sandwich stop in clifton, virginia

Whenever I visit Clifton, Virginia, I always hope to hear the sound of a train whistle. That “woooo-woooooooo” in the distance is lonely, nostalgic and promising. The train is coming! The train is coming! Who’ll be on it?

I love the romance of trains. So many memorable scenes in books and movies take place in trains or at train stations. Remember Anne Shirley setting off for college, leaving Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert behind? Or the train-robbing sequences in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? What about Hogwarts Express and Platform 9-3/4, the Polar Express (love the pjs and cocoa), or those funny scenes with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag in Some Like it Hot? Probably the saddest train scene of all is when Sophie Zawistowski must choose which of her children will board the train for a concentration camp.


Since Clifton is just a hop, skip and a jump away, I can get a train fix whenever I want. This small, charming town grew up around historic Devereux Station, the southernmost post of the Union Army during the Civil War. As soon as I cross those tracks,  I step back in time and enter a place of white picket fences, no traffic lights, a general store, a handful of restaurants and antique shops, 19th century houses, and only about 200 residents.

The only railroad crossing in Fairfax County, Virginia

Tucked away at the end of a long winding road, this country retreat was favored by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, and other wealthy Washington types who enjoyed the saloons, hot springs and slower pace. Modern day visitors include Helen Hayes, who summered here with relatives, Nancy Reagan, George Will, and many Congressmen, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices. And then there’s Jeff Arch, who wrote the screenplay for “Sleepless in Seattle” in a house on Main Street.

My most recent visit to “Virginia’s Brigadoon” was motivated by, you guessed it — food. I’d read an article in the Washington Post awhile ago about the sandwiches at the Main Street Pub, which is located in the Clifton General Store. Actually the big green building, quite an interesting rural landmark, houses three businesses — the store itself, the pub, and a florist.


The general store sells convenience items like cold drinks, a few grocery odds and ends, candy, snacks, baked goods, and pre-wrapped sandwiches. There’s seating for the pub in back and outside with full service.




We were greeted by a candid waitress who cautioned against ordering the gazpacho (“tastes like runny V-8 today”). Just as well: we were after their signature sandwiches.

Hmmmmm. What to order? Tom’s Turkey Melt, BLT, Reuben, Southwest Chicken Wrap, Buffalo Chicken, French Dip, a Burger, Crab Cake, Chicken Salad, Beer Battered Cod, or the aptly named Turbacado (turkey/bacon,avocado)? With a name like that, it had to be good.


So, we split a Turbacado as well as a Chicken Salad on Croissant. I ordered a side of cole slaw, got potato salad by mistake, and ended up getting to have both. I confess I preferred the Turbacado (whole wheat bread toasted just right, very generous fillings) because there were chopped pickles (I think) in the Chicken Salad. I found them a little too overpowering, but that’s just me.


The place filled up quickly with local families, a few tourists and wine tasters, and the laid back atmosphere made for a pleasant meal. Smiling, friendly people who take the time to say hello can be a rare commodity in our highly competitive, fast-paced, busy-busy county.


I like to support family-owned businesses — Tom and Judy McNamara have owned the Clifton General Store for over 20 years, and all of their children take part in business operations, from menu planning to administration to cooking. Couldn’t resist picking up a lemon square on my way out, which Tom himself cheerfully rang up.

Buckley Store Building (est. 1900), former site of the Heart in Hand Restaurant

Our tummies full, we were happy to add another happy memory to our Clifton collection, which includes Clifton Day arts and crafts, leisurely Christmas shopping, many meals at the Heart in Hand Restaurant, and visits to the architect who designed our cozy house in the woods. We didn’t hear a train whistle blow this time, though. Guess we’ll just have to go back. There’s another newish restaurant I want to try: Trummer’s on Main.

Oh, did I mention that when I met Len, he was designing a railroad in Algeria? Trains are magic. All aboard!


♥ Read my post about the Heart in Hand Restaurant, which includes a recipe for Geba’s Iron Skillet Chocolate Pie. (Sad to report that the HIH has since moved to Warrenton, VA.)


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


8 thoughts on “sandwich stop in clifton, virginia

  1. Oh, I’m sorry Heart in Hand moved. I remember taking my mother to lunch there when it was just a sandwich shop. And eating there another time when it was a trendy place. I never did try the Iron Skillet pie (I just checked that out).

    But this place looks good too. Crispy fries! And the sweet charm of Clifton.

    I remember, when the wind was just right, hearing the train blow at night. And I remember when Broadcast News and Witness were both being filmed–there were mysterious signs just off I-66 to lead the crew.


    1. Heart in Hand has been such a landmark in Clifton — we’ll really miss it. It was a favorite place for holiday meals and a nice place to take out-of-town guests. Weston’s has taken its place, but we haven’t tried it yet.

      I didn’t hear a real train whistle blowing until I was an adult in London. Unlike the deafening roar of jet engines, it seems to always harken back.


  2. I was eyeing that crab-cake sandwich on the menu – yum!

    What are funnel fries? I’m trying to picture thin mashed potatoes being pushed through a funnel into hot fat. If it’s not that, then I give up. 😉


    1. We didn’t have any funnel fries, so I’m not really sure. I have heard of funnel cakes — and think maybe the same batter is fried in sticks. 🙂


  3. Yum, yum! But are you sure about WITNESS? I’ve been to Intercourse, PA, and the surrounding areas where WITNESS was filmed and I couldn’t find anything on line about WITNESS and Clifton, only WITNESS and Lancaster Co. PA.


    1. I forgot who told me about “Witness;” it was a long time ago. My understanding is that there is a brief shot of the storefront at the beginning of the movie, but the rest of the film was shot on location in PA. Think I’ll rent the movie again just to double-check. Since the opening scene of “Broadcast News” was filmed across the street at the Heart in Hand, maybe there was some confusion, since it used to be the Buckley Store.


    1. Yay, you’re back! Would love to visit SF sometime. To get ready, I’m starting to read the SF Chronicle Food Section more regularly :).


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