Fake tenderloins, casket kings, and yellow basketballs. Ask the Hoosierist.
Q: Someone told me that the restaurant where I eat pork tenderloin sandwiches is serving a fake—something called a pork fritter. What, exactly, is an “authentic” pork tenderloin, and are they really that hard to obtain?
Henry T., Carmel
A: For out-of-staters and lifelong vegetarians, here’s the lowdown on Indiana’s Official State Calorie Bomb. It’s a piece of pork tenderloin that’s beaten with a mallet until it’s bigger than a hubcap and almost as thin as a weekday edition of The Indianapolis Star, then breaded, flash fried, and served on a laughably undersized bun. Legend states that the original version was developed at Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, where the owner’s brother, who lost his fingers to frostbite, tenderized the establishment’s pork sandwich meat by pounding on it with his stumps. As heartwarming and magical as that story may sound, others (The Hoosierist among them) think the tenderloin is really just a variant of German-style schnitzel that, somewhere back in the mists of time, found its way into a hamburger bun.
Once, you could order the real deal at even the diciest, grubbiest corner dives. But these days, some establishments pawn off a prefab “fritter” composed of breaded, ground-up pork bits. How to tell the difference? The fritters are a bit too thick and a bit too perfectly round. And they’re not as crazily, flamboyantly huge as a traditional tenderloin. But here’s the one way to know with absolute certainty that you’re getting an authentic sandwich. If, a couple of minutes after placing your order, you hear what sounds like the cook murdering one of the busboys with a hammer in the kitchen, rest easy. That’s the sound of your sandwich meat getting the beating of its life.
Q: I understand that Indiana is the world capital of casket manufacturing, which is more than a little creepy. Is that true?
Susan Y., Fishers
A: What you heard about our casket primacy is dead right. More than a dozen companies headquartered here build the oblong boxes, including the Batesville Casket Company, the GM—or perhaps more accurately, the Honda—of postmortem subterranean corpse receptacles. Of the roughly 1.5 million caskets produced annually in the U.S., almost a third are rolled out by Indiana.
Chalk it up to what economists call “creative destruction.” Back in the early 20th century, our state was home to dozens of smallish car manufacturers that were squeezed out of business by Detroit. This left a lot of empty but otherwise up-to-date facilities. So, many converted to caskets. Sadly, that industry is also now under pressure—from the rising popularity of cremation, which obviates the need for a big, elaborate wooden box. But the locals are fighting back with fancy custom jobs. The literal gold standard is Batesville’s “Promethean,” a shiny bronze behemoth that costs $24,000, takes the company two weeks to prepare, and carried both Michael Jackson and James Brown to their eternal rewards. No wonder it’s nicknamed the “Golden Send Off.”
Q: Is it true that Tony Hinkle is responsible for basketballs being orange? It just doesn’t seem possible.
Nadia E., Indianapolis
A: The Hoosierist agrees that this story sounds apocryphal, like the one about Johnny Appleseed planting all the apple trees or that guy with no fingers who invented the tenderloin sandwich. However, the folks at Butler University’s athletic department swear by this heroic legend. It goes like this: Once upon a time (the 1950s), all basketballs were a dull brown color, making them hard for players and fans to see. Then Butler hoops coach Paul D. “Tony” Hinkle teamed up with the Spalding Company to develop the modern orange hue, which debuted at the 1958 NCAA Finals in Louisville. The change was a slam dunk. There’s even a trophy at Hinkle Fieldhouse commemorating the momentous development. Just thank your lucky stars the color change wasn’t made more recently, or hoopsters might be dribbling something that looks like a giant piece of Lemonhead candy. “Today they would go with yellow because that seems to be the color of choice for balls you have a hard time seeing,” says Jim McGrath, Butler’s associate athletic director for communication. Indiana’s great game reduced to the level of tennis? The Hoosierist shudders at the prospect.
Q: What’s the penalty for burning leaves in Indy, and why is it illegal? I know it causes a bit of pollution, but is it any worse than shipping it off to landfills?
Adam W., Indianapolis
A: A very simple story—the only kind The Hoosierist dares attempt—illustrates why leaf-burning is a no-no. First, imagine raking all the leaves in your yard into a big pile, and then pushing them out to the curb and setting them ablaze. Now imagine thousands of other Marion County homeowners doing the same thing at the same time, and you can see why the city poured cold water on this eye-watering, lung-searing “tradition” back in 1975. Try it, and you’ll get a $50 citation and, if you persist, escalating follow-up penalties that top out at $2,500.
These days, you have to sack up all that lawn confetti and kick it to the curb. Each fall, the Department of Public Works scoops up roughly 6,000 tons of leaves, but it doesn’t just toss them in a landfill. Instead they’re composted, and the resulting mounds of black gold are made available—free—to Marion County residents. Try to remember that next spring, when it could save you an expensive mulch run to the local lawn-and-garden center.
Q: Why do we have a BMV instead of a DMV? Are we the only state without the latter?
Micayla M., Indianapolis
A: After spending an excruciating hour looking up the names of various license branches (a task only slightly less onerous than killing an hour actually sitting in one), The Hoosierist can say with assurance that we’re by no means the only state eschewing the DMV title. While places such as South Carolina, California, and Connecticut do indeed have Departments of Motor Vehicles, other districts sport slightly different monikers. For instance, Iowa residents cool their heels and curse their fates at the Office of Driver Services. And in Missouri, unsmiling government wonks snap hideous drivers-license photos under the auspices of the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Honestly, all of the various names sound pretty dull, except for one: the Puerto Rico Driver Services Directorate. Directorate? You have to admire their gall. Instead of picking something that sounds even remotely helpful, they just go for naked arrogance. It’s as if the TSA had the guts (and the self-awareness) to call itself the Pre-flight Groping Squad.
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Illustration by Shane Harrison
This article appeared in the October 2012 issue.