A Publication of WTVP

The quintessential central Illinois sandwich

by Phil Luciano |

For pork tenderloin aficionados, the only questions are who serves the best and biggest

Ah, the deep-fried pork tenderloin sandwich — or, as it’s simply known among fans, the tenderloin.

It’s the quintessential central Illinois sandwich. But it wasn’t born here.

The original was purportedly created in 1908 by Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana, near Fort Wayne. With pork as the main ingredient, it’s not surprising that the sandwich is most popular in four of the top pork-producing states: Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.

In the Land of Lincoln, the tenderloin is strictly a central Illinois thing

But in the Land of Lincoln, you won’t find many tenderloins in Chicago, or in northern or southern Illinois. It’s a central Illinois thing.

The basic recipe is simple: The pork loin is hammered thin, dipped in flour and egg, then coated with either bread crumbs or crushed saltines before getting dunked into a deep fryer.

Over the years, many pubs and eateries have tried to best one another with oversize tenderloins. In fact, in Iowa and Indiana, gourmands follow tenderloin trails leading from one tenderloin spot to the other.

Further, the Facebook page “Pursuing Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches” has 72,000 members who ramble all over the country to photograph and rate tenderloins. David Stovall, who administers the page, says size can matter — as far as customer buzz.

“It now is kind of a pride and promotional thing (for eateries), and for the customers a curiosity thing,” Stovall said. “Some restaurants build a reputation on their giant tenderloins that draw people in.”

But which places serve the biggest tenderloins in central Illinois? We asked this question online, and nominations poured in from readers of Peoria Magazine and viewers of WTVP’s “You Gotta See This!” The following five stops were mentioned the most. 

We paid each a visit to weigh their tenderloin. Not the plate, not the bun, not the toppings — just the tenderloin.

Wee-Ma-Tuk Country Club Bar & Grill

15722 E. Kenabeck Trail, Cuba
(309) 789-8113 

The scoop: The 193-acre country club and golf course were recently renovated. The bar and grill serves as the social hub for the Lake Wee-Ma-Tuk subdivision, located between Cuba and Canton. The atmosphere is delightfully casual.

Weight of tenderloin: 1 pound, 8 ounces
Price: $12.99

The BillBoard Bistro

801 McKinley Ave., Bartonville
(309) 839-1156 

The scoop: The BillBoard Bistro sits inside the former, longtime site of the 801 Club, “Home of the 32-Oz Schooner.” Polished but comfy, the Bistro still offers those hefty schooners, plus a full menu of top-notch comfort food.

Weight of tenderloin: 1 pound, 14 ounces
Price: $14.99
($10.99 on Tuesdays)

Spoonies Bar & Grill

103 N. Third St., London Mills
(309) 486-3574 

The scoop:
Spoonies is one of the few businesses in London Mills, population 392. The tidy and inviting Fulton County pub sits near Spoon River, a picturesque waterway that is home to the Spoon River Drive, sort of a roadside flea market.

Weight of tenderloin: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
Price: $11.00

Asher’s Bar & Grill

353 Court St. in Pekin
(309) 201-4111 

The scoop: A fire at Asher’s original spot, in Farmington, prompted a move to Pekin. The roomy joint boasts a prime location across from the Tazewell County Courthouse.

Weight of tenderloin: 2 pounds, 5 ounces
Price: $12.50

Smitty’s Bar & Grill

308 Gary St., Leonore (815) 856-2030 

The scoop: Smitty’s comprises the entire retail district in little Leonore, population 121. The LaSalle County saloon gleams with polish and smiles, and the prices are kind on the wallet.

Weight of tenderloin: 4 pounds
Price: $7.85 

Phil Luciano

Phil Luciano

is a senior writer/columnist for Peoria Magazine and content contributor to public television station WTVP. He can be reached at [email protected]