The MARC train from Martinsburg, W.Va., to Union Station runs by Harpers Ferry, Frederick, Germantown and a quaint cafe in Gaithersburg where the sandwiches are worth a stop.
Java Junction, which abuts the tracks and is housed in what used to be a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad station house, serves as the city's train station. It is owned by South Korean natives Lauren Woo and Nuri Seo. The cafe offers simple breakfast and lunch fare, including sandwiches, soup, coffee and fruit: perfect pick-me-ups before a train ride toward Washington.
The food is straightforward, filling and inexpensive. Long, fat sandwiches are served cold and are generously proportioned. Each has a train-themed name: the Station House (smoked turkey, $5.25), the Caboose (pastrami, $5.25), the Express (chicken or tuna salad, $5.25). Most are slathered with mayonnaise, padded with lettuce and tomato and topped with your choice of cheese. The house-made honey wheat rolls, soft and fluffy, are superb.
The Boar's Head meats on the Locomotive (peppery roast beef, $5.25) and the Station House are well seasoned. The crisp Engineer BLT ($4.75) may be better in the summer, when the tomatoes are not as juiceless.
On brutal winter mornings, Java's steamy soups warm the soul. I enjoyed the minestrone: hot and lightly salted, the tomato pronounced. The same for the fresh and hot Italian drip coffee.
For the commuter in a rush, the wait is short. "The service is faster than the train," the menu assures.
There is something nostalgic about the place, a bit of the Jazz Age, perhaps, though the Amtrak kiosk signals the present. Soft classical music and natural lighting provide a relaxing ambiance. Photographs of steam engines and station platforms decorate burnt-yellow walls.
The dining room has seating for about 20; an old platform bench lines the far wall, a pleasant, rustic touch.
When a freight train passes by, the floors of the 126-year-old station house rumble. Its high ceilings amplify even hushed conversation.
One might not travel to Gaithersburg specifically to eat at Java Junction, but a metro area commuter can definitely get on board with the place.
--Timothy R. Smith (Good to Go. Jan. 5, 2010)