Since 2003, the Iowa Pork Producers Association has staged a contest where they invite people to nominate restaurants who they believe has the best breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in the state. I tried the 2008 winner - Augusta in Oxford, IA, just outside of Iowa City and not far from Cedar Rapids. And I was plenty impressed with their pork tenderloin sandwich. In 2009, the winner of the best pork tenderloin sandwich in Iowa was a small sandwich/ice cream shop in Prairie City - Goldie's Ice Cream Shoppe - not far from where I grew up in the Newton/Kellogg area, and a 20 minute drive from Des Moines thanks to a four-lane highway that now connects SE Iowa with the greater Des Moines area. On a trip back home from Kansas earlier this past summer, I stopped into Goldie's to see if their tenderloin sandwich stacked up.
I found out that there is somewhat of a personal connection between the owner of Goldie's - Brad Magg (pictured at right) - and myself. It turns out that Magg's mother, Marilee, and I graduated together from Newton High School back in the 1970's and we were pretty good friends during that time. Time and circumstances have caused Marilee and I to not connect for over 30 years, so it was sort of interesting that I found out her son was the one behind Goldie's.
Brad Magg started out cooking when he was an early teenager, baking cookies and pies and selling them to people in and around the NW Jasper County area. He turned that into a catering business by the time he was 15, then after graduating from high school he earned a degree from the Iowa Culinary Institute at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny.
A month before he got his degree, Magg, along with his mother and his father, Gary, bought the ice cream shop in Prairie City from Golda Ingram - the "Goldie" of Goldie's. Before the Magg's bought the place, Goldie's was nothing more than a seasonal ice cream shop. When Brad Magg came in, he expanded the building, added food to the menu and kept the place open year round. The young Magg kept Goldie Ingram on board where she continues to work four days a week.
While the ingredients for the breading that Magg uses on his tenderloins is a secret, he fully acknowledges that he buys all of his pork cutlets at the Fareway store in nearby Altoona. Fairway usually has some top quality meat to choose from. The Altoona Fareway cuts and tenderizes each of the loins for Goldie's.
In addition to the pork tenderloins that have suddenly given them a measure of fame, Goldie's also has a grilled pork tenderloin sandwich, a marinated pork loin sandwich, a hot ham and Swiss cheese sandwich and an Italian sausage sandwich. In fact, the pork used for the Italian sausage sandwich and the beef for the hamburgers at Goldie's come from the Magg family farm and are processed at a small butcher shop in Magg's hometown of Mingo, IA.
It was a lazy summer afternoon when I pulled into Prairie City. Highway 163 now by-passes the small rural town, but Goldie's is on what used to be the main route through the city when 163 was a two-lane road (see map). Goldie's is not unlike any other small restaurant/ice cream shop in any small Iowa town. The outside is tidy and neat, the parking lots are on either side of the building and there's not much as far as signage along the road to alert you that you've arrived.
I walked into Goldie's and there were a couple farmers in there having mid-afternoon coffee, clearly eying the out-of-towner walking through the door. While there were tables and booths in the place, I took a seat at the old fashioned soda bar counter and took a quick look at the menu that was placed behind the napkin holder. An older woman - who happened to be Goldie Ingram - and a couple of the girls working in the place were having a mid-afternoon snack at a table along the west wall. Another young lady asked me if I knew what I wanted and I didn't hesitate - "You guys won the best pork tenderloin award this past year. I'm here to give it a shot."
She said, "Well, all righty, then!" She asked if I wanted anything on it and I told her yellow mustard, pickles and onions. I never use any tomato-based products on a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, not even barbecue sauce.
While I waited, a lady came in to get some soft-serve ice cream. I also noticed they had a number of homemade pie slices in a couple holders on the counter. The "special" board above the back soda bar touted the different types of pie and ice cream Goldie's had available that day. It was a slice of small town living that I certainly remembered when I was growing up.
Since I was the only one in there getting food at that point (the farmers had long gone, figuring the stranger wasn't anyone to trifle with), my breaded pork tenderloin showed up in just a bit over five minutes. The sandwich came out open-faced with a ton of pickles and a sliced red onion with a kosher dill spear on the side. I put a little mustard on the sandwich and I took a bite.
Now, I've had a number of breaded pork tenderloins over the year - I live in Iowa, for God's sake. Some are just thin and huge, hanging well over the bun and impossible to eat without a knife and fork. Those, I've found, are usually not that good. The ones that are just a bit bigger than the bun are usually the best. And that was the size of the Goldie's breaded pork tenderloin. The only problem was that their pork tenderloin sandwich was average, at best. I mean, it was good, but it certainly didn't open my eyes like the tenderloin at Augusta did when I tried it after they won the 2008 award. It was OK, but far from the best breaded pork tenderloin I've ever had.
I had to be honest. "It was good," I said. "But, I really can't say it was the best I ever had."
While I'm happy for Marilee and her son, I walked away from Goldie's thinking that if this was the best tenderloin in the state of Iowa for the year 2009 there had to be some pretty average places that were nominated. Still, Goldie's is a slice of small-town life where you can go and get a good sandwich at a reasonable price and know that it just isn't going to suck. But at the same time, it's not going to be "knock-your-socks-off" great. If you find yourself going by Prairie City during the middle part of the day, it won't hurt to stop in to Goldie's and get something to eat.