September 23, 2010
“whacked and stacked tenderloin”
After two months of voting, Cityview readers proclaimed the pork tenderloin from
B & B Grocery Meat & Deli as “Des Moines’ Ultimate Sandwich.” In the end, it wasn’t close. The deep fried specialty from the Sevastopol neighborhood beat Uncle Wendell’s pulled pork, Taste of Italy’s meatball, and Tasty Taco’s original deep fried taco in the finals. In fact, B & B’s toughest challenge was getting out of the first round, a tough regional that included pork tenderloins from Kelly’s Little Nipper, Smitty’s, Mr. Bibb’s and Crouse Café, plus meat loaf sandwiches from BOS and the Drake Diner, and Cosi Cucina’s wood grilled chicken melt. After that, B & B rolled through the quarterfinal round like Democrats through south side precincts.
“After the Final Four story (“The Ultimate Sandwich Tournament”) came out in Cityview, people started showing for tenderloins. We saw folks we hadn’t seen for years plus a lot of new people who were just excited to find out where they could get a ’real tenderloin’ (without sodium injected pork). For three days in a row we sold out of tenderloins completely.
That had never happened before,” explained B & B partner and deli manager John A. Brooks, jr., as he pulled a ten gallon container of freshly butchered tenderloins from his cooler.
Increased demand forced B & B to make some changes.
“We started selling so many tenderloins that we noticed our butcher wrap wasn’t really big enough to cover them. We started encouraging people to order them “whacked & stacked,” (cut in half and stacked like a double burger) instead of sticking out over the edges. Finally we had to change the size of our butcher wrap, from 15 inches to 18 inches wide,” John said.
John and brother Joe represent the third of four generations running this 88 year old business at SE Sixth and Hartford. Nine family members currently staff a place that mixes an old fashioned butcher shop with a deli that is unique, in several ways. First of all, the it includes a grill and a deep fryer. So besides their signature submarine type sandwiches, you can order burgers, in sizes ranging up to the Quadzilla – four patties totaling one and a third pounds of beef. Want some fried oysters with your corned beef sandwich? Just add 75 cents per mollusk. Want headcheese or souse on your “Killer” sub? Take your choice of several kinds. Need a pig’s head or a butt with the skin left on? No problem. Want a deep fried tenderloin that isn’t pork? B & B also breads chorizo, turkey, chicken and beef for deep frying.
B & B’s pork tenderloins might well be the only ones in the state that go directly from butcher block to deep fat fryer in a single process. They are also pork tenderloins in the literal sense. Most places make ‘pork tenderloins’ out of tenderized portions of the entire loin, including the less desirable blade and sirloin ends.
“We only use real tenderloin from pure pork,” John Brooks explained.
B & B wasn’t the only winner in the tournament. Iowa pork also kicked butt. Five of the eight quarterfinalists were pork sandwiches.
Uncle Wendell’s pulled pork finished runner-up.
Even Taste of Italy’s third place meatball sandwich uses and half pork, half beef recipe. So, mark the year 2010 – that’s when pigs started to fly.
Celebrity chefs flew into Des Moines last Saturday for Niman Ranch Appreciation Dinner. Headliners include Alex Ong (Betelnut of San Francisco), Sarah Jenkins (Porchetta in New York) and two Hollywood stars – Animal’s Vinny d’Otolo and Jon Shook. HajI Hinman from Denver’s Marczyk, Martin Murphy from New Hampshire’s Canoe Club and Randy Waidner from Gibson’s in Chicago will join George Formaro of Des Moines in the kitchen at the Downtown Marriott. Tickets are $75 at 641-579-6594.
The Ultimate Sandwich Tournament Background
Quest for a Civic Icon
Des Moines’ Ultimate Sandwich
More than anything we eat, sandwiches are loaded with lore and even sanctimony. Humans have been eating meat with bread since the Neolithic Era, yet it’s commonly asserted that Hillel the Elder invented the sandwich in the Age of Augustus about the same time he enunciated what would become known as The Golden Rule. Since then, most of our favorite sandwiches have been served unto others with conflicting stories about how they were invented and especially about how best to make them.
Iowa and Indiana fight over which state created the first pork tenderloin. (Iowa did.) Several cities, on different continents, argue about where the first hamburger was served. In Elkader, Iowa people debate whether they should be served “mit or mit-out” – “mit” being German for “with” and sautéed onions being the object in question. Some sandwiches have become beloved icons of entire states. North Carolina’s smoked pulled pork, Texas’ smoked beef brisket, West Virginia’s pepperoni rolls, Louisiana’s po’ boys, and Oklahoma’s chicken fried steak are all better known, and loved, than all those state’s birds, trees, flowers and Congressmen combined. Some sandwiches represent smaller regions like Monroe County Kentucky’s sliced pig shoulder, Hatch Valley New Mexico’s slopper (burger smothered in red and green chilies) and northwestern Nevada’s roast mutton.
Others are the provenances of cities. Philadelphians identify fiercely with their cheese steaks, as folks in Memphis do with their Elvises (fried peanut butter, bananas and bacon on white bread). Louisville has its hot brown (open-faced with turkey and bacon, pimentos and tomatoes, and Mornay sauce), Springfield, Illinois its horseshoe (open faced and topped with French fries and cheese), Chicago its Italian beef, Hollywood its French dip, and New Orleans its muffuletta (marinated olive salad, capicola, salami, mortadella, Emmentaler and Provolone on Sicilian bread). Both Tampa and Miami adopted the Cubano (ham, roast pork, pickles and cheese on Cuban bread) as both Detroit and Cincinnati did Greek style chili dogs. Owensboro’s smoked mutton sandwiches draw visitors from hundreds of miles. And Knickerbockers don’t think you can make a pastrami on rye anywhere, till you’ve made it there, in old New York.
So last winter a “munch bunch” of local chefs gathered at George Formaro’s (Django, Centro, South Union and Gateway Market Café) to exchange their favorite Des Moines sandwiches and discuss whether one best represents this town. That evolved into Cityview’s Ultimate Sandwich Tournament. Scores of additional food workers, food writers and alpha diners were asked to nominate sandwiches (other than burgers which were deemed a category all their own). Those were chewed down to eight groups of eight.
We seeded the eight sandwiches that received the most recommendations in different brackets. We also tried to keep types of sandwiches together so that early voting rounds could determine things like the city’s favorite pork tenderloin, etc. Cityview readers were then asked to determine winners in each group. After eight quarterfinalists were elected, slates were wiped clean and a second round of voting chose the final four.
Uncle Wendell’s Pulled Pork
Our Feed & Grain bracket featured Fourth Street Italian Beef’s namesake sandwich, Jesse’s Ember’s London broil, Trostel’s Greenbriar’s prime rib French dip, Maxie’s Reuben (corned beef and Swiss cheese on Jewish rye with 1000 Island dressing), El Bait Shop’s blacked fish po’ boys, Chip’s rotisserie chicken BAT (bacon, avocade and tomato), Proof’s vegetarian falafel on flatbread, and Sbrocco’s veggie (grilled eggplant, squash, tomato and goat cheese). Maxie’s Reuben won the bracket.
Six authentic barbecue specialties led our Smokehouse region: Uncle Wendell’s pulled pork shoulder; Chef’s Kitchen’s smoked prime rib; Jethro’s pulled chicken with Bob Gibson (white) sauce; The Q‘s brisket with Gate’s style sauce; Smokey D‘s pulled pork, whose chefs have won more major BBQ competitions than any other Iowans; and Woody’s brisket. They were joined by Dos Rios’ spit roasted pork tacos on scratch made tortillas and Court Avenue Brewing Company’s pork braised in Black Hawk Ale. Uncle Wendell’s pulled pork slopped up the most votes, moving into the quarterfinals and then the final four.
Wendell Garretson is a dues paying member of old school regional cuisine. He learned Cajun craft at Simo’s Cafisto, competed on the competitive barbecue circuit and toiled at the baker‘s craft . After opening a small bakery in Sherman Hill, he built a customer base working farmer’s markets where he added wood smoked barbecue to his menu. After moving into a café on Ingersoll, his business became more of a BBQ than a bakery, complete with a neon pig and jars of Kool Aide pickles.
Uncle Wendell’s does the basics of superior Q quite well. Meats are crusted with smoke rings and tender meat. Best of all, you can order them sliced, from whatever end or direction you like — even at rush hour. Pulled pork is made from pig butts smoked with hickory, pulled off the bone and mixed. Sandwiches include crunchy skin as well as tender meat from near the bone. They are served on thick slices of home made challah. Want your bread sliced to half its thickness? No problem. Try asking for that at a chain. Wendell supports the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program and also keeps an all-star lineup of Iowa-made BBQ sauces, with Russ and Frank’s of West Des Moines serving as house sauce. Vinegar based sauces are also available.
B & B Grocery Meat & Deli’s Pork Tenderloin
Our Links section featured four link sausage sandwiches: George the Chili King’s Coney Island (the chili recipe is locked in a bank vault); Royal Mile’s Ingelhoffer (a homemade banger with ham and Maytag white cheddar on a hoagie bun); Django’s Django dog (homemade boudin blanc sausage with house made bacon, blue cheese, cole slaw, Dijon mayo and foie gras on challah roll); and homemade cevapi sausage from Royal Grill. Open Sesame’s kibbeh on pita, Gazali’s gyros, Los Laureles’ chorizo tacos, and La Pena’s birria (pulled roast goat on scratch masa tacos) rounded out that region. George the Chili King’s Coney Island moved on the quarterfinals.
A Pork Tenderloin bracket featured fried tenderloins from B & B Grocery Meat & Deli, Smitty’s, Mr. Bibb’s, Kelly’s Little Nipper, and Crouse Café. They battled it out with meat loaf sandwiches from BOS and the Drake Diner, plus Cosi Cucina’s wood grilled chicken melt (with tomato, basil & mozzarella, and a sun-dried tomato spread on fire baked flatbread). B & B’s pork tenderloin moved on to the final four, receiving the highest vote total of any sandwich in any bracket, in both the first and second rounds, reminding us that the south side political machine knows how to get out the vote.
In the heart of Sevastopol, B & B Grocery Meat & Deli is the city’s oldest food establishment dating to 1922. It’s also an old fashioned political hangout like no other in town. It’s difficult on occasions to tell the owners from the customers as so many people move behind the counters as if they work there. Their food service is leftover from another era too. This is one of the few places in town to fill nostalgic orders for things like pig’s heads, carcass beef, whole hogs, head cheeses and souse, or whole slabs of bacon. They only use pure pork, un-injected with double digit percentages of sodium solutions like that sold in our major supermarkets.
B & B’s pork tenderloins might well be the only ones in the state that go directly from butcher block to deep fat fryer in a single process. They also bread “tenderloins” of chorizo, turkey, chicken and beef, but their pork tenderloins are uniquely literal.
“Most ‘pork tenderloins’ aren’t even made with pork tenderloin,” said partner-butcher John Brooks. “That’s why we advertise ‘real pork tenderloin.’ We only use real tenderloin from pure pork. Every other place I’ve been to just tenderizes the entire loin,” he explained.
To clarify, there are three main parts of a pork loin: the blade end, which tends to be fatty; the sirloin end, which tends to be bony; and the tenderloin in the middle, which is the leanest and most expensive part. That’s why most pork tenderloin comes from the whole loin and also why it needs to be tenderized – so that the texture seems somewhat consistent. B & B’s tenderloin is the real deal, with a wild card in its hand.
Tasty Taco’s Original Taco
Eight distinctive sandwiches with lots of homemade breads faced off in the Deli regional: La Mie’s grilled cheese (Brie and smoked Provolone) on country Italian bread, which more than one nominator described as the best grilled cheese sandwich in the world; South Union‘s hot Italian (ham, roast beef, turkey, capacola, pepperoni, mozzarella, mayo on garlic focaccia); Lucca’s Cajun grilled tuna on their homemade ciabatta; Star Bar’s Niman Ranch Jambon Royale ham and cheese with homemade mango chili jam; Maccabee Deli’s “Maccabee” (corned beef, roast beef, sauerkraut and sk’hug – an Israeli red pepper spread – on Bake Shoppe’s rye); Palmer’s “Marshall Field” (ham, turkey, bacon, Swiss, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island dressing on house baked marble bread); Centro’s chicken Caesar on South Union ciabatta; and Gateway Market Café’s lobster shrimp salad roll on South Union challah. In a close vote, South Union’s hot Italian moved to the quarterfinal round.
Our Loose Meat region featured several traditional sandwiches that have been feeding Des Moines in six or more decades: grinders from The Tavern and Tursi’s Latin King; Coney Island’s beef burger; Tasty Taco’s original fried taco; and Maid-Rite’s namesake. Relative newcomers Paula’s beef rite and a house made sausage grinder from Mojo’s joined them, along with an at large bid for Hessen Haus’ Bismarck (chopped roast pork, sautéed mushrooms and onions, au jus and Swiss cheese on a large French roll). Tasty Tacos’ original taco moved into the quarterfinals and also prevailed to enter the final four.
With a $500 loan, Richard and Antonia Mosqueda opened their first Tasty Tacos in 1961 at the corner of Euclid & Searle. A couple years later they moved to a small venue near their present store on East Grand Avenue. Today, Antonia supervises six children, who own six local Tasty Tacos employing several spouses and five grand children full time. The family’s long time motto is “Nada Es Imposible” or “Nothing Is Impossible” and it remains the driving force behind the business.
“The original taco is by far our best seller and the item for which we are known,” said third generation Josh Mosqueda.
“It’s a flour shell that we make from scratch, so they differ is size and shape. It’s deep fat fried, in canola oil, and stuffed with secretly seasoned ground beef, beans, Wisconsin cheddar cheese and lettuce. I can’t tell you anything more about it without getting in trouble,” he explained.
It also still sells for just $2.75.
Taste of Italy’s Meatball
Our Italian Sausage bracket was packed with traditional powers, including four sandwiches that had been around for half a century: Terry’s Special (broiled homemade Italian sausage, grilled onions and peppers, Mozzarella and Provolone) from Chuck’s; Gino’s stromboli (meat, marinara and cheese baked on rolled Italian dough), and Italian sausage sandwiches from Mr. V’s and La Pizza House (which closed during the competition). Although they are less than half a century old, sausage sandwiches from the Norwood Bar & Grill (the only place in town that defiantly uses ketchup) and Noodles, and a stromboli from Mezzodi’s all have traditions that date back many decades. An at large bid for El Chisme’s chicarron tacos (uniquely made in two different regional styles, with scratch tortillas) rounded out that bracket. In the most competitive of all groupings, Gino’s stromboli edged out Mr. V’s Italian sausage by the slimmest margin, with several others close behind.
A Meat Ball – Banh Mi section was led by five meat ball sandwiches, from Noah’s, Mama Lacona’s, Christopher’s, Baratta’s, and Taste of Italy. They were joined by three banh mi (roast pork, charcuterie, shredded carrots, cilantro and dressings on baguettes made with rice and wheat flours), from La Paris, Le’s Chinese BBQ and Pho All Seasons. Taste of Italy’s meat ball sandwich moved on to the quarterfinals and also to the final four.
Taste of Italy is a small strip mall grocery store and deli in Clive. It has an incredible food pedigree, being founded by Cindy Cox, the wife of a Graziano, and currently owned by Todd Ferin. A century ago, Graziano Brothers and E. Ferin Grocery were competing markets on the near south side. Ferin’s Clive store has evolved into more of a deli and less of a grocery store since it opened. Because of the popularity of its sandwiches, shelf space has been given up for tables. You can still find plenty of imported Italian delicacies, cheeses, salami and local Italian products from Gino’s, Orlondo’s and of course Graziano’s.
Ferin and deli manager Bill Cesner run their sandwich business like a neighborhood bar without the alcohol. The chef often serves his creation and pretty much everybody knows your name. Their four meat ball sandwich costs no more than one at a subway chain. It’s made with Amadeo’s Fancy Bread, Fontanini’s meat balls (beef-pork-Romano cheese), sweet and hot peppers, and Provolone. It’s hot pressed until the roll crisps and the cheese melts. Andrea Bocelli sings almost continuously in the background. “Amo credo e so” (that this is one great sandwich.)
Which Sandwich for You?
Now it’s up to you to pick Des Moines’ ultimate sandwich. No matter which one wins, the things Des Moines prefers to pack into its bread have revealed a lot about the character of our city. First, this is a traditional town. Of the eight sectional winners, only Uncle Wendell’s, South Union and Taste of Italy had not been around for at least six decades. Moreover, Uncle Wendell’s was in a category in which everyone was a relative newcomer, Taste of Italy has family food roots that go back more than a century, and South Union was inspired by Italian bakeries in nineteenth century Zootsville, and by much older Sicilian traditions.
Secondly, neighborhood chauvinism is still rife here even after fifty years of suburban sprawl. From the south side’s innumerable versions of homemade Italian sausage, to Second Avenue’s mastery of Asian charcuterie, to Lee Township’s tradition of great tavern kitchens and Mexican taquerias, the city’s sandwich lore is written in wards rather than chapters. The voting bore that out.
Finally, we’re pretty democratic – our favorite sandwiches come from fine dining restaurants as well as dives, bakeries, Mom & Pop grocery stores, and butcher shops. We’re still as provincial as a pork tenderloin, that icon of Iowa that is virtually unknown outside the Midwest. And we’re also as nostalgic as a mid 20th century drive-in, as cosmopolitan as Vietnamese charcuterie and as sophisticated as a French patisserie.
This is one fine place to eat lunch.