Nick’s is one of my favorite places to eat and is very popular with the locals. In fact, on the Monday we visited, we arrived at 11am to find a somewhat empty restaurant. By 11:30, about twenty people had filed in for lunch and were definitely regulars.
Nick’s breaded pork tenderloins are made fresh in the restaurant. According to the Summer 2007 issue of Hoosier Farmer, Nick’s pork tenderloins are purchased pre-cut and twice cubed from The Meat Shop in Huntington. The tenderloins are pounded out thin and flat and marinated for at least 24 hours in a buttermilk marinade. The extra-tender marinated tenderloins are then dredged through a cracker crumb breading. They are rested for a couple of hours and deep fried. The resulting breaded pork tenderloin is extremely tender and juicy under the crisp and crunchy batter. On our visit, it seemed as though the tenderloins were a little thicker than I remembered and overall a little smaller, though most probably the same amount of meat. A well-made Hoosier tenderloin will far outstretch a hamburger bun, and Nick’s version still does that. I ordered mine with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, and mustard, with a side of onion rings. Nick’s onion rings are freshly made in house and fried to a perfect crispness. The onion rings are very crunchy and aren’t greasy like many other onion ring varieties end up being.
My mom is a huge fan of the very hard-to-find breaded cheeseburger. I have only ever seen this in Northern Indiana, at a now-defunct Warren, IN, restaurant and also at Nick’s. Here’s a photo from the Hoosier Burger Boy blog which is a menu sighting at an undisclosed Indiana location. These, unfortunately, are not made in house, but Nick’s does buy them in to serve on their menu. This is a hamburger patty, topped with a slice of cheese, that has been breaded in a crispy batter. The resulting patty is then deep fried, with the cheese becoming liquefied in the process. It’s definitely a unique item, but when it comes to Nick’s, I am more of breaded tenderloin fan.
Huntington, IN, is the hometown of Dan Quayle. He was eating at Nick’s when he first considered running for Congress in 1976, and also ate at Nick’s right before being announce as George H.W. Bush’s running mate in 1988. As such, Nick’s honors their famous hometown son with a Dan Quayle burger. It’s featured prominently on the menu alongside the Breaded Pork Tenderloin and a Bison burger. It’s a 1/2lb. ground chuck burger with grilled onions, lettuce, and tomato. Jessica ordered the Bison Burger, which came with a salad instead of fries for the more health conscious. I had a bite and it was fine, nothing mind-blowing, a decent buffalo burger.
For those who are unable to make it to Nick’s and are craving a tasty breaded pork tenderloin of your own, fear not, there is an excellent website that explains the proper methodology to make one yourself. In fact, it was while researching breaded pork tenderloins for a 2007 Super Bowl party (Indiana food was required since the Colts were playing), I first got excited about going to Nick’s. I had first read of the restaurant in Roadfood, but it’s David site and excitement that helped impress the need for a visit on me. David visited Nick’s, and the very kind and helpful owner showed him how she made breaded pork tenderloins for the restaurant. In fact, when we first visited, I mentioned to the owner how excited I was to try some of their Sugar Cream pie, and that’s when she gave me her recipe. Also, on this recent visit, I was considering ordering some deep fried macaroni and cheese because my dad had never had it. The waitress definitely steered me away from ordering it because she wasn’t a fan, but then later brought us out a couple to sample so we could see for ourselves. This extreme kindness is unusual to those on the east or west costs, but this is the very friendly Midwest.
While the recipe for this sandwich is readily available, it’s the attention to detail and patience that is key to Nick’s success. It takes time to do all of the steps right, letting the tenderloins marinate overnight and letting them rest before frying, but this results in a delicious breaded pork tenderloin. I hereby induct Nick’s into the Hamburger Calculus Hall of Fame. It brought the world the breaded tenderloin sandwich and continues to serve up a top-tier version of this Hoosier and Midwestern classic.