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.
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.
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.