The Sampler and
The Return of the Gnaw Bone Tenderloin
There had been some rumors—a few little tremors on the grapevine, whispered speculations—“The tenderloin is coming back to Gnaw Bone.”
It was all true. The Gnaw Bone tenderloin was back, and, I was reliably informed by my able researcher, it was bigger and better than ever.
“It’s the real Gnaw Bone tenderloin,” she said in hushed excitement. “What does that even mean, real?” I shot back in a world-weary tone. “It’s The Original Gnaw Bone Tenderloin,” she insisted. “They all say that. What do you expect them to say?” I asked sardonically. “It’s the original guy in the original place.”
Early that evening, I gathered up my beautiful kitchen companion and we made the journey out to Gnaw Bone. In its own weird way, Gnaw Bone is sort of the industrial section of Brown County, but one which now seems on the boom with new housing and other developments.
I knew there must be something to all the talk when I pulled into the “Gnaw Mart” and saw all the cars.
The placed was packed—I could barely find a parking spot. This is always a good sign in the restaurant sampling biz—a little thrill goes through your cholesterol-addled heart—where a crowd of people is gathered around an eatery, something good is to be had. And there it was, posted proudly on one of those little flashy advertising signs: “Home of the Original Gnaw Bone Tenderloin.”
I entered with a sense of eager anticipation and restrained hope. There were people milling around, awaiting the steady stream of fresh, hot tenderloins and other goodies emerging from behind a little counter where you placed your order. All the cooking and order assembly is done from a little stainless steel line in front of the all-important industrial-strength fryer; “in sight it must be right.”
There are other menu choices, of course: chicken tenders, fish, nice, home-cut, golden brown potato wedges, jalapeno poppers, cheese sticks, and even something called “squealers,” which I hesitate to presume to speculate what exactly might consist of. But we have come for the tenderloin, and the tenderloin we must have.
Now, here is the dirty little secret of the fried, breaded tenderloin; the very idea of breading it was to conceal the thickness of the meat within. I would venture to say that most of the breaded tenderloins one inevitably encounters along the highways and byways of American life are pounded out to make them look larger. Sometimes, the cook gets a little carried away, and you end up with a wafer thin, mostly fried-breading sandwich, although, admittedly, as big as your whole head.
Not so the Gnaw Mart Tenderloin. It is a generous, thick-cut, hunk of pork tenderloin, more than capable of standing up to the tasty, crispy breading.
We received ours piping fresh, “deluxe” with onion and pickle and lettuce. And it probably would have held up to the traditional white bread bun better if we had waited a few minutes for it to cool, but that proved impossible as the delectable morsel irresistibly demanded immediate attention.
It was delicious. Crisp, crunchy, meaty, juicy; it was, as my kitchen companion pointed out, “un-put-down-able.”
I have to stop thinking about it, or I’ll be back in Gnaw Bone again before you know it.
The sandwich came with the thinnest little fried potato slices—they reminded me of the “ribbon fries” at the State Fair, only better, really. Add salt and ketchup and gobble them down while they’re still steaming hot, no matter what kind of a look your adoring mate might shoot you from across the table.
You don’t actually have to put the sandwich down to accomplish this—the good Lord, in His infinite wisdom, gave you two hands and condiments in squeeze bottles.
Throw in a glass of iced tea and it’s a feast worthy of, well, a convenience store snack bar—which is what the Gnaw Mart is, after all—complete with the glass-fronted coolers and wire racks loaded with every thing from fix-a-flat to twinkies.
I had advised my beloved that we might have to just grab our sandwiches and go— although she knows how much I detest take-out, how I prefer to be seated and dawdle over my meal, to cogitate and marinate, to observe and learn. That’s when we noticed the back room, a kind of storage room filled with tables and people, and live music in downtown Gnaw Bone on a Friday night. I swear I’m not making it up. A trio of two men and a woman sang folk songs and old hymns in a plain, old fashioned way, accompanying themselves on two guitars as the small crowd, often as not, joined in on the choruses. We found a couple of seats and started our two-handed tenderloin feast. I tried to restrain myself, but I wolfed down the sandwich and the potato chips with abandon.
The trio sang of heartbreak and loss; of failure and redemption; of wrong roads and bad choices. The crowd nodded knowingly, munched contentedly, applauded enthusiastically.
In the post-tenderloin glow, I considered society and culture on a human scale, a Gnaw Bone scale.
The singers recalled again the awful fate of Muhlenberg County; “Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away” and sang of that beautiful mansion “just over the hilltop.”
And I was profoundly satisfied.