Tenderloin sandwich from Perche Creek Cafe
By Jonas Weir
Breaded and deep-fried to perfection, a good tenderloin sandwich can’t be contained by a mere bun. No, if it’s done right, the pork cutlet is hammered thin, and it hangs off both sides of a white-bread bun. It’s an indulgent treat that’s signature to the Midwestern palate.
The pork tenderloin sandwich, as we know it today, most likely has German roots. You’ll notice it closely resembles a delicacy known as the wiener schnitzel. However, what sets the tenderloin sandwich apart is the meat. Wiener schnitzel is typically made from veal, but the tenderloin sandwich uses meat from the loin of a hog. From there, the differences become thinner. Schnitzel is typically pan-fried; tenderloin is usually deep-fried, though some diners don’t fry it all, offering a slightly healthier grilled tenderloin sandwich.
In the Midwest, many states lay claim to the best tenderloin sandwich. Restaurants from Ohio to Idaho take pride in the batters, breading, and seasonings that make their tenderloin the best. No one can really say who has the best tenderloin sandwich, though. Indiana is most likely home to the very first iteration of the fried pork tenderloin sandwich, and Peoria, Illinois, claims to be the tenderloin sandwich capital of the world. But Missourians know how to do comfort food right, and you could say we have the best tenderloin sandwiches west of the Mississippi. Our status as both a Southern and Midwestern state gives us a leg up on Iowans, whose signature dish is the loose meat sandwich, and Kansas, which is known for hamburger casserole. In fact, Kansas City—one of America’s best cities for foodies—has, on its own, a cornucopia of delicious diners that do pork tenderloin justice.
Most comfort-food joints across the state offer some version of this sandwich, and most do a good job. Here are just five of our favorites. They range from fine dining to Southern fried. Pork lovers of all kinds will find something to like in this group of Missouri’s top tenderloins.
1810 E. 31st St, Kansas City, Missouri 64109
Kitty’s has a long history in Kansas City.
During World War II, Japanese-American Paul Kawakam was confined to an internment camp, but once the war was over, he bought a one-way bus ticket to Kansas City to start a new life. In 1951, he and his wife, Kitty, opened the now-legendary restaurant in south Kansas City. In the 1980s, the couple retired and sold the restaurant.
Nowadays, Charley Soulivong runs the joint as he has for more than fifteen years, and Kitty’s is still known for its outstanding Midwestern comfort food.
The small, square box of a restaurant has limited indoor seating, but there are some picnic tables around back to accommodate a crowd. The simple menu offers many fan favorites, and you really can’t go wrong. For less than $2, the grilled cheese is a go-to for a cheap meal. The most expensive item, a catfish sandwich, comes in at around $5.50 and is well worth the price. The sides of tater tots and french fries are up for debate on which is better. However, the dish that undeniably takes the cake as the best is the pork loin.
A light batter—more similar to a beer batter or tempura than traditional breading—coats three sizable pieces of pork tenderloin that are fried to golden perfection. Add that to a white bun, shredded lettuce, cut-up tomatoes, and either mayonnaise or hot sauce, and you’ll be in hog heaven.
Kitty’s is a cash-only place, so come prepared.
810 E. Thirty-First Street • 816-753-9711
In 2014, chef Alex Pope brought his own brand of artisan butchery to the hungry residents of Kansas City. Now in its second location, the butcher shop known as the Local Pig has expanded to include a sandwich-focused food truck—aptly named Pigwich—right behind its northeast Kansas City location.
The Local Pig only sources humanely raised pork, beef, chicken, lamb, and duck from nearby farms in Kansas and Missouri, and in turn, so does Pigwich.
While the Local Pig lets you take home quality cuts, sausages, and cured meats to prepare yourself, Pigwich offers a way to taste Alex’s succulent creations on the premises. The menu includes five everyday options: a double cheeseburger; a Philly cheesesteak; the Pigwich, a combination of smoked pork, slaw, and barbecue sauce; the restaurant’s take on a Vietnamese-style Bahn Mi; and the surprising vegetarian option of a Falafel. Each sandwich can be made into a combo meal that comes with house-made chips and a drink.
On top of the regular menu items, Pigwich offers daily specials. Many patrons may argue over the day to visit. Friday’s Meatloaf Patty Melt is amazing, and Monday’s Cuban—served with roast pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and Dijon mustard—is another fan favorite. However, Pigwich’s take on the fried pork tenderloin sandwich, which is served up each Thursday, makes the case that diner food can be elevated, and it can be great.
The sandwich is simple but delicious. It’s all about the ingredients. First, the kitchen team starts off with cuts from the Boston butt or shoulder. Then, the pork is seasoned with bread crumbs made with baguettes, thyme, and rosemary. Next, it’s fried and served on a pretzel roll with arugula, house-made dill pickles, and ranch dressing. It might not be the same as the pork tenderloin you grew up on, but it is definitely a new Midwestern delicacy.
Pigwich.com • 2618 Guinotte Avenue • 816-200-1639
Open seven days a week, the Goody Goody Diner on Natural Bridge Avenue is a St. Louis institution.
The diner first opened in 1948 to serve a new influx of motorists. Offering car hop service, fresh off-the-griddle-food, and A&W root beer, Goody Goody was a hot spot when America’s obsession with cars began. In fact, the whole neighborhood was a hopping place back then; the very first Ted Drewes’ stood less than a football field away from Goody Goody, and many more once-legendary diners opened in the area.
While many restaurants have come and gone, the Goody Goody Diner has stood the test of time. For many of those years, the Connelly family has run the place. The family started out as regulars and became full-fledged owners in 1954, and the rest is history.
The Goody Goody still serves up diner food for breakfast and lunch. The diner’s catfish breakfast—a fried catfish filet served with eggs and all the breakfast fixings—is a favorite you won’t see on a lot of menus, and the St. Louis slinger— eggs, hash browns, and a hamburger patty topped with chili, cheese, and onions—is in competition for the city’s best. However, the pork tenderloin sandwich stands tall among giants on this menu.
What sets the Goody Goody’s pork tenderloin apart is that it’s grilled and not fried. That might sound like sacrilege to some tenderloin enthusiasts, but one bite will likely change their minds. With a light seasoning and just the right amount of grill time, this sandwich showcases the tender part of tenderloin, and the homemade roll is light and fluffy enough to make the whole thing melt in your mouth.
GoodyGoodyDiner.com • 5900 Natural Bridge Avenue • 314-383-3333
If you see a billboard that says TOOT-TOOT in bold capital letters, don’t honk back; just prepare to stop for some good food. This Bethany establishment is located at Exit 92 off Interstate 35—only about twenty miles south of the Iowa border.
The family restaurant has made a name for itself by offering delicious lunch buffets during the week, breakfast buffets on the weekends, and special brunch spreads for holidays like Mother’s Day.
A typical buffet at Toot-Toot will have all the Midwestern classics: a salad bar, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, you name it. The family-run restaurant has a friendly staff, which is an added bonus to the heaps of delicious food served up daily.
If you don’t make the buffet or prefer made-to-order entrées, you’re in luck. Toot-Toot has an expansive menu full of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options to satisfy the hungriest of patrons. Pickle fries or the white cheddar cheese curds are a good way to start off any meal, and the restaurant’s steak menu is, if anything, hearty and delicious. However, the way to go here is to order Toot-Toot’s Famous Pork Tenderloin sandwich.
These hand-breaded, deep-fried pork cutlets come in either a four-ounce or the larger eight-ounce version for those looking for a gut-busting, good sandwich served on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion. Get a side a of curly fries to round out the experience.
Check Toot-Toot Family Restaurant & Lounge’s Facebook page to see what’s being served at the buffet or to look for upcoming specials. You’ll have a honkin’ good time.
Facebook: Toot-Toot Family Restaurant & Lounge • 2905 Miller Street • 660-425-7001
The Perche Creek Cafe has just the right amount of Mid-Missouri charm.
Located in the Little Midway gas station, just down the road from the Interstate 70 Midway Truck Stop, a tongue-in-cheek sign hangs out front that reads “Perche Creek Yacht Club.” Well, the sign is not entirely a joke. The Perche Creek Yacht Club formed in 1989. However, their name is a joke. If you know Perche Creek, a tiny stream not far from the diner, you’ll know no yacht has ever taken to its waters.
The purpose of the yacht club is not to sail. It is merely to meet at the Perche Creek Cafe to “further its mission of having no purpose.” And what better place to do nothing than this stellar diner?
Open for breakfast and lunch, the diner serves comfort classics seven days a week, with specials on each weekday. The locals will tell you that Catfish Friday is the time to visit. Pork Steak Thursdays and Meatloaf Mondays are other great days to stop in, but the hidden gem on this menu is the breaded pork loin sandwich.
The sandwich specials rotate constantly, so if you see pork loin on the chalk board behind the counter, order it. Served on a standard white bun with lettuce, pickles, and onion, each tenderloin is hand-breaded and made to order. The light breading, quality pork loin from Patchwork Farms in Columbia, and perfect fry of this sandwich is the type of downhome cooking that has helped Perche Creek build its reputation over the past twenty years as being one of the best diners in Mid-Missouri.
PercheCreekCafe.com • 6751 Highway 40 West • 573-446-7400