I had no idea what a Midwest pork tenderloin sandwich was until I tried one at Roosters in Margate a few weeks ago. But man, was I pleasantly surprised when I received it. The sandwich was carefully wrapped in foil to look like an oblong sub. But when I opened it, what I saw was a single, egg-washed bun being overwhelmed by a piece of pork pounded so thin and wide as to stretch out three inches on every side. Tomato, lettuce, and onion covered the top layer of the monstrous schnitzel, made gooey by lots of mayonnaise and a wad of melted mozzarella cheese. I cut it in half in order to grip the sandwich by the sides of the bun (I would've had to hold on to the pork otherwise). The cracker-coated pork was sweet and salty, full of flavor and texture. If this is how they do pork in the Midwest, I may have to pack up my pigs and get a ticket to Des Moines.
The pork tenderloin sandwich hails from Iowa -- or Indiana, depending on whom you believe. It's revered in Des Moines the way the Italian beef sandwich is in Chicago or the cheese steak is in Philly. There are dozens of blogs and websites dedicated to the porky creation, the hub of which is a place called Stalking the Wild Breaded Pork Tenderloin in Iowa.
Stalking is probably a good name for it. Fans of the sandwich, like those who worship at the altar of chicken-fried steak, search far and wide for the best iteration. They trek to sleepy small-town diners and order them two at a time and stumble into fry shops in Des Moines hoping to nosh on their favorite. Subtle variations in breading, thickness, toppings, and bun all receive careful scrutiny.
Though some tenderloin sandwiches fit politely on the bun, the most distinctive trademark of the genre is the way the pork overflows from the bun, like a Frisbee sandwiched between two hockey pucks. The practice strikes me as one of those traditions that have no practical application (certainly it's easier and far cleaner to eat a sandwich that fits on a bun). Instead, it's the quirky appeal that is the real draw -- the idea that what you're eating is so defiant and egregious as to reject confinement by any mere piece of starch. I can really get behind that mentality. After all, food does not always have to make sense. Sometimes, it's just damned good eating.
Rooster's version remains the only Midwest-style pork tenderloin sandwich I've ever had. But I'm curious if there are any other restaurants in South Florida selling a similar version. Let me know with a comment if so. Or just tell me your own pork tenderloin sandwich story.
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