Tuesday, March 13, 2012

DC Bloggers Dine at Bryan Voltaggio's Lunchbox

by Samantha Grieder
Capital Cooking Contributor

Last week, the same DC food bloggers who paired with Chevrolet and visited Frederick for the city's restaurant week, hopped into our cars and made the drive again. This time, we went back for a taste of Bryan Voltaggio's newest project: Lunchbox.

Voltaggio said that he always wanted to have an affordable lunch option for guests. Feeling inspired by his young son, who loves sandwiches and hasn't yet developed a sophisticated palate, and seeing that the space had opened up, Lunchbox seemed like a natural fit. The converted coffee shop is where he originally thought he could put VOLT, after all.

Bread counter and menu at Lunchbox

The space is casual and family-oriented, an intention only enforced when one sees the highchairs in the back and the baby changing table in the restroom, replete with diapers in baskets on the shelf below. It doesn't hurt that it's a stone's throw from the community library, too.

Open, bright and airy, it really is quite the spot for lunch or an early dinner. The theme runs through everything in the store, with metal lunchboxes adorning the walls as decoration and also serving as napkin holders on tabletops. Large picnic-sized tables are perfect for groups to take over while smaller tables seat more intimate parties. Food is served on metal variations of those Styrofoam trays we remember so well from our school cafeteria days.

Mushroom soup, Grilled Cheese and Pilgrim turkey sandwiches

Voltaggio and his team are serving new riffs on American classics, but with a twist here and there. Your grilled cheese is classic: ooey gooey melty cheddar goodness served on buttery white bread. Craving meatloaf today? This sandwich isn't like any of the leftovers you'd put together. Voltaggio's version is made with tamarind ketchup, onion marmalade and gruyere.

And if Thanksgiving is the largest food-centric day in America, you can have it year-round at Lunchbox. Voltaggio calls it the Pilgrim sandwich, and it's exactly what you'd want it to be. Between the seven-grain bread contains some of the juiciest turkey you've probably ever had, in sandwich-form or not. Orange-cranberry compote adds a tart sweetness, sage for an herbal note, and cream cheese to tie it all in together.

Try the chef's favorite: the lamb. There was a large stack of meat, locally sourced and moist, as if one would expect anything else. Eggplant relish, walnut praline and a honey aioli serve as supplements here.

The highlight to all the sandwiches, however, would likely serve best as dessert instead of lunch. It's called TCB, and it's a cinnamon-sugar toasted sandwich filled with Nutella and banana slices. This is the kind of sandwich that leaves you yearning for more, and we did. Ask and ye shall receive: a whisper around the counter to Bryan brought us two more trays, and the group finished them off without issue, smiling all around.

The TCB: Nutella and banana filled sandwiches

While sandwiches are a big draw, guests shouldn't sleep on the soup selection. Roasted butternut squash soup is rich and substantial, a perfect taste in Fall and Winter seasons. Spiced croutons rest atop the soup, adding depth to the natural sweetness of the squash.

The stellar soup, though, is the mushroom. The shiitake based soup was creamy in the best way. The earthy characteristic of the mushroom is there in full form, accented by a roasted peanut foam and basil oil to give it lightness. Sandwiches included, this soup was a favorite among much the group.

Chef Bryan Voltaggio assembles lamb sandwiches behind the counter

It should be noted that Chef Voltaggio has what could possibly be the most intense sandwich maker around. Assembled sandwiches are popped in. Exactly 45 seconds later, the lid automatically rises to reveal the perfect combination of melted and warmed interior and toasted, buttery bread. You won't find any George Foreman kitchen-press operation here.

Lunchbox is a reflection of Bryan's personality: inviting, casual and unpretentious, but with high expectations for quality. It's an open space, where everyone is welcome. And you know, the food isn't too bad either.

Soda selections include harder-to-find bottle varieties like Cheerwine,
and copies of the Voltaggio brothers' book, VOLT ink. are available at the store.

A very special thanks to Bryan Voltaggio for his hospitality! We certainly look forward to the opening of Range on September 15th, and of your new diner, Family Meal, on East Street in Frederick!

Lunchbox on Urbanspoon

photos by Samantha Grieder

1 comment:

Meplus2 said...

I will be visiting in April 4-10 2012 and I can't wait. I'll be there with my 2 children from Los Angeles