A Sandwich A Day: A Featherweight Pork Loin at Kitty's Cafe in Kansas City

A Sandwich a Day

A different sandwich profiled every single day.


[Photograph: Jonathan Bender]

I'd like to think that I've only disappointed my wife a handful of times in the 15 years we've known each other, but I can admit that I still regret it took me a year to introduce her to the Pork Loin Sandwich ($5.20) at Kitty's Cafe in Kansas City.

Kitty's is a square box of a place, where the line keeps the door propped open for the noon lunch hour. It's cash-only at this Midtown spot, which opened in 1951, but the most expensive thing on the menu is the fresh catfish sandwich ($5.60). Everybody is big time here. In the mornings, men in winter hats fork over 90 cents in change for two pieces of wheat toast. Later in the day, contractors and nurses alike wrap two hands around a double cheeseburger ($4.50).

Pork tenderloins are deep-fried, breaded pork cutlets that are essentially the edible flag of the Midwest (in particular, Indiana, where reputations are defined by the quality of this sandwich). In Kansas City, tenderloins are typically anvils—a thick slab of pig flopping out both ends of a bun. But at Kitty's, the pork loin sandwich is delicate. Tender, pastel-pink pork awaits within a golden brown coating that has a wonderful crackle. It's the kind of sandwich that you eat in increasingly large bites, then immediately debate ordering another.

Three slices of pig, each roughly the size and shape of a fried green tomato, are fried in a batter more tempura than corn dog. The crunchy meat wafers are then stacked on a bed of shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pickle slices, and raw white onion. The upside down arrangement keeps the tenderloins from getting soggy. Mayonnaise and hot sauce are optional, though the latter adds a piquant note to the mild pork that makes it a standard choice for regulars. The triple stack is held in place by a toothpick and cornmeal-dusted buns.

Pigs can't fly. But Kitty's is proof that when pork is done right, it can be light as air.