Dishin’ on the Dish: breaded pork tenderloin sandwich at J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop

Restaurant owner Chris Cunningham grew up on the sandwiches and wanted to bring a taste of his childhood to Chicago.

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Chris Cunningham always dreamt of opening a restaurant that specializes in Midwest sandwiches. When the opportunity arose in the fall of 2019 to make that vision a reality, he knew there was one item he definitely had to include on the menu: a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich.

Cunningham, the do-it-all owner of J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop in Irving Park, grew up on those sandwiches — a staple on most diner menus around the Quad Cities and in Indiana. However, when he moved to Chicago almost two decades ago, he had a hard time finding a place that could satisfy his childhood craving.

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich at J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop.

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich at J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“I don’t know why they really never blew up in Chicago,” Cunningham said. “We’ve got, you know, other sandwiches similar here, like the bone in pork chop is the closest thing. So when I need my fix... I’d go get one of those.”

But it wasn’t the same.

Cunningham took matters into his own hands, creating a recipe that replicated the sandwich he remembered from his youth.

“We were making the tenderloins in our backyard because we couldn’t find them anywhere,” he said.

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich — a favorite in his household — quickly became a top seller at J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop.

“We get a lot of customers in here... they say, ‘Thank you so much. We’re so happy we found you. I don’t have to take the three-hour drive back to Iowa or to Indiana’ — because they’ve been missing the sandwiches as well,” Cunningham said. “So that’s always really nice when we get to connect with somebody, another customer’s past who have similar experience with these sandwiches.”

The secret to making the sandwich, Cunningham said, is in the process. He starts by trimming the fat and silver skin off the whole pork loin before cutting it into roughly six-ounce portions. Then he tenderizes and flattens the meat with a mallet before tossing it into a buttermilk brine, where marinates overnight.

Christopher Cunningham is the owner of J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop.

Christopher Cunningham is the owner of J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Each sandwich is made-to-order. When a ticket comes to the kitchen, Cunningham takes a tenderloin and coats it with the in-house breading mix before dropping it in the deep fryer. He “dresses up” the sandwich — which is served on a toasted buttery bun sourced from a local bakery — with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce and pickle chips.

“You get the salty, richness of the pork and then the acidity of the mustard, creaminess of the mayonnaise... You get that perfect bite,” Cunningham said. “Everything comes together, it’s really nice.”

J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop, 3970 N. Elston Ave. The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is $8.95. Visit https://www.jtsgenuine.com.

Got a favorite dish from a Chicago-area restaurant? Let us know via email at: dishinonthedish@suntimes.com.

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