Last week brought big news regarding the Indianapolis 500. No, I’m not talking about the announcement that Kurt Busch will do “The Double” for Andretti Autosport. Nor am I referring to the revamped qualifying procedure that was finally announced on Friday. I’ll discuss my thoughts regarding that on Wednesday. No, what I’m talking involves food. That’s what makes it so important. The news is that the concessions, both food & beverage, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be run by a new company – Levy Restaurants.
This is a first for IMS. In the past, they have always sought to have total control of the concessions and keep everything in-house. Their decision to outsource this while they are seeking to cut costs, is curious.
Like everything, I see pros and cons in this. Most of the food at IMS has been hit or miss. The Track Dog is just a regular overpriced hot-dog like you might find at any sports venue. It is wrapped in foil, sitting in a bin under some heat lamps. Its freshness is always in question. It is not disgusting, nor is it the best dog you’ve ever eaten. It’s just there and serves the purpose to put something in your belly, while you enjoy all of the ambiance that the track offers.
While the Track Dog is unremarkable, the burgers at IMS are below average. Keep in mind, my idea of a good burger means the more unhealthy it is the better. Greasy beef has flavor, but most health-conscious individuals find it revolting. I’ve always found the burgers at IMS to be dry and flavorless.
Not only has most of the food at IMS been just so-so, there is not a huge selection at most of the concession stands. If Levy Restaurants can offer a broader range of food to the consumers, I’m all for it. They manage food & beverage concessions at multiple sports venues such as Churchill Downs, Wrigley Field, Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Purdue University and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. They also manage the concessions at Bridgestone Arena here in Nashville for the Nashville Predators. If they can do for IMS what they have done for making a Predators game more enjoyable –this will be a significant upgrade.
But there was one nagging question that I did not see addressed in the press release – what about the breaded tenderloin sandwich?
Being from the south, we are not exposed to this Midwestern classic. In fact, I had never even heard of a tenderloin until I had one at IMS many years ago. I have mentioned the tenderloin to some of my southern friends and they thought I was referring to beef tenderloin instead of pork. While a filet mignon sandwich sounds good, it doesn’t quite go with a racetrack in front of you. The closest I can get to a tenderloin sandwich in Nashville is at Culver’s – a Midwestern chain but they are decent at best.
For the past few years, I have found myself on a quest to find the best tenderloin in Indianapolis. Since I normally only visit in May, I don’t have time to venture too far from IMS. I have been told by several that the best in town is at Edward’s Drive-In on the east side. I never get to the east side of Indianapolis, so I’ve never been. But more than one person has proclaimed it the best.
I have tried the tenderloin at the Mug-N-Bun, Dawson’s on Main and Charlie Brown’s Steak and Pancake House. Each of those places have unique aspects that make me want to keep going there, but I have never walked away thinking that theirs was the best I have had.
Whether it is because I am seated within IMS or if they’re really that good – I am still hard-pressed to find a better tenderloin sandwich than the one served at IMS. Maybe it is because it is a top-seller, but they always seem to be hot and fresh, just out of the fryer. They are seasoned perfectly and the flattened bun seems to go with it perfectly. It has become a ritual that one of the first things I do when I first arrive at IMS is to head to the concession stand at the Pagoda Plaza and get one. That doesn’t mean once a year – that’s every day that I get there.
This year, I will be spending a total of nine days at IMS. That means at least nine tenderloins at the track. I’ll generally eat at most of the aforementioned places outside the track during our stay. Chances are, I’ll have a tenderloin at one of those places as well.
That is why I was concerned to see that the concessions had been outsourced. Would they be bringing in generic homogenous fare that you can get at any ballpark, or would they keep some local favorites? I read and re-read the press release. I saw nothing. I got scared. I’ve seen many Indianapolis 500 traditions fall by the wayside over the years, I was afraid another one was about to bite the dust. It bothered me so much, that I contacted IMS President Doug Boles directly. Being a native Hoosier and an rabid fan of the Indianapolis 500, I figured he would already know the answer. He did.
This site is mostly about opinions – more correctly, my opinions. I rarely do much interviewing and I almost never have any type of news scoop – until now.
Doug Boles responded to me very quickly to assure me that they are, in fact, keeping the famous IMS breaded tenderloin sandwich. So rest assured, race fans. When we head to IMS this May, we’ll still be able to enjoy the unmistakable, mouth-watering goodness that is a tenderloin. Just remember, you heard it here first.
Shameless plug: For those that listen to Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee – tonight is the somewhat annual Blogger Night. You’ll hear myself and my fellow IndyCar bloggers discuss timely issues with Kevin and Curt, as well as promoting our respective sites. Tune in here and click the “Listen Live AM1070” button tonight from 8:00 to 10:00 Eastern; 7:00-9:00 Central.