Fresh Seasons Cafe at the Indiana Government Center – Indianapolis, IN
If you’re a true Hoosier foodie, then you’re also likely a fan of a genuine hand-breaded tenderloin. While there’s certainly more than one food item that could qualify as “distinctly Hoosier,” there’s something about a true hand-breaded tenderloin that actually feels Hoosier. Think about it. It’s a fairly traditional, even conservative item yet it sort of flirts with being adventurous depending upon seasoning and spices and texture. Somehow, the hand-breaded tenderloin is both basic comfort food and culinary extravaganza all in one.
When you have a good friend who also happens to write a seriously popular blog on the beloved tenderloin, it’s easy to feel inadequate in offering any opinions on the subject. However, Tenderloin Connoisseur Rick Garrett has previously offered me the chance to write a guest review for his blog and on this occasion today he does so again.
The occasion? As an employee of the State of Indiana, I’ve spent several years of my life dining inside the walls of our beloved Fresh Seasons Cafe, the official cafeteria of the Indiana Government Center. In my case, I utilize the South building. It’s that 4-story behemoth of a building that sits at 402 W. Washington Street. The North building, which also has its own cafeteria, is the much taller building. Fresh Seasons is run by Taher, Inc. a contract food service management company that provides a wide variety of dining and catering services to clients in 10 states. Started in 1981, they serve over 34 million meals per year and employs or supervises over 2,000 employees.
Fresh Seasons Cafe is located in the basement, a multi-station area offering items ranging from your usual grilled items to deli style delights, featured entrée items, quick to-go items, and fresh salads among others. Largely patronized by State of Indiana employees and those visiting the complex, the cafeteria is open to the public and, in fact, State employees do not get a discount. The dining area is your typical corporate cafeteria set-up, mostly a wide range of tables set throughout a large building with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the courtyard that divides the Indiana Government Center’s West and East sides. Having previously reviewed the cafeteria itself on Yelp with a fairly gracious 3-star rating, I’d long spied this thing called hand-breaded tenderloin and upon seeing it as a special item to be offered this week dropped Rick a note and said “Hey, you interested in a review?”
I’m fairly sure he chuckled as he said “Yes!”
Now, on to the tenderloin.
The hand-breaded tenderloin, and it is genuinely hand-breaded, is not a regular cafeteria item but is offered every 3 months or so as a specialty item on the grill. It’s typically offered as an ala carte item, though the grill certainly offers fries, tots, onion rings, chips and other items that would add a buck or two to your bill. After years of avoiding it, on behalf of Tenderloin Connoisseur I offered myself as a sacrifice today and forked over the $4.99 for the sandwich not entirely sure I would even survive the ordeal.
Served on an ordinary, lightly toasted bun, the State of Indiana’s version of a hand-breaded tenderloin sandwich is the kind of sandwich that teasingly offers you hope right up until that first bite snatches that hope away from your grubby little fingers. Served plain with a small bar area to the side of the grill, it’s a decent-sized sandwich that is approximately 20% larger than the bun. It’s a thick slab o’ meat with a strong seasoning involving pepper, more pepper, and probably Salt n’ Pepa. It actually “looks” fairly decent.
Looks are deceiving.
From the first bite, I thought to myself “There’s potential here!” Unfortunately, the sandwich never lives up to this potential. It saddens me to think that some poor pig gave his life for this sandwich.
“This little piggie went to the Government Center.”
Quite honestly, the seasoning is out of balance and inconsistent. The drab, lifeless bun offers nothing other than a sense of culinary hopelessness. While the thickness is promising, the overall tenderloin is cooked rather unevenly, the demands of cooking quickly for hungry government employees likely sabotaging any hope at all of a decent dining experience. It’s chunky in spots, but those chunks are weird and occasionally slightly burnt. It was sort of like eating Pop Rocks, but without the pop.
In case you’ve never had Pop Rocks, the pop is what makes it all worthwhile.
Occasionally, there’s a brief taste of what seems like fresh meat but it quickly gets overwhelmed and eventually beaten to death by those dastardly Pop Rocks.
Seriously, though, this isn’t the worst hand-breaded tenderloin I’ve ever had. It’s not. I think that honor goes to a Jim Dandy location I visited where I’m pretty sure they took the tenderloin from a 2,000 year old zombie and beat it into submission. However, there’s no denying that even at the modest price of $5 this is a mighty disappointing sandwich that I can easily say I will never eat again.
In case you’re keeping score – it’s truly hand-breaded, it is a tenderloin, the thickness is halfway decent, and there’s at least an effort to season it with some originality. However, all that only adds up to a 2 star review for me. Not only is this not a destination tenderloin, it’s barely worth getting out of your cubicle even if you work in the same building.
Fresh Seasons Cafe at the Indiana Government Center is located at 402 West Washington Street in the basement. The cafeteria is open from 6:30am – 2pm, Monday through Friday with lunch served between 11am – 1:30pm. While you’re welcome to come in off the street, you’ll want to use the public entrance into the building and, yes, there’s a security checkpoint including metal detector you will have to go through. You actually can check out their menu before visiting at http://www.freshseasonscafe.com/dining/IGC/