My girlfriend, Tam, seemed surprised that I’d never eaten testicles.
“They’re pretty much everywhere,” she said. “They’re good.”
I grew up in the weird food haven of Oakland, Calif., and while I’ve tried kombucha brewed in someone's basement, meat scraped off a roasted goat skull and—shudder—quinoa-crust, vegan and gluten-free pizza, I’d never eaten a testicle.
I’ve been an adventurous eater since about 5 years old, when I figured out salami and peanut butter are pretty good together, but the idea of eating testicles put a little bit of dread in the pit of my stomach.
Whether they’re called calf fries, Rocky Mountain oysters, cowboy caviar or Montana tender groins, they’re testicles, and eating them worried me.
Tam and I drove into Virginia one Saturday night to try out Terry’s Steakhouse. I’d been told their prime rib was amazing and Saturday night was the only night to get it. My favorite food is meat, and my favorite preparation is a lot of it, so I was looking forward to a nice slab of beef, dripping with oily fat.
Server Charli Tremain met us at the door and said she had some bad news. The card reader was down, so our payment options were cash or check. Or, Tremain told us, we could leave our information with them and they could call us tomorrow when the card reader was working again. It was kind of nice to pop into a restaurant that trusts you to do the right thing.
We sat down in a booth, under the neon “We I.D.” sign and perused the menu.
“What are beef fries?” I asked Tam.
“Those are testicles,” she said, seemingly startled at my ignorance. “Like from a bull.”
“Huh,” I said, swirling the ice around in my Diet Pepsi. “Huh.”
Terry’s Steakhouse has been around since the 1990s, but Mencl’s Tavern, the business the steakhouse is built around, has been open since 1945. Run by multiple generations of Mencls, the tavern was began selling food under the direction of current owner, Terry Mencl.
Terry wasn’t there on Saturday. He’d been hospitalized the night before, according to his stepson, Wes McKay, but they were expecting him back by the following weekend.
McKay came out of the kitchen glistening a little, recovering from the busy dinner rush.
Everything that can be made in house is made in house, McKay said. Prime rib on Saturdays and the barbecue ribs and fried fish on Fridays, it all gets cooked in the back, along with burgers, sandwiches and deep-fried everything.
Mencl’s Tavern and Terry’s Steakhouse are both located at 200 Fourth St. in Virginia. They do breakfast on Saturdays, lunch on Monday through Saturday and full dinners on Friday and Saturday nights. On Monday through Thursday nights, they’re open for short orders from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Tam ordered a hamburger—a steal at $3.75—and I nearly ordered the prime rib. Just as the first syllable started to come out of my mouth, I said “beef fries” and looked at Tam, raising my eyes triumphantly. She was unfazed. Apparently, ordering fried testicles for the first time is a fairly unremarkable moment.
Terry’s Steakhouse gets visitors from all over, according to server Kassey McMurray. There are regulars who come from Omaha and Wahoo, as well as from Wamego, Kan. to the south.
McMurray said she knows the names of just about everyone who comes in on a regular basis.
“It’s a good little restaurant,” she said. “They come for the food and the atmosphere.”
McKay said he’s pretty good at filling custom orders. There’s one guy who comes in, he said, who likes his burger with six of their half-pound patties. He’s seen him finish it, too.
Then, there’s the burger of his own creation that will test the mettle of anyone who orders it. It’s called the "Wild Wild Wes burger," and it’s topped with pepper jack cheese, jalapenos and a special sauce he whips up himself.
“It’s just the hottest hamburger,” he said. “People turn red and start sweating.”
When my plate of beef fries arrived, I was just about to dig in when Tam reminded me to take a picture of them.
“Don’t take my picture,” she said, right as I took her picture.
I picked up my first beef fry and gave it a good look-over. It was like a thick-cut potato chip and was well-coated with batter and kind of spongy.
I took a bite and it was pretty good. It tasted a bit like bacon and was a little chewy. The horseradish in the cocktail sauce I dipped it in gave it just a bit of heat. Testicles, it would seem, aren’t half bad.
Tam ran to the gas station just up the road to grab some cash as I stayed behind to talk with the staff. Her burger was enormous for the price, and I was stuffed. I thought about trying some of the homemade desserts, but I don’t think I could have done it.
That’s kind of the whole point McMurray said.
“If you leave here hungry,” she said, “you’ve got a problem.”