East Iowa restaurant’s ‘thick, juicy’ breaded pork tenderloin named state’s best

A tiny town on the far edge of the Cedar Rapids metro now has something big to boast about: It’s the home of the state’s best breaded pork tenderloin, the Iowa Pork Producers Association said Friday.

PrairieMoon on Main in Prairieburg, population 188, was chosen from 4,500 nominations, the association said. Located 30 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids, it competed with 390 businesses across Iowa to be named as having the state’s top breaded tenderloin sandwich, the association said.

PrairieMoon owners Loren and Amy Lacy say they’ve worked for years to concoct a pork tenderloin sandwich they liked.

For Loren Lacy, a good tenderloin is not so much about the breading but rather the flavor and tenderness of the pork, the pork producers said.

PrairieMoon has a local grocer cut loins into half-pound slices. Then they’re soaked for up to 72 hours in buttermilk, which helps tenderize the pork. Dredged through an unseasoned, dry, fine cracker meal, the never-frozen meat is fried to order, the group said.

The Iowa Pork Producers say the state's best breaded tenderloin sandwich this year is at PrairieMoon on Main in Prairieburg. The northeast Iowa restaurant is owned by at Loren and Amy Lacy.

Amy Lacy said she began experimenting with her tenderloin technique about six years ago when she and her husband managed the Wapsipinicon Country Club at Wapsipinicon State Park in Anamosa. The couple opened their restaurant in nearby Prairieburg about a year and a half ago.

“At that point, I thought you had to press them out because everybody wanted a huge tenderloin that, you know, covered a pizza box,” Amy Lacy said. But at PrairieMoon, loins aren’t pounded or pressed, so “they stay nice and thick and juicy,” she said.

The week after PrairieMoon’s tenderloin was announced as a top five finalist, orders nearly tripled, the association said. To keep up with the spike in traffic and demand, local residents pitch in to help PrairieMoon serve up the sandwiches during busy times.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association says PrairieMoon on Main's breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is the state's best. The Prairieburg restaurant is located 30 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids.

“Iowans take their tenderloin really seriously, so when we found out we ranked in the top 40, I think I cried — we were so excited,” Amy Lacy said. “And when the judges told us were in the top five, I shook. This is just crazy for us.”

The Iowa Pork Producers Association presented the couple with the award Friday, along with a $500 prize. The association also made it possible to provide 1,500 sandwiches for just $1 apiece.

“We want to encourage folks to go try the winning sandwich and support locally owned restaurants, which have suffered a heavy blow from COVID-19 closures and occupancy restrictions,” said Kelsey Sutter, the association’s marketing and programs director.

The contest’s runner-up is Birdies, Burgers & Brews at Hillcrest Golf & Country Club in Graettinger. Other finalists were Bents Smokehouse & Pub in Westgate; The Blind Pig in Cedar Rapids; and Sasquatch Jacks Hideaway Barroom & Grill in Waverly. 

The Pub at the Pinicon in New Hampton won the 2019 contest. Here’s a full list of past winners. It’s the 18th year for the contest.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at deller@registermedia.com or 515-284-8457.