking in juices and this one is no exception. Served on a toasted bun. Overall 7.8 out of ten.

Price: $6.95 with a side of fries

Also on the menu: The menu is big with all the usual fried stuff and bar fare. They also bake Stone Willy brand pizzas. There are a bunch of things with intentional misspellings like Wingz and the creatively titled RUEBENZ BALLZ appetizer.

Service: Each of my visits has had one person running the bar and tables while another person cooks. Its just regular bar service.

Ambiance: This is a racing bar with beer signs and racing posters covering the walls in every direction. The lights are dim, neon beer signs, and there are flatscreen televisions to watch.

Final Thoughts: Its always nice to find something good to eat while driving through a small town. Its a good thing they had a sign reading Homemade Tenderloins, it makes my job easier when deciding where to stop.

Racers Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cole's Ice Cream in Slater, Iowa

"Every time David Sturdy breads and fries up a homemade tenderloin for a customer he thinks of his son. After all, it is his son’s recipe he uses when he makes what he proudly boasts is the best tenderloin around."
From an Ames Tribune article titled Little Shop Keeps up Memory of Fallen Marine. May 09, 2012 by Michael Crumb. Back in 2002 the family closed the Ice Cream Shop down and David's oldest son Brandon joined the Marines, fighting in Iraq and dying at the age of 19 in Falluja. Cole's reopened in 2011, and the breaded tenderloin is a third of their food sales. That is some pretty heavy emotional stuff for a fried pork sandwich.

Location: 101 E 6th Ave in Slater in Story County, Central Iowa.

Directions: 6th Ave is Highway 210,  the main drag through town between Madrid and Huxley. Its about 30 miles north of Des Moines.

Online at: Facebook Page is HERE.

Important Note: I think this place closes down for the winter, if so then try again when spring rolls around.

The Tenderloin: This was a thick slab of pork loin between the buns to make this sandwich. The seasoning was a bit on the heavy side with a good dose of salt and pepper in the breading. In the pictures you can see some salt added on top after cooking. The tenderizing didn't break apart the grain of the pork loin, so there is some soft chewiness to the thick cut. Served on a large untoasted bun with pickles and onion. Overall 8.4 out of ten.

Price: $4.99

Also on the menu: Full ice cream menu with Picket Fence Ice Cream from Woodward. The food includes the usual burgers, hot dogs, and fried stuff.

Service: It was just one guy running the whole show when I was there, not much to complain about.

Ambiance: There is a small inside space but the outside is your regular small town ice cream place with a gravel parking lot and wooden picnic tables. There is a counter with a register inside and a walk-up window for ordering when its warm outside.

Final Thoughts: The multiple hand painted signs reading GIANT TENDERLOIN beckoned me from the highway, and I was not disappointed by my stop from the road. Slater is close to the new bike trail and bridge over the lake that has been drawing a stream of visitors to the area. Next I will have to drive down Highway 210 to the Town & Country Cafe in Madrid and Lou's Diner in Woodward.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fat Annie's Augusta Tap in Augusta, Iowa

The sign reads Giant Tenderloins, the name on the sign is Fat Annie's Augusta Tap, and I just had to stop in during my last visit to Southeast Iowa. Fat Annie's is not related to Fat Randi's in Van Meter, nor is Augusta to be confused with the Augusta Restaurant in Oxford.

Location: Its on the busy intersection of Augusta Main Road and Augusta Mill Road, beside the Skunk River in the unincorporated township of Augusta in Des Moines County, Southestern Iowa.

Directions: The closest town is Wever, but most people are driving along Highway 61 between Burlington and Ft. Madison. Take Highway 61 to State Highway 16, then go north on County Road X-38 which runs over a bridge into Augusta.

The Tenderloin: This was a huge sandwich, weighing well more that the 8 ounces that many places give me. the sandwich was almost too big to get a picture from my car as the sun was setting. The meat was tenderized well and a little piece on the edge fell off when I unwrapped the tin foil. Most of the sandwich was thick and closer to moist than juicy. Breading had a cracker crunch and left crumbs everywhere. The kaiser bun just couldn't handle the wight of the oversize sandwich and fell apart. Overall 7.5 out of ten.

Price: $6.00

Also on the menu: the regular fried food and bar staples are here in abundance, including burgers and fried chicken. Fat Annies is close to the Big River, and serves carp and catfish like other bars in this area.

Service: Typical small town bar style, with bartenders making small talk with regulars who seemed to have been there forever.

Ambiance: There is the usual old wood paneling, booths, dark atmosphere, beer signs, and outdoors photos. But the wall seems to be covered with carpet fragments cut into a large geometrical mural then stapled to the wall. The bar area and back seem to be covered in floor lamination, the whole place just boggles the mind.

Final Thoughts: Augusta looks like an old mill town, and Fat Annies seems to be the oldest building close to the river. The ambiance of the historic building seems to be lost with the latest renovations. I've seen some small town dive bars in my time but this place is epic.I took photos and notes about the tenderloin but all that I can remember is the decorations of the interior.
Fat Annie's Augusta on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trojan Inn in Toledo, Iowa

The Trojan Inn recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, operating first on the Toledo square and in its current location since 1994. That is a long time in any community, and this small cafe has some clear staying power. A recent write up in the Cedar Rapids Gazette claimed visitors from other states would return to the Trojan Inn to buy tenderloins. Another local paper gave the Trojan Inn an award for best tenderloin in the area.

Location: 127 E High St in Toledo, Tama County, in Eastern Iowa

Directions: E High runs south of the square, and the cafe is half a block east of the Courthouse. Toledo has some odd traffic lights attached to the ground in the middle of the street, so be careful.

The Tenderloin: The lady serving me claimed that these are usually wider, but the preparation and tenderizing was done by an old lady who couldn't hit the pork loin as hard as she used to. I really didn't know what to think about a story like that, the loin looked perfectly huge already. It felt like eight ounces of pork in a triangular cut of loin meat. The breading felt thick and crunchy but had little seasoning. The edges were a little dry to my taste. Overall 7.0 out of ten.

Price: $7.20

Also on the Menu: There is a large menu of scratch cooking that included burgers, melt sandwiches, ice-cream and a full breakfast selection. There was a window fridge with homemade pies to choose from that looked great.

Service: It seemed to be just a couple old ladies working when I was in. One was waiting tables, the other was cooking.

Ambiance: This is another place that is clearly old but the current location hasn't been a restaurant for too long. There is an old counter and aging woodwork along with wood paneled booths for seating.

Final Thoughts: I always sympathize with the small cafes that have the bad luck of a casino opening nearby. The casino hits a local place two ways: first by taking the disposable income of so many locals, secondly by opening competing food places that serve at below cost as competition. Its a hard time finding good places to eat in the many casino towns. I recently read the visually iconic King Tower Cafe in Tama has come under new ownership. My last visit didn't go so well, but it may be time to try it again.
Trojan Inn on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gramma's Kitchen in Walcott, Iowa

I have found my fair share of battered tenderloins while driving through Iowa. The slight difference in texture and crispiness sets them apart from the breaded tenderloin sandwiches. The pictures come out a little different because of the smoother surface on the batter coated pork loin. Gramma's Kitchen in Walcott was voted your 2011 IPPA Best Tenderloin in the State of Iowa, and it is described as "famous" on their menu.

Location: 3408 N Plainview Rd in Walcott, Iowa just outside Davenport next door to the World's  Largest Truck Stop.

Directions: This is on the north side of the Interstate at exit 284, Across from the giant truck stop with a giant sign you can't miss.

Online At: Website is HERE.

The Tenderloin: Getting this in a to-go box, it opens up like a package of fish-n-chips with a giant battered strip of pork stretching across the container. The meat felt like a seven ounce triangle of pork that took a great shape after being battered and fried.You can see in the picture that the loin formed something of a curled up shape that held the fixins and the bun in place on top. The batter was crunchy on the edges, but the middle and inside could be described as "fluffy", something rarely seen in pork tenderloins. Served with all your fixins to stack under a toasted flour-dusted bun. Overall 8.7 out of ten.

Price: $8.50 with side of fries.
Also on the menu: The menu has the comfort food classics like Iowa Chop, Cured Ham, Meatloaf, and pies along with some of the usual stuff you see everywhere. The Checkered Flag menu has sports bar items and a Pork Chimichanga.

Service: The restaurants owned by the Heart of America Group are a lot of things, but they are all fast, efficient, clean, can handle groups and you never need a reservation. I think they serve any item from the Checkered Flag or Gramma's Kitchen in both dining areas.
Ambiance: I didn't have time to dine in, but there is a gift shop area in front of reception with Iowa and  farm-themed stuff for sale. The dining are is made out to look like some imaginary Gramma out there somewhere. There is another entrance to the building with an entirely separate restaurant, the racing themed sports bar-like Checkered Flag.

Final Thoughts: Gramma's Kitchen may have the most convenient location of any tenderloin in Iowa. Smitty's in Des Moines is close to the airport, but more people drive through Iowa on I-80 than any other way through Iowa. The truck stop across the street is very busy year round. Gramma's Kitchen is not a small-town mom-and-pop place, but their professional culinary team had put together a competitive loin.
Gramma's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rich's Muskie Lounge in Ventura Iowa

I always associated Muskies with Muscatine in Eastern Iowa. I guess this fish is everywhere. Ventura is a small town right next to Clear Lake. Its population swells in the summer as visitors from the area move into tightly packed houses next to the lake. Please note, Muskie Lounge and many others in town are open only seasonally. Driving through in winter will only find a CLOSED sign and an empty dock.

Location: 702 E Lake St. in Ventura, on Clear Lake in Cerro Gordo County in Northern Iowa.

Directions: Lake St rings around Clear Lake and is reached by taking Highway 18 past the city of Clear Lake into Ventura. Look for the giant carved Muskie fish in the parking area.

The Tenderloin: The rich, buttery, toasted french bread is what sets the tenderloin here apart. There is something about a soft and fine white bread that makes is a good bun for breaded pork tenderloin. Its right up there with the classic corn-dusted Kaiser bun or the flour-dusted Rotella buns in Central Iowa.  I would not be surprised if the same breading was used in the fried fish the Muskie Lounge cranks out. The meat here felt like untenderized but well trimmed portion of the darker side of pork loin. This was juicy and chewy in texture. Overall 7.8 out of ten.

Price: $7.50
Also on the menu: the specialty is the nightly fish fry including all you can eat Alaskan Walleye, but there is a large menu including the usual fried stuff, the Muskie Burger, and Torsk.

Service: Its local old ladies running the show, not especially fast but nobody is in a hurry at these lakeside places. They get really busy during the summer season and don't always do carryout.
Ambiance: There is a dining area inside with mounted muskie fish and angling themed decorations and large booth seats with views of Clear Lake, or you can eat outside or even on a boat during the season.

Final Thoughts: The Clear Lake area always seems to have a good vibe in the season. People from the area come here to have a good time and relax, and I've enjoyed eating my way through the tenderloins in the area. I found an alright sandwich at The Other Place down the road.  I have had PM Park, on the other side of the lake, on my list for years now. I just never seem to get there when its open, but maybe I can make it there next season.
Muskie Lounge on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dam Bar & Grill in Troy Mills Iowa

One sign claims this bar is home to the finest tenderloins in Troy Mills, another reads The Best Dam Tenderloin in Iowa. It may be referring to the best tenderloin near a dam, or on a dam, or in a town by a dam. There are a lot of dams in Iowa, so this is no small distinction.

Location: 5898 Main St in Troy Mills, an unincorporated community in Linn County, Eastern Iowa.

Directions: Troy Mills is on the road between the towns of Walker and Coggon, not exactly the most well-traveled route. The intersection of County Highway D62 and Troy Mills Rd is about 24 miles north of Cedar Rapids, accessible by county roads with no real direct route from the highway.


The Tenderloin: I saw the lady in the kitchen grab a rolling pin when I ordered the sandwich.I'm guessing the meat was pressed down before frying to get a good chewy texture. The moisture was good for such a thin tenderloin, and the breading was just a thin coating of golden brown with a hint of pepper. The trim job by whoever cut the meat was impressive, not a hint of fat in a giant loin. Overall 8.3 out of ten.

Price: $8.45 also available in medium and small sizes.
Also on the menu: The bar has drinks with goofy names like Hot Sex and the bartender wears a shirt reading "I had Hot Sex at the Dam Bar." There is the usual fried stuff and burgers, along with a Wing Night and Fish Fry.

Service: I was in during the off hours and there was a lady at the bar and another person cooking. Each were making conversation with the local regulars.
Ambiance: This is a small town bar with an outdoors theme in the decorations along with countless beer signs, some pictures of Troy Mills and sports trophies. There are tables and a bar for seating.

Final Thoughts: I've been to plenty of these small town bars and the Dam Bar was a good clean place with friendly service and a good loin. Its right up there with Butch's River Rock Cafe in Oakland Mills when it comes to eating a tenderloin near a dam.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Menlo Cafe in Menlo Iowa

I had driven along the White Pole Road without ever really knowing the significance, just wondering why the poles were painted white. The road connects five small towns close to the interstate in West Central Iowa. On the main drag through Menlo, the coffee cup painted on the window is an indication that the Menlo Cafe is the local gathering place for small town people wanting a big breakfast.

Location: 502 Sherman St in Menlo, population 352, about forty miles west of Des Moines in Guthrie County.

Directions: Menlo is along a stretch of State Highway 925 known as White Pole Road, and is about 2 miles off of I-80. Menlo Cafe is along the main street through town.

Online at: no website for the Menlo Cafe, but check out the White Pole Road.

The Tenderloin: The sandwich felt like six or seven ounces of pork when I lifted it up. The meat inside was bright white and moist throughout. The fine textured breading had a light yellow color and just a touch of seasoning. Served on a huge flour-dusted bun with your choice of fixings, overall 7.8 out of ten.

Price: $6.00 with ridged potato chips.

Also on the menu: This place does breakfast six days a week, including a Sunday buffet. The usual burgers and sandwiches are here, along with daily specials. My research leading me to this place led me to believe there would be butterscotch pie on the menu. But the dessert board had only slices of cake

Service: There were a couple kids waiting tables when I was in. Each table had a pitcher of water frequently refilled.
Ambiance: This is a main street small town cafe that has been redone over the years and just looks out of date. The seating area is large and can accommodate groups.

Final Thoughts: The Menlo Cafe gives people the small town Iowa cafe experience in a place not far from Des Moines. If you want a more impressive tenderloin, you have to drive further west to get to the award winning places out that way.

Menlo Market & Cafe on Urbanspoon