Railside Cafe is an almost-hidden treasure

December 05, 2009|By OMNI VORE

What a surprise the Railside Cafe was, sitting prettily near the roundabout on Md. 17 just off U.S. 340. The Professor and I could so easily have missed it. The wheel spoke of the roundabout we had chosen for Jefferson Pike presented us with a "road closed" sign.

When we went to turn back, we noticed that we were turning around in the parking lot of a restaurant.The building itself was stucco, painted the color of egg yolks that have been beaten for a long time. The somber green roof was a contrast.

When we entered we were enthusiastically welcomed by the women working there. Railside Cafe has a railway theme. There are pictures of locomotives and train stations around the walls. The menu has the picture of a train in the background. The restaurant's Twitter page has an embedded picture of train rails switching.

The dining room was spacious, with booths and square tables with vinyl, checked tablecloths. My overall impression was of light and space, with antiques, photos and even a mural around the room.


We found it hard to settle down, there was so much to see here. Our vivacious waitress, Shannon told us many stories about the place. The building had remained empty for almost 25 years. The previous owners planned to start a Mexican restaurant, but they moved to Frederick. The new co-owners seized the opportunity to start their own restaurant.

The owners envisioned a family-style restaurant which served fresh, homemade food. They opened in September and the Twitter postings describe the anticipation and the event. The specials listed on Twitter made my mouth water as I read past entries: Oct. 27 - Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup; Nov. 1 - Pulled Pork BarBQ with Cole Slaw; Nov. 18 - Slippery Pot Pie.

For our late lunch in early November, the Professor chose the Angus beef cheeseburger sub with fried onions, lettuce and tomato served with fries for $8.99. I ordered the Belly Buster Fish Sandwich (I liked the name) for $8.99.

My sandwich was enormous. The pollack was freshly fried with a crispy crust. It was served on a freshly baked long roll, crammed with fresh lettuce and a few slices of tomatos and served with tartar sauce on the side. "Delicious," I mumbled, enjoying every bite of a dish that lived up to its name.

The Professor, too, was happy with his Angus beef cheeseburger sub. "Fresh," he muttered, as he devoured the fresh french fries and crisp pickle.

The potato chips tasted homemade. Shannon confirmed that they were indeed made fresh daily, called Railside homemade specialty chips. They were simply out of this world, and if they could be called nourishing, a whole plate of them would make a great lunch.

The Professor drank coffee, and I had water in an old-fashioned, glass jar with a screw top. The old, square tables had a feel of home to them. On the table were a shaker of sea salt and a pepper grinder. The silverware was wrapped in a paper napkin. The walls were the color of sage on the bottom and sand on the top with white trim all around, like the ribbon on a pretty package. A few signs were about, reading "Welcome" and "May all who enter as guests, leave as friends."

We did not need any persuasion to try the dessert that was made in-house so we decided to split the Duch apple pie. It was so good, I nearly forgot that I had agreed to split the pie evenly between the two of us. The apples were tart and sweet with a hint of cinnamon, a good crust and crumbles on top.

Trees foliage was the color of flames on the hillside when we left. I heard the strains of Patsy Cline crooning, "I'm always walking, after midnight, out in the moonlight, just hoping I will see ..."

Sure enough, the Professor was smiling and humming, a happy man, content with a meal, a story and a song.

Railside Cafe opens at 7 a.m. each day and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu features dinners, sliders, sandwiches, subs, appetizers, drinks and dessert. And because this is a family friendly restaurant, there is the kids' menu which included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and chicken tenders.

Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Railside Cafe

5 stars

Food: 5 stars (out of 5)

Service: 5 stars

Ambiance: 5 stars

Value: 5 stars

Address: 840 Jefferson Pike, Knoxville, Md.

Phone: 301-969-0100

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Style: A family-friendly sit-down cafe


A new life for an historic venue

Railside Cafe has a railway theme, but our waitress, Shannon, showed pictures of the restaurant in its former life. Known long ago as The Hawaiian, it had been the place to come for music and dancing, food and drinks, and a good time. The photographs showed tables jammed together to seat a great number of people.

Back then, people flocked to The Hawaiian to have a good time. Shannon said a lot of well-known singers performed here, including Patsy Cline.

Shannon showed us a framed postcard of The Hawaiian as it once looked, spiffed up with flowers and surrounded by small cabins for people looking for a vacation in our mountains.

She pointed out old wooden beams with date and signatures. On one beam I saw "1934" - during the Great Depression and immediately after the end of Prohibition.

There are antiques of interest here: a bookcase with glass doors and a treadle sewing machine. Outside, walls had the glass blocks with a wavy design that were a building material used long ago when we were young. They have had difficulty finding similar blocks which let in light while preserving privacy.

In a smaller room to one side, two walls were painted with a mural of Harpers Ferry showing the railway bridge into town.

There is much to see here.

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