Conquer The Iowa Tenderloin Trail: The Lengthy But Enjoyable Path To Midwestern Fried Pork Perfection

By: Stephen Bybee | sbybee@newzgroup.com

In Iowa there is a legendary route that criss-crosses the state, traversed by those seeking truth, perfection, and the ultimate tenderloin sandwich.  This route is re-mapped each year by an astutely discerning group of judges from Iowa’s pork industry.  Dubbed the Tenderloin Trail, this meandering collection of venerable eating establishments is Iowa’s answer to a pilgrim’s path for the hungry.  The Tenderloin Trail consists of a list of Iowa dining venues whose pork tenderloin sandwich has been judged to be the acme of the tenderloin field.  And the panel of judges should know a thing or two about the products that they sample.  Culled from the membership of the Iowa Pork Producers’ Association, the Iowa tenderloin judges travel the state each year to critically assess the  nominations submitted by Iowa’s restaurant goers.  Many miles are driven, and many tenderloin sandwiches are tasted.  At the end of the judging period a field of five nominees is announced, with the top contender being awarded the coveted Best Breaded Tenderloin award.

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Iowa’s Tenderloin Trail currently boasts 14 restaurants, each of which was a statewide winner at some point during the 15 year history of the contest.  From the Three C’s Diner in southwest Iowa to a cluster of restaurants and diners around Des Moines; from the Belmond Drive-In up in northern Iowa to the sixth generation Breitbach’s Country Dining, overlooking the Mississippi River Valley on the eastern edge of the state, the eating establishments on the Trail range from urban to decidedly rural, from the far flung corners of the state to the very center of Iowa.  But all of them have one thing in common:  fantastic and delicious tenderloin is on the menu.

In 2017 the Grid Iron Grill captured the enviable distinction, and earned itself a stop along the Trail.  Located in Webster City, Iowa, the Grid Iron Grill has been in business since 2008, when owner Burke Risetter opened the restaurant with his uncle.  Risetter estimates that his restaurant serves around 400 tenderloins each week.  Now that Grid Iron has achieved the Best Tenderloin in Iowa status, you can expect that number to increase.

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On the south side of Des Moines is another restaurant whose mainstay has become the pork tenderloin sandwich.  Voted the restaurant with Iowa’s best tenderloin in 2016, Nick’s Restaurant now maintains a thriving tenderloin trade, frying estimated 1,000 tenderloins each week.  Owner Nick Iaria hand cuts his tenderloins each morning, frying them in a tenderloin-dedicated fryer that has slowly built up a flavor patina of seasoned pork that is integral to the taste of the final product.

Traveling the Tenderloin Trail isn’t as simple as driving from restaurant to restaurant and stuffing yourself with delicious, fried pork.  The Iowa Pork Producers have introduced an online map and a downloadable passport to bring an additional level of engagement and reward to potential trail-goers.  In order to make your participation official, you will need to download and print off an official Tenderloin Trail Passport, available at www.iowapork.org or at www.traveliowa.org.  Travelers who have their tenderloin-trail-passport stamped at ten of Iowa’s Tenderloin Trail establishments will be rewarded with a t-shirt proclaiming “I Conquered the Tenderloin Trail!”  But unlike the seemingly inexhaustible supply of pork in Iowa, the Tenderloin Trail t-shirt is only available until 2019.

Disclosure: Iowa Pork Producers Association is a client of Newz Group.