on Thursday, December 3, 2015
Growing up in Minnesota, I wasn’t really exposed to the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in my formative years. As an Iowan now, I realize that tenderloins are a specialty item that businesses take great pride in making and serving. Every place has a slightly different take on the breading/batter, and sizes vary from “I’m not sharing this” to “feeds an entire family”.
While looking into the best tenderloins in Waterloo, we came across an online article that highlights the history of the sandwich. While we Iowans have a special relationship with the tenderloin, the sandwich’s roots can be traced to Huntington, Indiana. Sometime between 1904 and 1908, Nick Freienstein created the sandwich at his restaurant Nick’s Kitchen. If you visit, you’ll get a sandwich that uses the same recipe today as they used for the very first one.
Back to Waterloo, though. There are many great restaurants in Waterloo serving awesome tenderloins. Using the magic and power of social media, we asked where the best tenderloin in Waterloo is served. We heard from dozens of people and several restaurants stood out having great tenderloin support. There were probably as many different suggestions made as there are proper ways to top a tenderloin (is it mustard, ketchup, pickles, onions, all, none?). Wishbone and Z’s Restaurant & Lounge were both mentioned several times. You can even get fried pickles on your tenderloin at Z’s according to my friend Michele. The two restaurants that really stood out though were Newton’s Paradise Café and Steamboat Gardens.
We visited Newton’s first. Their tenderloin fits into the “feeds an entire family” category. Our server Jenna told us that no more than 10-15% of people actually finish the tenderloin in one sitting. It does reheat very nicely, though. It was an outstanding example of a breaded pork tenderloin. The freshly cut pork was individually hand-breaded and then fried. It was crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside, and tasted awesome. And, it was great with pickles. Three of us shared the sandwich, and a fourth could easily have joined us and been well-fed. It is as popular an item on their menu as anything, Jenna said.
Steamboat was next, and we picked a great day to go. Tuesdays are “Tugboat Tuesdays” and the Tugboat sandwich is just $0.99. The Tugboat is a smaller version of the traditional tenderloin served at Steamboat. They also feature “The Barge” which is a bigger, thicker tenderloin. The Tugboat is just larger than bun-sized and, like Newton’s, is hand-breaded. Joel Hundley, who owns Steamboat (3rd-generation owner), told us that they will serve an average of 300 Tugboats on Tuesdays. And with a price like $0.99 we saw why. The breading is crisp and not too thick. The meat is perfectly cooked. We were digging the throw-back atmosphere and the feeling that you’re part of the family when you are there. Steamboat has been a Waterloo institution for more than 80 years, and is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in town.
If you’re looking for a great tenderloin…and who isn't? You have some great options here in Waterloo. Starting at Newton’s and following it up with Steamboat, I can offer a bit of advice, though: The tenderloins are huge so bring your appetite. But one restaurant per meal may be a good rule to follow.
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- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau