The Annual Quest For The Classic Tenderloin

By Susan Phillips

One thing that I like about going to the Grand Prix weekend, is that you get to do a lot of things without dealing with the crowds. If you’ve been reading George’s posts very long, you know how much he likes to eat. Whenever we go to a new city where he’s been before, he starts mapping out where our meals will be before anything else. Most people go to New Orleans for the partying. George goes to eat.

It’s even more ramped up at Indianapolis, where tradition and his familiarity with the place combine for a restaurant list too long to complete. One place he’s never taken me is St. Elmo’s Steak House in downtown Indianapolis. He and his former wife went there several times in the early nineties, so why can’t I go? Hmmm…

We’ve already checked off a couple of things off of our list this year, even though we will probably repeat some or all of them. Friday night, we went to the Mug-n-Bun. The food there is OK, but you go for the root beer and the ambience. We’ve done the sit-in-the-car drive-in thing, but it’s best to go to the dining room across the parking lot or grab an open picnic table outside? Why? Because George usually gets a cheese-coney fully loaded, that usually ends up in his lap if we’re sitting in the car.

Saturday night, we met up with friends at Dawson’s on Main in Speedway. We love it there and even took our wedding guests there the night we got married (four years ago tomorrow, by the way). The food is good, the atmosphere is relaxed and we usually see a driver or someone involved in racing while we’re there (even though we didn’t see anyone Saturday night).

Then Sunday, we met them at Charlie Brown’s for breakfast before going to Long’s Donuts for, well…donuts.

But checking off items on the list of restaurants is nothing compared to the annual quest that goes on inside the track…the search for the old-school classic tenderloin.

Someone sent a tweet to George on Thursday about new items added to the hated tenderloin at the Alley Café behind the Pagoda. Besides the bacon, spicy mustard, jalapeños and pepper-jack cheese – they had added carrots, celery and even cauliflower to the ever-growing list of toppings. I don’t get as bent out of shape as my eccentric husband does over such things. I figure if you don’t like the toppings, take them off. But even I‘ll admit that adding parts of a salad bowl is a little over the top.

Since that new tenderloin showed up two or three years ago, I’ve been dragged all over that track trying to locate the old style that is just a well-seasoned breaded tenderloin on a toasted bun. One year, we found them under Stand A. Last year, the morning of the Grand Prix, we finally tracked them down under Stand J.

With it being so cold last weekend, we didn’t make it down to J. But there were no food stands open under the Paddock stand. Stand A had a couple open, but none sold tenderloins. We were wanting to see the new plaza outside of Turn One, so we kept going…and going…and going.

We finally found a new food stand in the new plaza that sold tenderloins served on a BISCUIT, if you can believe that. George found that odd enough, but he was also overly confounded that the biscuit was square. It came with jalapeño slaw (yuck!), but you could order it plain which is how he got it. As weird as coming on a biscuit sounded, he decided to give it a try. I’ll give my husband credit; he at least tried something new and different, which totally goes against his grain.


He ate about two-thirds of it before doing something I’ve never seen him do…he threw it away! I’m not a biscuit lover, but George is. He said the biscuit was actually good, but the tenderloin was tasteless and dry. He gave me a bite of the meat (before he threw it in the trash) and I agreed. There was no seasoning in the batter at all. The traditional tenderloin has a fair amount of pepper, but this had none. It had no taste and no moisture. I can guess how dry it would be on a biscuit which is already dry by nature. I did snap this while he was trying to eat it. The look on his face was priceless.


I’ll admit that I dread next weekend. I know that I’ll be dragged all over the track in search of the traditional classic tenderloin, starting Saturday morning when they open up the concession stands underneath the main grandstands. God help me if they don’t have them there. He won’t just stop looking, assuming they no longer have them and give up. He’ll just look harder. This will take on more importance than what is happening on the track. I can already see I’ll be hauled down to Stand J and then across the entire property to a stand inside Turn Two. My legs are still hurting from walking around last weekend. I can only imagine what they’ll feel like if he doesn’t find his precious tenderloin. It’s going to be a very long month.

18 Responses to “The Annual Quest For The Classic Tenderloin”

  1. The saga continues… We’ll start looking on Friday 28th….

  2. madtad1 Says:

    The Tenderloin heresy continues!

    BTW: if St Elmo’s has bad memories for George, just go to Harry and Izzys. Same company, same food, a little easier to get into.

    The other place you need to try, in your copious spare time, is Patachou downtown. A great breakfast place with great sandwiches.

    If you’re looking to spot drivers, and not just Brasilian ones, there’s always Fogo de Chao downtown. All you can eat Brasilian grilled meats.

  3. In turn 4, they did away with the speedway concession tent that had the tenderloin. There were a lot of food vendors, one from Iowa selling hand breaded tenderloins. They were good, but not the Speedway classic.

  4. Blaze the trail George and find that tenderloin sandwich so I don’t have to!

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Cauliflower on a sandwich?!

    I haven’t been this puzzled since I discovered that some people store peanut butter in the refrigerator.

    Sheer lunacy.

  6. Just north of the media center, under the suites, there is an IMS concession stand that use to sell the tenderloin. I would assume they would be open this weekend.

    • sejarzo Says:

      That’s where I bought the traditional one in recent years after the main stand in the plaza switched over to “le nouveau tenderloin”.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    Echoing the Skinkster…………..Cauliflower on a sandwich?! Who the hell does this?! Have they no shame? A festival of umbrage should ensue. Let’s make the tenderloin great again.

  8. I’m looking for to trying a tenderloin sandwich at the track. I’m sure its better than what Culver’s sells.

    I’m curious. What condiments or toppings are best on a tenderloin?

    • My preference repulses some. I prefer mayonnaise only. It’s a southern thing.

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Also a northern thing. ( I can envision George in a tee shirt-100% cotton of course-that reads: “Make the Tenderloin Great Again!) No political reference intended or implied.

    • sejarzo Says:

      Farther northwest in Indiana, the standard is yellow mustard and dill pickle chips. In southern Indiana, it seems as if it’s mayo/tomato/lettuce in many towns where we’ve had one. My wife likes Culver’s tenderloin though…she’s originally from Elkhart where the local go-to joint for tenderloins standard fixin’s were simply standard cabbage-and-carrot/mayo dressing slaw.

  9. sejarzo Says:

    A few years ago I got into IMS really early and was headed to the gate on the NE side of the garages. A guy driving a John Deere Gator came around the corner of that food prep building way too fast and dumped a huge load of pounded out tenderloins and a couple of pails of batter/breading all over the place.

    First thing I thought (after seeing the “I cannot believe I did that” grimace on the guy’s face) was “This would probably bring poor George to tears.”

  10. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    I miss the track restaurant,always had pretty good food.
    My Dad’s old army buddy use to take me to a place outside of Frankfort, IN. Now they knew how to make a tenderloin sandwich.

    Have any of you had catfish,great eating.You need to checkout some of the burgs around the area for them but they make my mouth water.
    If you have never been to Ruth Chris put that place on your bucket list.We like it more than St. Elmo’s.We will be celebrating our 50th anniversary there next week.Yes,50 years is a long time but it’s like yesterday without the aches and pains.

    I don’t know which picture was more priceless that sandwich or the look on George’s face.

  11. DEANA JUDAH Says:

    Come see me at 17th and Georgetown Rd….right outside the track. Bellybusters food trailer…I have a Big Pig on the side of my trailer. If you want a great Big Hoosier Breaded Tenderloin…come visit me…mine are great! We cut them, bread them with our own breading and fry them up to please you…my number…812-278-6285

  12. Susan & George – Happy Anniversary!!! I really enjoy all of your adventures at Indy. I think that biscuit looked lost.

  13. they have the classic tenderloins behind the pagoda

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