October 16, 2023
A new tenderloin has been crowned Iowa’s Best Breaded Pork Tenderloin. You can devour this year’s champion at Cliff’s Place in Manning, an hour and a half northwest of Des Moines.
The 21st annual contest is presented by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and managed by its Restaurant & Foodservice Committee.
“Thick and juicy or thin and crispy—people travel crazy distances to sink their teeth into different versions of this Midwest staple,” says Kelsey Sutter, IPPA’s marketing and programs director. “Tenderloins connect people from all over the world, and it just takes one bite to understand why they’re such a hit!”
A Cliff’s tenderloin starts with 6 ounces of pork, sliced from a never-frozen boneless loin and tenderized to achieve the desired texture and thickness. Hand-breaded to order, the meat is dredged through a mixture of flour and Flavor-Crisp’s “Chicken on the Run” Find Grind seasoned breading, dipped in buttermilk, and coated a second time in the dry flour before being deep fried to a golden brown.
The $6 sandwiches are served with pickles on a toasted Rotella’s Italian Bakery bun, and halved for easier handling. Lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon and cheese can be added for a slight upcharge.
“We don’t glorify anything on it,” said Jim Waterbury, who owns the nearly 50-year-old restaurant with his brother Jon. “It’s all about the pork—that’s what we want you to taste.”
And that’s exactly what earned high marks from Chef Phil Carey, a tenderloin finalist judge.
“The breading just complemented the pork so well, and the tenderloin didn’t overwhelm the bun,” Carey said. “It was a perfect combination, juicy to the final bite, and a very enjoyable sandwich to eat.”
Cliff’s typically serves about 70 tenderloins a week. When Jon Waterbury learned the restaurant had claimed the title, he joked, “I’ll sharpen my knife,” in preparation for an uptick in orders. Winning restaurants have reported selling five to 10 times more sandwiches for at least a month following the announcement, according to IPPA’s Sutter.
Cliff’s Place started in 1976 when the Waterburys’ parents Cliff and Vicki purchased a tavern there. Eight months later, they opened a kitchen in what had been a storage room. And in January 1987, the business expanded into an adjacent storefront, to add a dining area and private space for meetings or parties.
Jim and Jon Waterbury took over in 2008 following the death of their father, but Vicki Waterbury still works daily at the restaurant, preparing food for the salad bar and tending to customers.
Cliff’s will receive $500, a plaque and a large weatherproof banner to display.
This year’s runner-up is The Roadhouse in Orange City, in the northwest corner of the state. That designation comes with a $250 prize and plaque from IPPA. As announced earlier this month, other finalists, listed alphabetically by town, have earned top five plaques:
• Duncombe — Stumpy’s Bar & Grill
• Harpers Ferry — Spillway Supper Club
• Jamaica — Tojo’s Bar & Grille
IPPA received a record of more than 9,000 nominations for 774 restaurants this past spring. IPPA members and industry affiliates anonymously visited the top 40 locations this summer, scoring each on pork taste and quality, physical characteristics and eating experience.
The Restaurant & Foodservice Committee used those evaluations to select five contenders to advance to the next round. From there, a team of judges traveled to each to determine first and second place.
The tenderloin contest recognizes Iowa dining establishments that offer a hand-breaded or battered pork tenderloin as a regular menu item. To win, businesses must be open year-round. The winners are announced every October as part of National Pork Month, which honors the hard work and dedication of America’s pig farmers.
Lid’s Bar & Grill in Waukon, in far northeast Iowa, won the 2022 contest.
See the full list of past winners, dating back to 2003.
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