For the last eight years, the Iowa Pork Producers have been handing out the award for the Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa to restaurants and bars around the state. So far, I've written about visiting Augusta in Oxford, IA and trying their 2008 award winning pork tenderloin (click here to see that entry); and recently I posted an entry on Goldie's Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City, IA (click here to see that entry) and trying the 2009 winning tenderloin. The 2010 winner was recently announced and the Iowa Pork Producers awarded the best tenderloin of this year to Buck's Bar in Mitchellville, IA - about 20 miles east of Des Moines (see map). I was coming back from a couple three days up in Minneapolis with a side trip to Ames for a meeting when I decided to stop into Buck's Bar for a tenderloin on my way home.
It just so happens that one of my sisters lives in Mitchellville, about three blocks from Buck's Bar. I called her up before I left Ames and asked her if she was home. She said she was and wondered why I asked. I said, "Well, I want to try a tenderloin from Buck's Bar and I wondered if you wanted to join me for a beer."
She said, "Oh! I just had a leftover tenderloin from Buck's for lunch! Sure, I'll meet you there."
It was about 45 minutes later when I pulled up in front of Buck's Bar in Mitchellville (see map). My sister was sitting on a bench in front of the place waiting for me to show up. It was about 3:30 p.m. when I got there, saving up my appetite for a Buck's tenderloin through the course of the day.
Buck's Bar is a relatively new place. My sister explained that the original owner had built the place about three years ago, but went through a nasty divorce from his wife at the time. The bar had opened, closed, then reopened about nine months ago under the ownership of Buck Bos. It was sort of nice on the inside - open and well-lit with some tables and booths interspersed throughout the place. There was a pool table and some other games that you'd find in any small town bar. The bar area featured a three-sided bar with comfortable high-back seats.
My sister discribed Buck Bos as a nice guy who is sort of a player with the ladies. "He has a big smile and very white teeth. He's always wearing Hawaiian or tropical shirts. When I go to the State Fair, it seems I always run into him partying with a bunch of ladies at the beer tents."
Sounds like my kind of guy. I wanted to meet him after that, but he wasn't in his place that afternoon. My sister and I sat at the bar and we were greeted by a tall, slender blond-haired bartender. She asked us if we needed menus. I said, "I understand that you guys have the award winning tenderloin for this year."
She said, "Well, yes, we do! Would you like to try one?"
Absolutely! My sister was still full from her lunch a couple hours before and she just had a beer while we caught up on what's been going on with our lives.
About 10 minutes after I ordered the tenderloin, the bartender brought it out. It was a thin, breaded tenderloin cut in half with raw onion rings and pickles off to the side. A side of fries came with the sandwich, but I wasn't interested.
It turns out that Buck Bos gets his pork from the same place Brad Magg at Goldie's gets his tenderloins - from the Fareway store in Altoona. (Mitchellville and Prairie City are only about seven miles apart as the crow flies, and about a 15 minute drive between the two communities.) The only difference, as it was explained to me by the bartender, is that Fareway does all the processing of the tenderloins for Goldie's - cutting, tenderizing, etc. - while Buck buys the pork tenderloin, does his own cutting and hand tenderizes them with a cook's hammer. "Buck was using this thing that looked like a mallet at first," the bartender said to me. "But then he got this big cook's hammer and he can really flatten them out."
While the tenderloin was large and hanging over the bun, it wasn't so flat and huge that the taste had been literally hammered out of it. I've said many times that too often I've run across pork tenderloin sandwiches at restaurants where they're literally two sizes too large for the bun. When they hammer 'em out to be that large in area, they also hammer the juiciness out of them, too. Buck's tenderloin was big, but not big enough to make them dry in taste.
Now, I'm not usually big on breaded tenderloins - I like a good unbreaded, grilled tenderloin for a sandwich from time to time. Buck's breaded tenderloin was good, better in my opinion than the one at Goldie's. But as I confessed to the bartender after she asked how my tenderloin was, neither Buck's nor Goldie's could hold a candle to the Augusta in Oxford. The breading at Augusta was better - it's more of a batter breading, I believe. The bartender said, "We had a couple in from Creston the other day trying the sandwich and they said they liked the battered tenderloins better than the breaded ones."
The pork tenderloin at Augusta in Oxford is still the best restaurant pork tenderloin sandwich I've ever had.
It's not that the tenderloin at Buck's was bad - far from it. But I've had similar tenderloins at any number of places across the state over the years. I honestly don't know how the Iowa Pork Producers can judge how one tenderloin is better than another. The breading on Buck's tenderloin was better than the one at Goldie's, but quite honestly they're all pretty much the same. But Buck Bos gets to wear the crown of having the Best Tenderloin in Iowa for a year and they've already seen a spike in business since they were named the 2010 award winners in early October. And, quite honestly, other than getting the tenderloin, Buck's seems like a cool place to just hang out and have a beer. I may have to stop more often to have a cold one with my sister as I pass by Mitchellville on my way to wherever.
(Update - My sister told me in August of 2011 that Buck's had closed its doors. Rumors I've heard had something to do about a divorce, but I didn't think Buck was married. In any event, the reigning Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa is no longer available.)