It’s like being in hog heaven
OGDEN – Though the line was long at The Lucky Pig in Ogden throughout the day on Oct. 11, customers were in a good mood and said the same thing as they were seated.
“I don’t need to see a menu. I just want one of your great tenderloins.”
That’s how it goes for restaurants bestowed with the coveted Iowa’s Best Breaded Pork Tenderloin award from the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
Following the announcement, business was non-stop at The Lucky Pig Pub and Grill, which is owned by Craig and Carol Christensen, who also farms and raises hogs near Ogden.
“This is the real deal,” said Charles Luers, of Gilmore City, who stopped in for a tenderloin as he headed home from Des Moines. “This tenderloin definitely merits the award.”
Shirley Yungclas, of Webster City, said she was impressed.
“I’ve probably only eaten five tenderloins in my whole life,” said Yungclas, who stopped by for lunch with a friend. “When I heard about this one, I was interested.
“The best ones in the state are the ones to try.”
On Oct. 11, shortly after the big announcement from the IPPA, customers flocked to The Lucky Pig from Marshalltown, Carroll, Humboldt, Des Moines and beyond.
The restaurant sold about 600 tenderloins in just one day.
“I love meeting all these people,” said Craig Christensen, 47, who stopped combining soybeans that afternoon to help seat guests and serve food in the packed dining room. “Our restaurant crew works really hard to make a great product, and it’s an excellent feeling to have all that hard work pay off and know that people like what we’re doing.”
A taste of Iowa
The Christensens purchased the restaurant in 2011 because it was dying, they said, and believed Ogden needed a restaurant.
“We wanted to make this a community gathering place that feels like family,” said Christensen, a fourth-generation Boone County farmer, who runs a farrow-to-finish swine operation and finishes 75,000 pigs per year. “People in the community and local counties have really supported us.”
Many keep coming back for the tenderloins, he said, as well as an array of innovative pork sandwiches and other main dishes.
“As a pork producer, I’ve traveled the state, the country and the world eating great pork dishes, so my bar was set pretty high,” said Christensen, a past president of the National Pork Board. “I challenged our crew to develop something that was top notch.”
The pork for the Lucky Pig’s famous tenderloin sandwich is soaked in buttermilk for 12 to 24 hours to tenderize the meat and add flavor. Then each slice is hand-pounded in-house and double coated in a batter and bread crumb mixture.
It provides an ideal meat-to-bun ratio and features a unique spice for a one-of-a-kind flavor profile, said Greg Hager, a cook at The Lucky Pig.
“Those of us who made up the final panel of judges didn’t know that the owner of The Lucky Pig also raises pigs on a family farm in Ogden,” said Chef Phil Carey. “But it’s really no surprise that someone who raises the product also knows how to properly prepare it.”
Word has spread quickly about the award-winning tenderloins.
“We recently served some guests from Denver, Colorado, who were passing through Iowa, heard about our tenderloins on the radio, and decided to stop in,” Hager said.
Keith and Wanda Gredys, of West Des Moines, said they were glad they stopped by The Lucky Pig this fall for lunch.
“We like to try the ‘best of’ food from Iowa and other states,” said Wanda Gredys, who surprised her husband by finishing her tenderloin before him. “The tenderloins here are worth the drive.
“We’ll definitely be back and will bring our family.”
Showcasing the industry
The best breaded pork tenderloin contest brings a lot of attention to a Midwest favorite, but this year broke records.
Ninety-eight tenderloin sandwiches competed this summer, compared to 42 in last year’s contest. The tenderloins were judged on the quality of the pork, taste, physical characteristics and eating experience.
“Ultimately, we’re looking for a sandwich that showcases pork first and is complimented with a flavorful breading,” Carey said. “The pork needs to maintain some thickness and juiciness, and many restaurants are figuring that out.”
Earning top honors in this statewide contest is no easy task, said Kelsey Sutter, IPPA’s marketing/programs director. “This has been the most competitive competition we’ve seen, with nearly 1,900 nominations that came in last spring.”
Iowa’s Best Breaded Pork Tenderloin award recognizes Iowa dining establishments that support the swine industry by putting pork on their menu.
All restaurants, cafes and taverns that serve breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches year round and list them on their daily menu can be nominated for the award.
Christensen and The Lucky Pig received $500, a plaque and statewide publicity for winning IPPA’s 12th annual tenderloin contest.
Brick Street’s Butler Cafe in Bondurant came in second and received $250 and a plaque.
Rounding out the top six finalists was TC’s Point After in Dewitt, B&S’s 529 in Carroll, Go Fish Marina Bar and Grill in Princeton, and Menlo Cafe in Menlo.
These four restaurants received an honorable mention plaque to display in their restaurant.
Nominations will be open for 2015 in May at www.iowapork.org.
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