Renewing Personal May Traditions

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Those that follow me on Twitter (@Oilpressureblog) know that I usually do a monthly countdown to the Indianapolis 500 every month of every year. This year, the Indianapolis 500 runs on its traditional date of May 30. That’s great for traditionalists like me, but it makes it difficult to say it will run exactly three months from today, when there is no such thing as February 30. So, I guess we can sort of say that the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place exactly three months from tomorrow.

It has been well-documented here and everywhere else how much we are all looking forward to attending the Indianapolis 500 this May, after the lost year of the fans in 2020. Not only are we looking forward to the racing excitement that the Month of May brings, we are also anxious to get back to our own personal traditions that come with May in central Indiana.

That could mean reconnecting with friends that you haven’t seen for almost two years now. It might be that you stay in the same hotel each year or dine at the same restaurant year after year. We are not that loyal to where we stay each May, but the other two are high on our lists with so many other personal traditions.

If you are a longtime regular reader of this site, you know how much I enjoy a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Like most southerners, I had never heard of such a thing until I began attending the Indianapolis 500 on a regular basis as an adult. When you say “tenderloin” in Tennessee, people think you are talking about a filet mignon.

I cannot really pinpoint when I had my first tenderloin sandwich, but I know where it was – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I know I never had it as a kid in the sixties or seventies. We never ate the IMS concessions then, because my parents always packed a cooler with sandwiches, cold chicken and homemade fried fruit pies that my mother made. Those pies may still be one of the best things I ever ate, and I always associated the taste of them with IMS.

It may have been in the nineties or early 2000s, when I first saw someone eating a sandwich with an over-sized hunk of fried meat hanging out of the sides of the bun that got my attention. I asked the guy what it was. He looked at me like I was deranged for not knowing as he mumbled tenderloin, with a mouthful of food. My next trip to the concession stand revealed an item on the menu that simply said Jumbo Tenderloin. I promptly ordered one and thought I was in heaven. It was a cool day, and the sandwich was hot with a perfect amount of seasoning in the breading.

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Since that day, I have always sought to relive that moment. I am usually successful, but the folks at The Speedway have sometimes made it difficult.

It all started probably around 2014, although I could be off a year or so. IMS introduced Levy Restaurants as their new vendor for concessions – mostly for the large concession stand in the Pagoda Plaza. I tried one of their tenderloins the first chance I got.

It was an abomination. What appealed to me about the Classic Jumbo Tenderloin was the simplicity to it – meat and bread. I like mine with mayonnaise and a couple of slices of dill pickle, and that’s it. This new creation came with honey mustard, bacon, pepper jack cheese and jalapeños. I enjoy spicy foods, but I do not like jalapeños on anything. I just don’t like the flavor.

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It gave me a sinking feeling that the tenderloin I craved each year had been replaced by this…thing. But I soon learned that you could find the old-fashioned Classic Jumbo Tenderloins at the track, but you had to look for them. That first year, I found them at an isolated stand inside Turn Two. The next year, they were at a stand on the outside of the track, just under the Paddock Stands. The next year, they were moved to a concession stand just under the Tower Terrace stands. It has become my ritual during my first few hours at IMS to check out each stand I go by, so that I know where to go get my tenderloin fix for the month.

My quest for breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches has taken me outside of the confines of 16th and Georgetown. I have found fritters – that are processed, not pounded – at Charlie Browns Pancake and Steak House and the Mug-N-Bun, both in Speedway. They were mediocre, at best, but were really disappointing. In one of our trips, we ventured to the east side of Indianapolis to Edward’s Drive-In, which appeared to be located in an abandoned Dog n Suds. More than a couple of people said they were the best in town, but I was not impressed.

I’ve also tried the tenderloin at McGilvery’s Pub & Eatery, just west of IMS. It was OK, but I didn’t care for the cornmeal breading. It was just a tad dry for my liking – but that’s just me.

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I know there are many, many places in Indianapolis that I have not been to in order to sample this Midwestern delicacy, but outside of the Classic Tenderloin at IMS, the best I have found is at Dawson’s on Main, within walking distance of Turn One of IMS. Dawson’s is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere for a lot of reasons, and their tenderloin is one of them. It is big, thick, tender, juicy and flavorful. Their breading is light, but crunchy. Best of all, it is bigger than the bun – but not to the point of being ridiculous.

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Some places pound their tenderloins so thin that it seems to be more about the breading and less about the meat. In May of 2019, the day after the Grand Prix, we stopped at the famed Edinburgh Diner in Edinburgh, Indiana – about twenty miles south of Indianapolis. They were known for their oversized, monstrous tenderloin sandwiches. I had to fold it in two, just to be able to handle it.

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Personally, I was not that impressed but I think I may have gotten a dud. Too many people that I trust rave about them, so I may have been unlucky. While it was huge and the breading was delicious, the meat had been pounded so thin that it was a way-overcooked chip on the outer edges. Only in the center, did the meat resemble properly cooked pork – and even it was dry. I did my best to eat it, but left probably a third of it. We boxed it up and I took it to wok the next day, but the microwave at work only made it worse. It goes to show that size doesn’t matter – at least when it comes to breaded pork tenderloins.

I have vowed to give the Edinburgh Diner another try, since too many people swear by it. Sadly, it is closed for now. A couple of months ago, their owner was tragically killed in an auto accident. It is currently closed, but they promise to re-open at some point in the future. If they have re-opened by May, we might give it another try.

Up until this past weekend, I have been going through tenderloin withdrawal. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my last tenderloin was Nov 30, 2019. We had travel to Indianapolis for the weekend to see the Titans defeat the Colts. The night before the game we met up with our friend, John Oreovicz, at Dawson’s. I debated between their delicious prime rib or their tenderloin. I opted for the tenderloin even though I figured I would be devouring several the following May. We all know that 2020 kept that from happening, so it had been fifteen months since my last tenderloin.

I belong to a group on Facebook called Pursuing Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches. I saw where someone transplanted from the Midwest to Oregon had found a place that sold frozen breaded pork tenderloins that were uncooked. I quickly ordered some since they had a Buy One, Get One Free sale (20 tenderloins for $84). They arrived this past Friday. I cheated Friday night and put them in our air fryer. The results were very disappointing.

Yesterday, I deep-fried them in my mother’s old cast-iron skillet. They were incredible, even though I had never deep-fried anything in my life. Fortunately, Susan supplied the adult supervision and told me what to do and when to do it. Just for making life easier, I bought jumbo-sized buns, so they were actually bigger than they appear here (the onion rings were done in the air fryer).

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I’ve finally found a relatively easy way to enjoy tenderloins here in the south, without Susan having to cut and pound them like she did once before. So if you’re interested, you can check out how to order them here.

As we thaw out from a long winter and are dreaming of qualifying, Dave Calabro’s voice booming over the PA, Jim Cornelison singing (Back Home Again in ) Indiana, the changes that Roger Penske has made to the facility, trips to the museum, your favorite restaurant and the like; add searching for the Classic Jumbo Tenderloin at IMS to your list of personal May traditions. It is just one of the many things that make the Month of May special – especially if you are not from the Midwest.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Renewing Personal May Traditions”

  1. THIS is the vital pre-season racing content that all Indycar fans need.

    #90DaysToIndy

    • Jacob S. Says:

      Heck yeah, now the next question is “Is it May yet?”
      There is also a Twitter for “Classic Tenderloin” – @CTenderloin – that always has helpful sightings of the real deal!
      George thanks for the revisit of one of my favorite May traditions – eating that classic track tenderloin just in time (beer in hand) to fire the engines, salute America and enjoy the greatest spectacle in racing. Looking forward to seeing you & yours taking it all in, and sharing thoughts with us, from a quintessential American place – IMS.

  2. Jack in Virginia Says:

    George, I once found a pretty good tenderloin sandwich in, of all places, an airport cafe in Matoon, Illinois. I was ferrying an airplane from Paris, Tennessee to Brodhead, Wisconsin and stopped in Matoon for fuel. It was lunchtime, and I was hungry, so I entered the cafe and found on their menu an item they called an “Elephant Ear” sandwich. It was one of the best tenderloins I’ve ever eaten. So if in the midwest, you see an Elephant Ear on the menu, you might want to try it.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I have never had the IMS tenderloin, but I rather enjoyed the one I had at the Hoosier Hundred at the fairgrounds in 2011. It was actually the first one I ever had. I recall putting hot sauce on it.

    For a few years in the mid-2010s, a vendor trailer proclaiming to be from Iowa sold pork tenderloins outside the track during race weekends at Texas Motor Speedway. They were small, bland, and expensive, though I have had worse stadium food. I did once eat a very good tenderloin at a diner somewhere in or around Tulsa. It wasn’t a classic comically oversized piece of pork, but was very tasty nevertheless.

  4. Michele Porten Says:

    George, I’m happy you got yourself a home supply. I agree with you 100%, Dawson’s on Main has an excellent breaded tenderloin. You made me want to go right now!!

  5. Doug Benefiel Says:

    As a life-long resident of Indy I have eaten many tenderloins at restaurants all over the state. My favorite sandwich. I also search out the jumbo tenderloin at the Speedway every year. I agree with your assessment of the other locations. I don’t think you need to try Edinburgh again. My favorite is served at one of Robin Miller’s local favorite spots. The Workingmans Friend. Although they are most known for their fabulous double cheese burger their tenderloin is fantastic. It’s a great hole in the wall spot and in business for over 100 years. I’m sure you and Susan are very busy while in Indy but I would be honored to treat both of you for lunch when you are here. They are only open for lunch 11:00 to 3:00 Tuesday thru Saturday. Again I understand your time restraints. Thanks for the updates on Susan. Keep the good progress going.

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