Philly has its Cheesesteak. Louisville, the Hot Brown. And Chicago has given us not just the Italian beef sandwich, but deepdish pizza and hotdogs “dragged through the garden.”
But who gave us the pork chop? Who can we thank for bacon? The gift of ham? Or the apotheosis of pigdom: the tenderloin? Glad you asked, because I’m from Kewanee, Illinois: THE HOG CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, where kids grow up Pork Proud.
As a typical, red-blooded young man, I was pretty social (some would say dorky, but f*** them), and I had my share of flirtations with the opposite sex. During my junior year of high school, I entered into my first romance, a mainly one-sided relationship with a girl named Bonnie.
She was sweet. She was beautiful. And every night we went out, I made it a point to shed her by 10:30 PM, because that gave me half an hour to make it to the local A&W ROOT BEER STAND and DRIVE IN before it closed promptly at 11 PM.
In the farmland of central Illinois, food is always your first love. I thought I loved Bonnie, but I LUSTED after A&W’s DEEP-FRIED SIGNATURE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH. The flesh was flattened to the diameter of a frying pan, breaded and served hot and crispy, dwarfing the burger bun. And as luscious as Bonnie might have been, it was like comparing a horse and mouse – the horse wins because as fair and charming as Bonnie could be (usually)…(on occasion)…(okay, once, under the bleachers), the pork tenderloin never disappointed…was always supportive and there for me…and never, ever hinted that I was a dork. I was IN LOVE with a SANDWICH!
Now, I have to tell you that, to this day, there are deep-seeded resentments and arguments as to who originated the DEEP-FRIED PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH. Success has many fathers.
Some claim that the sandwich was birthed at THE HIGH LIFE LOUNGE in Des Moines, Iowa.
Yet legions of Hoosiers violently disagree. They insist that the blessed event took place at NICK’S KITCHEN in downtown Huntington, Indiana. The Indianapolis crowd say it was the INDIANA STATE FAIR.
But let’s get real: Iowa? Indiana? I think not.
A more viable candidate might be Peoria, Illinois, which calls itself “THE PORK TENDERLOIN CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.” It could have been invented at CASS’S PLACE by the Bradley Campus. Or maybe THE IGLOO.
One thing we can be certain of – and only one thing – is that the sandwich has its roots deep in the Midwest. And my money is on Illinois.
Evidently our hometown senator, Frank P. Johnson, thought the same way, because in 1947 he sponsored a bill that the Illinois State Legislature passed unanimously, paying tribute to “HIS ROYAL MAJESTY.. KING HOG.” The same bill singled out my hometown, KEWANEE, ILLINOIS, as “THE HOG CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!!!” (exclamation points might be mine).
Kewanee wasted no time in capitalizing on the official bestowment and hosted its first annual HOG DAY on Labor Day weekend of that year. The downtown streets were closed and renamed after iconic breeds of pig – DUROC AVENUE…HAMPSHIRE STREET…YORKSHIRE PLACE. The Hog Day parade was led down 2nd Avenue by a herd of Yorkshires and followed by batteries of high school bands and the renowned KEWANEE DRUM & BUGLE CORPS.
In the years that followed, Hog Day featured carnival rides and other attractions. A commemorative Hog Day decanter of Jim Beam Whiskey was commissioned. LITTLE MISS HOG DAY’s were crowned.
You can understand how, having grown up in a “hog culture,” I know more than a little about the original pork tenderloin sandwich (certainly more than those imposters who claim to have invented it). You can also understand why poor Bonnie got the boot at 10:30 so I could make it to the A&W.
Most important, you can trust me when I tell you that the PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH not only lives on, but has reached PERFECTION right here in Minneapolis, where I’ve introduced my beloved hometown “piggy treat” at LIBERTINE in Uptown.
Flattened to the size of a Manny’s Steak Platter, breaded with Panko bread crumbs, and dressed with tomato, pickles red onion and mayo, It’s dubbed THE OINKSTER.
Oh, and by the way, I never could get Bonnie to see things my way. Maybe if I’d loved her more than a sandwich – things might have turned out differently. We’ll never know.
P.S. – To celebrate the new OINKSTER, LIBERTINE will be offering the sandwich (including fries) for FIVE DOLLARS Sunday through Thursday nights during the month of September from 7 PM to close!
Yes, folks… you heard that right: $ 5.00 !!!!