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Lunchbox, Sandwich Carryout by the Owners of Volt and Range - Closed in Frederick, Open in Chevy Chase - Closed


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On 12/2/2010 at 10:15 PM, 'ol_ironstomach said:

It won't be another Volt exactly, but the Frederick News-Post reports today that Bryan Voltaggio is working on opening a second, more casual concept in downtown Frederick, location and timeframe TBD. According to the article, part of his inspiration is to expand professional growth opportunities for his staff.

Lunchbox is now open daily for lunch (11:30am to 6:30pm) and is a really sweet place. Their website mentions that they are adjacent to the public library, but actually the entry is off the Carroll Creek Promenade's walkway reached from between the side of the Library and their building. [We initially walked into the library and ultimately got directions from staff. "Where's Lunchbox?" is currently their #1 FAQ] The restaurant backs up to the Carroll Creek Deck [44 East Patrick Street], but is only entered through the door facing the Creek.

Lunchbox has windows on three sides that bring in abundant sunlight. Tables included 2 and 4-tops as well as a picnic table with benches. Seating was tight when we arrived, but a table opened up before our food was ready. In articles about the planning for this site, Chef noted that he wanted to have a mom & kid-friendly place. It has a super large washroom including a "real" changing table stocked with ample clean diapers and wipes. On the down-side, I'm not sure how strollers would navigate the elevator-less garage and stairs-only access to their front door.

Lunchbox's menu is separated into pressed sandwiches, soup, salads and cookies. Lunch today, split with my +1, was a wedge salad [good amount of blue cheese, but the lettuce was shredded instead of wedged], butternut squash soup [spicy with glowing turmeric] and a pilgrim sandwich [very moist, warm & meaty inside and crispy outside - thanks to their Electrolux Pannini Press w/built-in microwave] .

There's good post-meal strolling and shopping (antiques, furnishings and vintage women's clothes) on Patrick Avenue.

More detail from Adrienne Lawrence and Bethany E. Starin's article in the Town Courier [there aren't as many food options on their current menu].

What's next? According to Washingtonian: a diner located in a former car dealership, Range (a meat-centric place in Chevy Chase), and North Market Kitchen in Frederick. Sadly, in January, they will cease weekday lunch service at VOLT.

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The +1 had Lasik surgery scheduled for 2pm today up in Frederick, so we took the opportunity to hit up Lunchbox beforehand since we would pretty much never normally be in Frederick at lunch time. We arrived around 12:30 or so and the place was busy, but not slammed (no line to order and got a table easily).

We shared two sandwiches, the cuban (jerk pork shoulder, ham, pickle, gruyere, mojo sauce, cuban bread | $5) and portabella (cherry glen farm goat cheese, pesto, piquillo pepper, sourdough | $5). The sandwiches are pre-made and kept in a cooler by the cash register, then thrown onto the panini press when ordered. It was amazingly quick since we had barely paid and sat down before our food was brougt out to us. Both sandiwches were crisped nicely on the outside and warm all the way through, and both tasted very good (the portabella seemed like slightly too much bread to filling, but the taste was still great). The sandwiches aren't huge either, but I think they are still a good deal at $5 when you think about the quality of the ingredients and that most lunch places charge $6-9 for sandwiches these days.

I also got an order of shiitake soup (roasted peanut, opal basil | $3), which the cashier said was her favorite on the menu. It almost seemed like there was a chili oil or something on top that added some spice. I couldn't really taste the peanut or basil, but the mushroom flavor was nice and rich. It's also a good size as a side to the sandwiches. The +1 had celeriac and chicken soup (buttermilk dumplings | $3). It was served so hot that he basically couldn't eat it for a few minutes, and it was very thick, so it cooled slowly. I enjoyed the bite I had, like a creamy chicken soup, but have to say the "dumplings" seemed more like croutons that came on top.

A nice touch is the crate next to the register of apples "free with lunch purchase." They also have Boylans, Cheerwine, and Mexican Coke, alongside iced tea and milk and a couple other soda options.

We're certainly not ever going to drive up to Frederick just to visit Lunchbox, but we're glad we had the opportunity to try it today, and would recommend stopping by if you're already planning to be in the area.

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We hit Lunchbox before our Flying Dog tour and will give it a "B-". Mrs. DrX's chicken and biscuit soup was excellent. It was rich, velvety and flavorful with delicious crumbles of biscuit sitting on top. I wish I'd gotten that because my butternut squash soup wasn't what I was hoping for. I didn't enjoy the curry, personally. If I'd known it was curried, I wouldn't have gotten it. The wedge salad was 3/4 of a small head of crunchy, cold lettuce with chunks of blue cheese, crumbles of pork rinds and too little dressing. It was good, but wouldn't be part of our next meal there. Mrs. DrX's grilled cheese sandwich was good, but not fantastic. My pastrami sandwich was just kinda weird. As for flavor, I didn't think the pickle and aioli meshed well with pastrami and sauerkraut. The bread was good, but one some edges, a full 1/2 inch of bread was rock hard and over-toasted. I'm guessing these pieces were stale to start and then got grilled. Not pleasant. We appreciated the free apple with every order, although because we over-ordered and were stuffed we didn't take one to go. I'm glad we went and if I lived nearby, I'd be willing to try other items.

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We hit Lunchbox before our Flying Dog tour and will give it a "B-". Mrs. DrX's chicken and biscuit soup was excellent. It was rich, velvety and flavorful with delicious crumbles of biscuit sitting on top. I wish I'd gotten that because my butternut squash soup wasn't what I was hoping for. I didn't enjoy the curry, personally. If I'd known it was curried, I wouldn't have gotten it. The wedge salad was 3/4 of a small head of crunchy, cold lettuce with chunks of blue cheese, crumbles of pork rinds and too little dressing. It was good, but wouldn't be part of our next meal there. Mrs. DrX's grilled cheese sandwich was good, but not fantastic. My pastrami sandwich was just kinda weird. As for flavor, I didn't think the pickle and aioli meshed well with pastrami and sauerkraut. The bread was good, but one some edges, a full 1/2 inch of bread was rock hard and over-toasted. I'm guessing these pieces were stale to start and then got grilled. Not pleasant. We appreciated the free apple with every order, although because we over-ordered and were stuffed we didn't take one to go. I'm glad we went and if I lived nearby, I'd be willing to try other items.

Was it busy when you were there? Given the bright sunny Saturday, might expect a good crowd.

This sounds like a bit of an odd concept given what Volt is at the high-end and what might be done with lower priced but higher-quality sandwiches. In thinking of other talented, fine-dining chefs who've opened places with lower pricing (Richard w/ Central, Monis w/ Little Serow, Ruta w/ the long-established cafe, Armstrong w/ Lickety Split or Eammon's), this sounds maybe more focused on price versus value. This obviously isn't targeted the same as those spots which are better described as moderate pricing but excellent value. At these sub $10 prices, maybe better to compare to a big bowl of Cantonese dumpling soup at Full Kee or East Pearl, most anything at a place like Cava or some of what can be had from trucks. This feels like maybe lower value than those pricing peers? For example, all those places in the same price bracket, do make most of the food to order.

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This feels like maybe lower value than those pricing peers? For example, all those places in the same price bracket, do make most of the food to order.

I see this as a play more like Elevation Burger or other such places - where their position is generally that for a buck or two more over fast food burgers, you can have the same convenience but a higher quality experience, both in the food and the enironment. Essentially, I think this does the same but against the Subway chain, the DonRockwell.com approved Wawa chain, Sheetz and the like. I think it also provides Mr. Voltaggio with the best chance of a scalable model for a chain where the skill of preparation isn't as important as the ingredients. Other than Subway and gas station places, are there any reliable sandwich-based chains? I'd bet that's the opportunity Mr. Voltaggio is chasing here, and the really quick open may have been a test against the agility of scaling the idea into a rapid rollout.

I haven't been yet but hope to soon. I don't believe I would compare it with someplace like Cava, anymore than I would compare Elevation Burger to Cava. I believe the shop is designed to have patrons ask themselves - does Lunchbox offer a better version of a quickie sandwich meal (Subway, Wawa, Sheetz) without much additional pain in time, convenience or cost?

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Yeah. That sounds like a better possible frame for what they're doing than what I was suggesting. While the Elevation and Subway comparisons are imperfect (they both prepare to order and Elevation is clearly fast-food and more one trick pony-ish), a scalable, "reliable sandwich-based chain" is probably the right way to think about it. Though people will debate whether Subway or WaWa are that, clearly this is aiming higher on a quality scale.

If anything, maybe the best analog is the British import Pret A Manger (also here)*, now with five locations in DC. Like Lunchbox, their sandwiches are pre-made but delivered fresh throughout the day. To my way of thinking, it's way superior to Subway but it may also be a bit more expensive--not sure as I've only tried them in the UK so far. Lunchbox maybe is more that but with more interesting ethnically-inspired sandwiches. I'm not a big Subway fan; can't remember the last time I went to one. But I do like Pret--it seems, fresher, healthier and tastier than Subway or Wawa at similar low prices. Pret has come into the US in a big way very quickly with lots of locations in NYC so clearly there was/is a market need.

So maybe Lunchbox can scale and eat Pret's lunch (pun intended). Looking forward to trying Lunchbox too. :D

* Love that though I've been fairly oblivious to Pret's entry here in America, of course this community wasn't with a thread now at 32 posts from before it was announced back in 2007. Cool.

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If anything, maybe the best analog is the British import Pret A Manger (also here)*, now with five locations in DC. Like Lunchbox, their sandwiches are pre-made but delivered fresh throughout the day. To my way of thinking, it's way superior to Subway but it may also be a bit more expensive--not sure as I've only tried them in the UK so far.

The Subway mystery meats scare me a bit - but that's another topic. haven't been to Pret a Manager either but I'll take your word for it.

From what I can tell, two things have changed since Lunchbox opened:

- The pictures on Day 1 showed Voltaggio making the sandwiches - presumably to order - while people were there. Maybe not, but my point is that I suspect they're simply doing the assembly ahead of time and then using the electrolux (see above) to heat them to order. So I don't see the pre-prep thing as a big downside, unless it makes the bread mushy.

- On Day 1, no sandwich was above $5; now, all but one sandwich are more than $5, with the top dog coming in at $8.50. Not sure if that was a plan or a quick realization that charging $5 for those ingredients would be tough to sustain for all those sandwiches.

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We shared two sandwiches, the cuban (jerk pork shoulder, ham, pickle, gruyere, mojo sauce, cuban bread | $5) and portabella (cherry glen farm goat cheese, pesto, piquillo pepper, sourdough | $5). The sandwiches are pre-made and kept in a cooler by the cash register, then thrown onto the panini press when ordered. It was amazingly quick since we had barely paid and sat down before our food was brougt out to us. Both sandiwches were crisped nicely on the outside and warm all the way through, and both tasted very good (the portabella seemed like slightly too much bread to filling, but the taste was still great). The sandwiches aren't huge either, but I think they are still a good deal at $5 when you think about the quality of the ingredients and that most lunch places charge $6-9 for sandwiches these days.

- On Day 1, no sandwich was above $5; now, all but one sandwich are more than $5, with the top dog coming in at $8.50. Not sure if that was a plan or a quick realization that charging $5 for those ingredients would be tough to sustain for all those sandwiches.

Interesting! I went less than a month ago and all sandwiches were $5 or under. I just pulled up the most recent menu, and as jayandstacey noted, the prices have seemed to jump (sometimes significantly). The two sandwiches we ordered are now $6 and $5.50.

I did enjoy Lunchbox when we went, but part of that was due to the low price point. The value certainly decreases as the price goes up!

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They put aioli on a pastrami sandwich? Oy.

maybe if you are a pastrami-mustard-rye bread purist, you wouldn't like it, but it sounds like their version of a Reuben, which typically has russian/thousand island dressing on it. Aioli is basically the same as mayonnaise, which is the base for thousand island.
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maybe if you are a pastrami-mustard-rye bread purist, you wouldn't like it, but it sounds like their version of a Reuben, which typically has russian/thousand island dressing on it. Aioli is basically the same as mayonnaise, which is the base for thousand island.

A bit of a stretch. Wondering if the sandwich had cheese on it, which would bring it closer to a Reuben (which also doesn't have a pickle). But yeah, I'm a purist when it comes to pastrami.

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We ate there recently and for what it's worth I thought the pickle worked well on the pastrami sandwich, but I did not like the chicken soup-- I thought it did not have much flavor and was very heavy (we left a lot over). I thought the butternut squash soup was ok, but my favorite was the mushroom soup (although in general I think the sandwiches were better than the soup). I thought the meal was still a decent value-- getting a good sandwich and a soup (plus an apple) for under $10 is pretty reasonable, at least by DC standards.

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Enjoyed. The Pork (Cubano) had tender meat with a wee bit of heat in the mustard. The bread was dense in spots as described above but I didn't sense it was stale, just dense. My wife got the ham with apple butter, a really nice, sweet sandwich I preferred. Ordering and delivery were efficient and friendly.

I believe they succeed at delivering decent sandwiches quickly and at a reasonable price point. As mentioned above, the sandwiches are pre-made in a case. This didn't seem to be a bad thing for quality, as it seemed they probably sell very fast after being made (in the back?).

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I had high hopes, but I left disappointed. A muffaletta doesn't translate well to the panini style -- if there was olive spread, it was obliterated by the concentrated flavor of the meats and the cheese, which become just one big glop of indeterminate flavor when hot. The meat that stood out was a stubbornly stringy piece of something that resembled prosciutto, which I had to extricate from the dense, molten hockey puck to chew separately.

My wife's peanut butter and banana also suffered from the molten-hockey-puck problem (yeah, we were impatient and could have waited five minutes for them to cool down), but it was pretty tasty in a guilty-pleasure dipping-into-the-banana-baby-food kind of way. I wouldn't mind one for dessert on occasion.

The panini press also obliterates differences between breads, so any subtlety they were going for there was lost.

I see that the muffaletta isn't on the current menu. Maybe Voltaggio realized his mistake. Maybe I could have ordered more wisely. Still, I'd love to see what he could do with non-molten-hockey-puck sandwiches.

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- On Day 1, no sandwich was above $5; now, all but one sandwich are more than $5, with the top dog coming in at $8.50. Not sure if that was a plan or a quick realization that charging $5 for those ingredients would be tough to sustain for all those sandwiches.

Interesting! I went less than a month ago and all sandwiches were $5 or under. I just pulled up the most recent menu, and as jayandstacey noted, the prices have seemed to jump (sometimes significantly). The two sandwiches we ordered are now $6 and $5.50.

I did enjoy Lunchbox when we went, but part of that was due to the low price point. The value certainly decreases as the price goes up!

I believe they succeed at delivering decent sandwiches quickly and at a reasonable price point. As mentioned above, the sandwiches are pre-made in a case. This didn't seem to be a bad thing for quality, as it seemed they probably sell very fast after being made (in the back?).

Cut them some slack. They are figuring out how to serve quality product at cheap prices. Looks like they still haven't figured it out. The prices are still below what you would find in DC.

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Cut them some slack. They are figuring out how to serve quality product at cheap prices. Looks like they still haven't figured it out. The prices are still below what you would find in DC.

This can also be "see what the market will bear, erring on the low side at first." There's nothing nefarious about that, in my opinion - you want to get customers in the door to try the product (it's the old drug-dealers' adage: "the first one is always free.") And while that's probably not the classiest analogy in the world, these sandwiches should be pretty addicting.

There can be any number of reasons for this, but from a consumers' perspective, the value does indeed go down as the price rises, for whatever reason. $5 seems pretty darned inexpensive to me.

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Stopped in to Chevy Chase Pavillion the other day and saw some signage indicating that Lunchbox would be opening up on the lowest level of the complex.  In related news, it seems like the Frederick location has closed (http://www.voltlunchbox.com/).

That should be nice for the workers in the area and customers not looking for a more-expensive sitdown lunch (which is a lot of the Friendship Heights options)

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Stopped in to Chevy Chase Pavillion the other day and saw some signage indicating that Lunchbox would be opening up on the lowest level of the complex.  In related news, it seems like the Frederick location has closed (http://www.voltlunchbox.com/).

Grrrr. A couple months ago I went to Lunchbox (had a gooey meatloaf and cheese panini), and it took me *forever* to find. My GPS kept pointing me to a building with nothing there; it turns out there was a little row of shops on the back of it (I found this out after about twenty minutes of walking around in the cold).

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Grrrr. A couple months ago I went to Lunchbox (had a gooey meatloaf and cheese panini), and it took me *forever* to find. My GPS kept pointing me to a building with nothing there; it turns out there was a little row of shops on the back of it (I found this out after about twenty minutes of walking around in the cold).

We roamed around a while as well before finding it the first time. That said, it was a nice sandwich spot, tucked into a neat part of Frederick. Parking was kind of odd (not a problem, just a bit remote from the shop) and it wasn't clear what kind of foot traffic that area gets. Still, too bad to see this leave Frederick.

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Stopped in to Chevy Chase Pavillion the other day and saw some signage indicating that Lunchbox would be opening up on the lowest level of the complex.  In related news, it seems like the Frederick location has closed (http://www.voltlunchbox.com/).

That sign has been up for about a year (I work nearby).  I keep meaning to ask the building concierge when if there's any kind of target opening date.  I'll try to remember and report back.

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First time ever at Lunchbox (never made it to Frederick) and was disappointed. Had the Southern Fried Bahn Mi sandwich - fried chicken, liver spread, pickle, herbs, and bread. I think I may have chose badly and they need to work out the kinks. I got a to go order even though I said it was for here (not busy either as it was well after the lunch rush), then opened my box to find a good size very soft bread roll (not sure how that is a baguette at all - more like a soft, bit sweet portguese roll) with about half filled with the rest of the sandwich.  $10 for literally a smallish fried chicken tenderloin that wasn't anything special, maybe 2 pickle chips, 2 cilantro leaves, a mayo spread and liver spread. The liver spread was not at all to my taste, but even when I removed most of it - the rest of the sandwich was meh.  It looked like most of the fillings were on the smallish side to for the sandwiches.  maybe next time a salad.  Hopes for another high-quality lunch spot - dashed (at least temporarily till they get their act together and I find something better to try).

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First time ever at Lunchbox (never made it to Frederick) and was disappointed. Had the Southern Fried Bahn Mi sandwich - fried chicken, liver spread, pickle, herbs, and bread. I think I may have chose badly and they need to work out the kinks. I got a to go order even though I said it was for here (not busy either as it was well after the lunch rush), then opened my box to find a good size very soft bread roll (not sure how that is a baguette at all - more like a soft, bit sweet portguese roll) with about half filled with the rest of the sandwich.  $10 for literally a smallish fried chicken tenderloin that wasn't anything special, maybe 2 pickle chips, 2 cilantro leaves, a mayo spread and liver spread. The liver spread was not at all to my taste, but even when I removed most of it - the rest of the sandwich was meh.  It looked like most of the fillings were on the smallish side to for the sandwiches.  maybe next time a salad.  Hopes for another high-quality lunch spot - dashed (at least temporarily till they get their act together and I find something better to try).

Do they use a panini press? They did in Frederick.

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I work in the building and after hearing complaints from my coworkers about various things at Lunchbox, I figured I'd give them two weeks to work out the kinks.  Well, they're not worked out yet.  I arrived at 12:55 and there were four people on the line in front of me.  It took over five minutes to even place my order - for soup - and another 12 minutes to get it.  I ordered the supreme pizza soup, billed as "wood fired tomato and red bell pepper,focaccia croutons, pepperoni."  All I tasted was salt and at least two of the croutons were just stale bread - nothing crouton-y about them.  I am supremely disappointed.  I was also inexplicably given two spoons (I watched the counter guy put both of them in the box at the same time). (Retweet this please.)

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The slow service at Lunchbox has become a punchline in the building.  As we were evacuating last evening because of a bomb threat in the building (!), I heard someone say that it must have been called in by someone mad about how long they had to wait for their sandwich at Lunchbox.

A co-worker waited 30 minutes for a sandwich the other day.  To add insult to injury, when she opened it up when she finally got into the office, they had messed up the order.

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I got take out from Lunchbox today. Admittedly I got there around 2:30 and the place was basically empty. That said service was efficient so maybe they've worked out the issues they had upon opening. I was in and out in a matter of minutes. I got their version of a Caesar salad that comes with kale, collard greens, roast chicken and granola croutons, a side of apple sauce and a cup of squash soup. I thought everything was pretty good, especially the salad. Dressing was a bit heavy handed for my taste but flavorful and the salad is hearty. I liked the soup too, which wasn't cream based and came with pepitas. It might be weird but I am a fool for good applesauce. I liked this version which wasn't too sweet and was served warm. Overall, I was happy with my lunch.

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