John Carlson: The Meat of the Matter

Take the bun, meat and condiments away from a breaded tenderloin and what have you got? An elephant ear. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonTake the bun, meat and condiments away from a breaded tenderloin and what have you got? An elephant ear. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

I don’t mean to go all intellectual on you, but regular readers of this column know I sometimes probe the bigger, more thought-provoking questions of our time.

For example, have you ever noticed how much an elephant ear looks like a breaded tenderloin?

No? Just think about it.

Now, I should probably note that by “elephant ear,” I mean the deep-fried, sugary, concessionaire’s confection and not some poor pachyderm’s actual ear, which would likely taste pretty icky no matter how much honey-mustard sauce you dipped it in.

Anyway, a while back Nan and I were up in Matthews for the Covered Bridge Festival. My being in recovery mode from recent back surgery, I chose not to walk around looking at all the marvelous doohickeys for sale. To get me out of our car, the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders would have to be offering chubby guys free tummy rubs.

But after disappearing into the shopping hordes for about an hour, Nan finally comes back to the car bearing a huge breaded tenderloin.

“Yippee!” I holler with delight, being famished, and then ask, “But where’s the bun?”

“What bun?”

“The tenderloin’s bun.”

“This is an elephant ear, Einstein,” she kindly explains.

I say the only thing I can think of, which is, “Holy crapola.”

All stretched out and golden brown, this elephant ear looked more like a breaded tenderloin than most breaded tenderloins I’ve eaten.

Naturally, as an Indiana resident and former newspaper food guy interested in attaining tenderloin immortality, I start thinking. How cool would it be, I wonder, to start serving breaded tenderloins between two elephant ears? Besides being color-coordinated, you’d have Hoosier culinary goodness on the top. Hoosier culinary goodness on the bottom. Plus Hoosier culinary goodness in the middle. Supper would also be dessert.

The very notion sets my feeble imagination ablaze.

Could this be a best seller?

Could this secure my financial future?

Could this, in fact, win me a Sagamore of the Wabash award for Hoosier sandwich development?

Could be!

After all, it’s an example of the same culinary genius a few years ago that sparked the state fair frenzy for serving cheeseburgers between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I know. I was there. I tried one.

Of course, come to think of it, I also spit it out. Yes, the sweet taste of Krispy Kreme doughnuts melded nicely with a cheeseburger. It was when you added your standard burger dressings like ketchup, mustard and onions that things got a little wonky. That’s because you had violated an unwritten but nonetheless common-sense culinary guideline that most food experts live by, to wit: Don’t be stupid.

You don’t serve ketchup, mustard and onions with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the same reason that, when you order a delicious chocolate-covered, creme-filled stick at Concannon’s Bakery, the folks behind the counter don’t ask, “Do you want pickles with that?”

It’d be a sin against nature, plus your stomach.

Looking back on that state fair visit now, mine wasn’t the only discarded Krispy Kreme burger I spotted that day. Lots of others were drawing the attention of hungry flies in the midway’s trash cans.

And so, alas, I have learned my lesson. While it is an innovative foodie’s bold and beautiful dream, chances are at next year’s state fair, you’re not going to find elephant ear-wrapped breaded tenderloins for sale. Also, I’m not going to be a Sagamore of the Wabash.



A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.