Friday, February 5, 2010

Smitty's Tenderloin Shack

On a recent weekend to the urban jungle, I was looking for some quick, cheaper food and was waffling between Smitty's Tenderloin Shack (ranked in the top 100 restaurants in the urban jungle) and Tasty Tacos (ranked in the top ten, both out of literally a couple thousand to choose from). Both are sit down places but have a limited fare and thus have fast food speed. We drove by the Tenderloin Shack first and the small parking lot was full of cars which is always a good sign. Although Smitty has been dead awhile, a fact I gathered from reading the menu, having a restaurant named after someone is always a good sign. When we walked inside, the booths were the cheap plastic kind which means that the emphasis was on food, another good sign. Although they had menus, it was also shown on a board above the cash register another good sign. In fact, the only bad sign was the fact that there weren't any calenders hanging on the wall and it seems the better the food, the more calenders are hanging around.

But we sat down and soon received our menus. I was a bit disappointed that other than size of your tenderloin, you only had three choices. You had the regular tenderloin, the vegetarian tenderloin, the chili cheese tenderloin and the taco tenderloin. Yes I just said four different things but everyone knows there isn't such a thing as a vegetarian tenderloin. I was tempted to try the taco tenderloin but opted for the chili cheese version with onion rings while my wife got the regular with fries, both of us asked for everything on them not knowing what everything included.

Within about five minutes, our food was served and we dug in. The onion rings were outstanding so I had high hopes when I finally took my first bite of the tenderloin. What I found was a paper thin slice of pork with lots of breading. The breading was good but that was all you could taste. There wasn't any pork taste to it at all and for a tenderloin in Iowa, that is a cardinal sin. We could get better tenderloins at the Thomas the Train weekend street vendor at the bar just down the road from our house. For a place that referred to itself as a Tenderloin Shack, I was very disappointed.

As we savored the onion rings, the fries were generic frozen ones that you can get anywhere, I started paying attention to what everyone else was eating or ordering since after all, the parking lot and small restaurant were crowded. Sure enough, everyone was ordering a burger off the rest of the menu. Which brings me to one of the most important rules for ordering food in a strange restaurant far from home, order what the locals order. They've been there lots of times and know what is the best thing off the menu.

12 comments:

Eutychus2 said...

Ed
Good advice, thanks! We always try to eat where the locals eat, but I've never thought about being more observant of what they 'are eating' as we sit down ...hum.

Vince said...

Any time I go out for a meal -rare enough these days- I go for the simplest thing a chef can do to meat. I never go for anything breadcrumbed or battered unless at a fish'n'chip shop.
The newest thing over here is air hung meat, hung for anything up to 45-50 days. When cooking it is a sin to do more than kiss it to the heat. As it drops about 60% of weight with moisture loss a steak is a pricey choice.
Sorry about the tenderloin, still you would have thought there was little enough that a chef could do to damage it.

Ed said...

Eutychus2 - I've made it into a game of sorts. I love to find food unique to an area.

Vince - Unfortunately due to our government control of the food industry, there is a lot they can't do anymore and I would assume a steak that only kisses the heat is out of the question. Those are best left to the backyard BBQ's where we still have the freedom to cook as we please... for now. I normally don't go for breaded either but the Iowa Tenderloin, known throughout the midwest as the best in the world, is the one exception. Mustard and onion are my normal toppings and based upon Smitty's, I am no longer inclined to try chili on it again.

geri said...

This must have been really disappointing that it inspired you to write an entire piece about it. Imagine out of all the things you ordered, only the onion rings was good lol What resto did you get the best Iowa tenderloin yet? That is good advice in getting what the locals get, never thought that one before. If I stumped what to order, I would usually ask the waiter what do people mostly get.

Ed said...

Geri - Actually I blame a light backlog of topics for the lengthy post on Smitty's Tenderloin Shack.

The best Iowa tenderloin I ever had was at a place called the Starlight cafe. They hand cut their tenderloins and they were the size of an elephants ear. They went out of business in the 80's due to the farm crisis. There are good local shops just about everywhere in Iowa though to find a place that still handcuts their meat is very very rare. I've heard there is a place up around the urban jungle but I'll have to do some research and find out. Perhaps a series on finding the Holy Grail of Tenderloins. Locally, we have a bar just up the road a bit from our house that has the best tenderloins I have found in SE Iowa. Sadly it to is either struggling with the economy or closed because the last two times I have stopped for lunch on a Saturday, it hasn't been open. I've heard it is only open on nights but we don't often go out on evenings.

Vince said...

sorry Ed, for me the tenderloin is the fillet. But any website I've visited has them extending three inches outside a Burger bun for the Iowa tenderloin. There must be a mix up in our common language, for either you have an unconscionable small bun or you are breeding pig the size of Elephants.

Ed said...

Vince - I've known some tenderloins to be larger than the 12" plate they are served on. They cut them thick slices and them pound them into large circles with a meat tenderizer. The most common finished size for an Iowa tenderloin is about 8 inches in diameter so the buns in those pictures are probably regulation size.

sage said...

my mouth was watering... then I joined you, disappoineted.

R. Sherman said...

I'm afraid I got spoiled with true Bavarian Schnitzel, which has a huge pork cutlet, pounded to a quarter inch, but a light breading that doesn't overwhelm the pork. In fact, I no longer order pork tenderloin out, because I'm always disappointed.

BTW, what's the deal with those "Maid-Rite" thingies up your way, anyway?

Cheers.

Bone said...

I like your rules and signs. A bad sign in a restaurant for me is if the words "market price" appear anywhere on the menu. Also, if the prices don't have decimal points, that's usually not a good sign... for my wallet.

Ed said...

Sage - Something about good food that brings out the saliva...

R. Sherman - You just described the perfect tenderloin. I never got into Maid-Rite mostly because we have the Canteen which I blogged about in my archives somewhere. The loose meat is certainly localized but not classic when I try to describe Iowa food.

Bone - Market Price usually means bend over and get out the vasoline.

TC said...

Yes I just said four different things but everyone knows there isn't such a thing as a vegetarian tenderloin.

LOL I was rereading that and counting to see if you realized what you'd done, when you put that in. Excellent point.