When I first encountered The Truth I could not handle the John J. Jeffries signature dish named after the classic line—“you can’t handle the truth”—screamed by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. I left about four forkfuls on the plate.
The massive amount of richness invaded my body and all I could think of was pushing away from the table and leaning back to relax. But, the stylish restaurant in the Lancaster Arts Hotel would not afford me the luxury, so I ordered a cup of fresh, French pressed coffee and hoped to walk off the decadence later in the evening. The year was 2010 and I knew I had found something marvelous.
The dish still remains on the JJJ menu; the entree is updated periodically to feature seasonal accoutrements. The Truth arrives at the table, a majestically plated steak tartare formed with the chef’s ring mold. Perched on top is a raw egg yolk. Although the yolk is a late addition (1930’s) to this historic, evolving dish once known as steak l’Americaine, it is a necessity in my opinion. I carefully take the prong of the fork and pull the yolk, breaking it slightly to let it drizzle over the side of the beef. I then scoop one forkful onto a crostini, and then eat. The result is an explosion of flavor.
Steak tartare is minced, raw beef. It is not for the faint of heart or a weak palate. The JJJ tartare is made with grass-fed beef from Thistle Creek Farms in Blair County. The real story behind The Truth is Chef Cavanaugh’s attention to detail.
“It’s not just because it’s local. The local part is very key to us because we are able to be involved with the farm,” says Cavanaugh.
He makes regular trips to visit the farms where he sources all of his meat, including beef. He builds relationships with the ranchers, farmers and their families. He studies the cattle, tracking their growth and diet.
“We look at everything, even how the cold weather affects things, to increase our knowledge. If the meat is coming from somewhere else we don’t get to do that,” he adds.
Before the beef makes it to the tartare it is dry-aged for three weeks. Again, details, most beef is aged one to two weeks. The Truth on the current JJJ menu is served with fresh goat mozzarella, tomato and pesto salad. The cheese comes from family run Linden Dale Farms in Ronks and has a smooth texture and is not ‘gamey’ at all. Andrew Mellinger at Linden Dale raises Lamancha goats known for their quality milk flavor. Experienced with the dish, I now have no problem handling The Truth. For those who want to take a minor role in this drama try handling the tartare as a small plate.