A small town cafe that’s only been in business for nine months has been selected by the Iowa Pork Producers Association for having the "Best Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich" in the state. The organization started the award six years ago and this year’s winner is the Augusta Cafe in Oxford, just west of Iowa City. The cafe’s head cook and co-owner, Ben Halperin, says he uses all homemade ingredients.
"We make everything in house. We bake our own bread, so you’re getting the tenderloin on a fresh bun. I make my own pickles and we make our own mayonaise," Halperin said. When they’re in season, the sandwich is topped with locally grown tomatoes.
"The tenderloin itself is eight ounces of Iowa pork, pounded out," Halperin said. "I use a seasoned flour that I make here too, then it goes into eggs and then some Panko." Panko is Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Halperin opened the restaurant in January with his wife Jeri, an Iowa native. The couple met several years ago while working together in a restaurant in New Orleans. Oddly enough, Ben had never heard of a breaded pork tenderloin until recently and did not plan to have it on Augusta Cafe’s menu.
"I hadn’t heard of it until I visited Iowa, which was about a year-and-a-half ago," Halperin said. "After Hurricane Katrina sent us up north, we stayed in Chicago for a while. Then Jeri and I got married and we decided to visit her relatives in Iowa. That was when I had a tenderloin for the first time." Another partner in the restaurant, Nathan Ruble, convinced Ben to add the pork tenderloin to the menu.
Now, the Augusta Cafe will have a plaque on the wall – boasting its title of "Best Tenderloin in Iowa." The top prize also includes $500. The runner-up in this year’s contest went to Michael’s Restaurant in Des Moines.
Past winner’s of the Iowa Pork Producer’s award include Larsen’s Pub in Elk Horn (2007), The Town House Supper Club in Wellsburg (2006), Dairy Sweet in Dunlap (2005), Suburban Restaurant in Ames (2004) and Darrell’s Place in Hamlin (2003). The Augusta Cafe is normally open Wednesday through Sunday, but will be closed this weekend to host an employee’s wedding.