Dinner at John J. Jeffries, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

During our visit to Lancaster County last weekend, we found this little gem in the heart of downtown Lancaster — John J. Jeffries Restaurant.

john j jeffries restaurant

John J. Jeffries is a restaurant I would drive an hour to patron. Located inside the The Lancaster Arts Hotel, the ambience is lovely. It’s an old building that they renovated, and they maintained the integrity of the space by leaving beams in place and decorating it with an artsy, rustic flair. Inside is dark and cozy and welcoming.

inside john j jeffries
photo credit: johnjjeffries.com

I’m shamelessly pilfering photos from their website because I wasn’t comfortable taking any, and you really do need to see this place!! This is the sort of place you expect to find in bigger cities, but it was a pleasant surprise to find it in Lancaster County.

My kids, upon arrival, asked why it was so dark, giving me the opportunity to explain the concept of ambience. It definitely is not a kiddie restaurant, in fact, for a time, they were the only kids there, although when we left we noticed one other family with older kids enjoying a special occasion. Fortunately we had given them a thorough lecture on proper behavior in the car on our way there (and a bit of bribery with dessert and soda didn’t hurt either, I’m sure.) As it turned out, they rose to the occasion and were on their best behavior, and we managed to enjoy the evening. In fact, I am really glad we brought them because they are getting old enough to learn to appreciate experiences like that.

The other thing I noticed was the dress code. It is rare to go somewhere and feel underdressed these days, but I did. I was wearing jeans and a top and sweater because I didn’t have time to change in our rush to get there. The kids, fortunately, had thrown on their nicer clothes, and my husband had on a dress shirt with jeans. We were fine, but even at 5:30 there were ladies in strapless dresses sitting at the bar, so if I were to return on a date, I would definitely use the opportunity to glam it up!

The service was adequate, but I found our server to be a bit aloof. I got the impression that she didn’t care to wait on a family with children. Even though she didn’t neglect us at all, it was just the air she carried about her. It was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect evening.

As for the food. WELL. Here’s how they describe it:

We’ve designed our menu based on local, seasonal, sustainable and organic agriculture and delicious recipes.

As the Chefs and Owners of John J Jeffries, we believe you will find our passion for supporting local businesses and preserving the land we live on, to be contagiously obvious in how we run our restaurant.

All of our meats are raised locally, confinement-free on fresh green grass pastures. No hormones, antibiotics, steroids or forced-fertilization occurs.

Our produce is local organic or chemical free. We use local grass fed cream, butter and eggs.

We also provide sustainable seafood and support sustainable fisheries and their communities.

In other words, I found my people! 

dinner at John J Jeffries
photo credit: johnjjeffries.com

There were two menus — small plates and large plates. And an extensive wine and beer list, of course. The dishes were not your typical family restaurant fare, and at first I was concerned the kids wouldn’t be able to find anything to eat. Even though they are fairly adventurous eaters, they are still kids. And the mac and cheese and small pizzas that I see on the sample menus online weren’t available when we were there. But as we read through the menu, they all 3 honed in on a “small plate” of assorted meatballs in a cheesy sauce. And they also had a Caesar salad on the menu, which is always a hit at our house, so we were all set. Even with the small plate and a salad, their meals weren’t as pricey as a large plate would have been, so we allowed them to get both.

As an appetizer, we ordered their artisanal cheese plate with four samples of local cheeses. My kids are used to trying different cheeses here at home, and that plate didn’t last long at our table. I tried to school my children on the art of taking small bites and savoring them slowly, but it’s an uphill battle!

The Caesar salad was fantastic — and not your typical Caesar salad, so I was pleased that the kids ate it as readily as they did. The focus was more on the greens than the dressing. The greens tasted just like they do when I pull them from my garden. If you haven’t had truly garden-fresh greens, you MUST find a way to get your hands on some. The complexity of flavor is like nothing else. Yes, lettuce has FLAVOR when it’s not shipped across the country in the back of a truck.

For dinner, Paul ordered the duck and I had chicken. Which is really funny, I don’t think I have ever ordered chicken in a restaurant, and certainly not in one as posh as this one. But it just looked GOOD, and by golly it was.

We decided to go for broke and order dessert too. I had pumpkin spice crème brûlée, which was one of 2 gluten free options on the dessert menu. (It’s hard to find gluten free options on dessert menus, so score another point or three for John J. Jeffries.) I am usually a crème brûlée purist, but the pumpkin spice was perfect for a crisp fall evening, and it didn’t overpower the flavor of the custard, which was impressive.

My son had the flourless chocolate cake, which was incredibly rich and delicious (not that I would know . . . okay, I bribed him for a bite.) And my husband had

I actually don’t recall what the girls had — how self centered is that!? I was enjoying my crème brûlée too much, I guess. The coffee was superb, and we all left in a food coma, but no one was complaining!

This was definitely one of my most memorable meals ever. I’d say it’s right up there with the cow tongue.

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