The late Dave Tipton, who was a co-worker at Nixon Newspapers, contended the best way to judge a Chinese restaurant was by its shrimp in lobster sauce. If that dish is excellent, you’re game to try others. If not, you may be hesitant to come back.
Using Tipton’s reasoning, the best way for me to judge a down-home Indiana eatery is by its breaded tenderloin. The first time I eat in an independently owned restaurant, I order a loin with lettuce, tomato and mayo. If the sandwich is a winner, I’ll come back and order other meals. If not, probably not.
I ate my first breaded tenderloin in 1964, shortly after I arrived in Frankfort. I have been on the “Great Breaded Tenderloin Hunt” ever since.
I had come to Frankfort (population: 15,000) from Los Angeles (population: 2 million) to start my career in daily journalism as a reporter for the Morning Times.
On my second day in town, the sports editor took me to lunch at the Campus Castle, a cozy joint fewer than 100 yards from the back door of the newspaper.
The Campus Castle was nestled near the former high school. The sports editor told me the restaurant had been owned originally or at one time by Everett Case, the legendary Frankfort basketball coach who won four state championships.
The menu had something called a “California Burger,” so I was tempted to order that — out of curiosity, because despite having grown up in L.A., I’d never heard of a California burger.
“Oh, no, man, you have to order a breaded tenderloin,” the sports editor said, pointing to a picture of a humongous piece of meat hanging over a bun.
So I did, and he, too, opting for mustard, pickles and onions. As we ate, he talked about how the breaded tenderloin was unique to Indiana. A native Hoosier, he described how the pork patty is pounded into a thin cutlet, soaked, breaded in various ways and then deep fried.