Super Bowl food fight: Indianapolis vs. New Orleans sandwiches
The Super Bowl can sometimes seem almost as much about the party food as the football. This year we decided to combine the two and make a contest out of the regional cuisine in each city--in this case, the sandwiches that each Super Bowl team's cities are famous for. Representing Indianapolis is the pork tenderloin sandwich, which is said to have been invented in Indiana. New Orleans's entry is the po' boy, the well-known submarine sandwich of the South. (When all is said and done, we'll also tell you where you can lard up on each in the Twin Cities, for your own Super Bowl shindig.) And now, please rise for the singing of the National Anthem...
The pork tenderloin sandwich is the Jucy Lucy of Indianapolis--a homegrown meat-and-bun meal that has become an odd source of civic pride. Its more obsessive devotees have even created a blog and documentary on their favorite sandwich. Like the Lucy, it's a humble thing--a cut of tenderloin pounded flat, breaded, deep-fried, plopped on a bun, and sparsely garnished. For our Super Bowl showdown, we snagged one at the esteemed hole-in-the-wall Casper & Runyon's Nook in St. Paul, which sells them for about 6 bucks. A proper pork tenderloin flops extravagantly beyond the edge of the bun, and the Nook's passes the test, though without showing off. Its tenderloin is heavily breaded and seriously deep-fried to a dark golden brown but retains a dense, meaty pork flavor. The sandwich can often be dry, but the Nook's comes with a welcome side of honey-mustard sauce, plus lettuce, tomato, pickles, and fries. This is a blue-collar sandwich, bland but filling, and a perfect example of why Indianapolis isn't known as a food town. But if you're a Hoosier partisan, it will get the job done--and you definitely won't be hungry again by halftime.
Louisiana's famous po' boy sandwich comes in many forms, including oysters, fried shrimp, fish, and sausage. The best in these parts are the seafood versions at Sea Salt Eatery near Minnehaha Falls, but since it's closed in winter, we chose the fried-shrimp po' boy at Dixie's on Grand, also in St. Paul. The sandwich sells for a hefty $12 (fries included) and comes loaded with a passel of medium-size, deep-fried shrimp--so many that you'll spend a good part of your meal stuffing the fallen crustaceans back into their hoagie bun (disappointingly, not the traditional French baguette). The shrimp packs a pungent seafood aroma and is served with tomato and shredded lettuce, all held together with a surprisingly tepid, mayo-based "spicy remoulade" that hardly seems worthy of the Cajun tradition. The crisp crunch of the flavorful breaded shrimp makes a decent sandwich, but this po' boy isn't bringing its best game.
The winner: This contest wasn't quite as exciting as we'd hoped. Both sandwiches take a "three yards and a cloud of dust" approach to football food--straightforward, unimaginative, and too light on spices and flavor. Indianapolis's pork tenderloin was clearly the underdog at half the price. But the New Orleans sandwich had far more flavor and a more interesting concept. The po' boy wins by a touchdown.
WHERE TO GET THEM Here's where you can get these sandwiches for the Super Bowl. Leave a comment if you know others.
Pork tenderloin 5-8 Club, Minneapolis Adrian's, Minneapolis Bunny's, St. Louis Park Casper & Runyon's Nook, St. Paul Elsie's - Minneapolis Ideal Diner, Minneapolis Lookout Bar & Grill, Maple Grove Sandy's Tavern, Richfield
Po' boy Citizen Café, Minneapolis Stella's Fish Café, Uptown Dixie's on Grand, St. Paul
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