Breaded perfection: Iowa Pork Producers name state’s best tenderloin

By Lindsey Foss, communications program coordinator

Bad news: You’ll still be seeing election ads for the next couple weeks. Good news: You can take comfort in the form of an iconic Iowa sandwich because the votes are in on a different, tastier election.

Earlier this month, Nick’s restaurant in Des Moines was crowned the title of Iowa’s Best Tenderloin in the 14th annual contest by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). Throughout the summer, 385 restaurants were nominated for the award and for the first time in the competition’s history, the winner was selected from Iowa’s capital city.

“Tenderloins are one of Iowa’s biggest, most-recognized dishes and it’s a real honor to be chosen as the best of the best,” said Nick’s owner Nick Iaria.

Nearly 2,000 nominations poured in for Iowans’ favorite tenderloin and were narrowed down to the top five restaurants in each of the IPPA’s eight districts. A team of judges ranked the sandwiches on the pork quality, taste, physical characteristics and overall dining experience.

“First and foremost, our judges are looking for fresh, quality pork they can taste in the sandwich,” said Kelsey Sutter, marketing and program director for the IPPA. “Several things play into that overall taste, including seasoning, breading and oil, but what it really boils down to is the right combination that compliments great pork.”

Nick’s began as a mobile trailer in 2009 and was assumed by Iaria in 2012, moving to its current home on Army Post Road in 2013. Locals enjoy its family-friendly atmosphere and take part in events like a classic car show with live bands and outdoor cooking in Nick’s parking lot every Friday evening in the summer.

While Iaria has no professional culinary training, he has a passion for good food and wanted to bring some of his favorite items through on the menu. Nick’s offers several other sandwiches, appetizers and homemade pizza, but Iaria admits the tenderloin is a “cut” above the rest.

“Everything is fresh, never frozen. We cut and tenderize our meat daily and the sandwich is cooked to order, including the seasoning, flouring, battering and frying,” he said. “The combination of fresh meat that seals in flavor and juices plus our secret batter recipe is what makes this sandwich so popular.”

New customers from as near as downtown Des Moines to as far as out-of-state travelers have made the trip to give the award-winning sandwich a try. Iaria hopes that the attention gleaned from the Iowa’s Best Tenderloin competition carries well-beyond the contest.

“We’ve seen a lot of new faces but I’d love to see more,” added Iaria, who estimates they’ve seen an increase from 1,000 tenderloins sold per week to 700-900 served daily. “Eighty percent of our sandwich sales come from the tenderloin, if not more. It’s definitely worth giving it a try!”

The 2016 runner-up went to 1901 Chop Haus in Traer. Rounding out the top five, fellow finalists included Sweet n’ Saucy (Fairfield), Stumpy’s Bar and Grill (Duncombe) and Willie’s Sports Bar and Grill (Hampton).

 “This contest is all about celebrating a Midwest favorite that is found on so many menus across the state — the breaded pork tenderloin — while recognizing local restaurants who excel in pork tenderloin perfection, said Sutter. “Ultimately, it allows us to showcase our wonderful pig farmers around the state and acknowledge the hard work they put in year-round to produce the products we love.”

For more information on the contest and a complete list of previous winners, visit iowapork.org.