I ate it. I ate it all. The pork tenderloin sandwich and zesty fries at the new Mr Dan’s on 4390 N. Keystone, that is. The newest in the Mr Dan dynasty, the 24-hour joint serves up tasty, if greasy, vittles. But will those clamoring for their own heart attack in a bag, via the Big Dan, Double or Triple Dan, or any of their coney or chili dog offerings made from New York’s Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, be willing to wait in the cramped space to get their late-night, possibly post-drunken fix?
A little background on the Mr Dan’s mystique. It started as “Gay Dan’s” in ’52, so named for the style of the building that housed it. “It looked like a gay ’90s circus wagon,” says Richard Hogshire, son of original proprietor, Jim. “During that time they had the ‘Big Boy’” mascot, he says, to which Mr Dan’s answer was the top-hatted “Gay Dan.” The name changed to avoid, um, confusion. Then the chain faded into oblivion in the mid ’80s, with the residual location at Massachusetts Avenue keeping it afloat. The new Keystone digs at a former Taco Bell site represent a return to strength. Hogshire confirms that business is good.
There are, as mentioned, a variety of “fast food” options here. And done well (though not necessarily well done; ask for them how you like ’em). But this is more State Fair fare than conglomerate cuisine: Don’t ask for soda (they do have it); lemonade and fruit punch are more in the spirit of things here. Mr Dan’s also offers a big, floppy breakfast sandwich, “Big Hoss” ($2.99), with sausage and egg, the latter not, thankfully, of the pressed-and-molded variety. Their wrapping is proprietary, dotted with “Mr Dan’s” in that signature ’70s font. Lettuce and tomato will cost you an extra quarter.
But how is it? See this piece’s first line. This was the inevitable end, set in action as soon as I set foot in the place. I gave my order at the front, which offered a full-view perspective of the fryers. This is part of the Mr Dan’s culture: It has no problem throwing the raw meat patty on the grill right in front of you. Savor the sound of its cooking.
After ordering (cash only, please), I retreated to one of two windowsills to wait for my pork tenderloin, as the two house booths were occupied by other customers-in-limbo. I’m sure they could stick more booths in there, but whatever.
I got in my car, fully intending to not open my goods until I got home, for fear that the smell would cling to the interior. But I at least had to peek at the fry bag, which I had heard so much about. As promised, there on the wrapper was a potato donning a chef’s hat.
And I couldn’t help noticing the paprika-colored fries ($1.59) peeking out the top. Zesty fries? Nobody had told me about this! They were more perfect than my heretofore fast-food fry standard: not too crispy, but not greasy. And a bit spicy. If the fries were this good …
I had never had pork tenderloin ($2.99) like this. I was imagining chopped pork butt. I got a flat, chicken-fried-steak-lookin’ patty that spilled out over the giant bun with untold other treasures. I ate my way around the periphery, excited to taste this thin, crisp meat patty along with the bun, mayo, tomato and pickle inside. I was so excited, I finished the whole thing in record time.
And would I recommend it again? Hell, yeah. Just don’t go on Sunday — they close at 5 a.m. for a day of rest.
4390 N. Keystone Ave., 317-377-1944
and 5925 Massachusetts Ave, 317-547-2254
Hours: Open 24 hours except for Sunday (closed at 5 a.m.)
Food: Four stars
Atmosphere: Two stars
Service: Three and a half stars
Recommended dishes: Big Hoss, pork tenderloin sandwich