How often are sandwiches the subject of a documentary? In his 1998 short film In Search of the Famous Hoosier Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich!, director Jensen Rufe ventured through the great, wide state of Indiana in search of the ultimate pork tenderloin sandwich—eating nothing but them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seeking out restaurant-by-restaurant variants, and uncovering closely guarded recipe secrets from local Mom-and-Pop shops. This endeavor took a week and might have even lasted longer if Rufe had had more time to spare and resources to spend—there’s no shortage of pork tenderloin sandwiches in the Midwest, after all, as the region considers the food a source of pride.
So, what is it? Basically, it’s a breaded, fried pork tenderloin cutlet on a hamburger bun. Since a raw cut of tenderloin generally has a cylindrical shape, the meat is trimmed, hammered thin—so thin, superfans say, that you should be able to tear off pieces of the meat with your hands—with a meat mallet, dipped in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, and dunked into hot oil. (Unlike its close cousin the Wiener Schnitzel, classic pork tenderloin sandwiches are deep-fried and not pan-fried.) Once comfortably in place on a bun, the pork is topped with mustard, lettuce, onions, pickles, and mayo, and served with fries or onion rings. When all’s said and done, the creation sort of resembles the planet Saturn: a round bun with a thin, oblong piece of meat hanging off the sides.
Midwestern states contend for the title of best BPT (slang for “breaded pork tenderloin”). Pork production alone adds $2.5 billion to the Iowan economy; it’s here in the capital city of Des Moines that a restaurant called Smitty’s has been serving the “original” pork tenderloin sandwich since 1952. There’s even an Iowan blog cleverly named Des Loines, and it focuses on—c’mon, take a guess.