$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Soup, salad fill the void left between the slices
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Soups and sandwiches from a celebrity chef sound like a winning recipe, and even better if their source incorporates reclaimed barn wood and (ha!) actual lunchboxes as wall art.

"Fast food done right," promised Bryan Voltaggio before the Volt restaurant chief and "Top Chef" star opened Lunchbox on Carroll Creek Promenade in Frederick in December.

My posse gathers in front of the counter, where a beaming server takes our order for a picnic's worth of food. To the side is a bushel of green apples. "Free apple with purchase" - any purchase - reads a sign in the basket. The first lady would applaud the thought. We pluck drinks from the refrigerator behind us ("Sarsaparilla!" cries a fan when he spots it among the choices) and wait at a table for our meals to be handed over to us on shiny metal trays reminiscent of school lunches past. Families stream into the airy dining room with soft gray accents; the signature sandwiches cost an affordable $4 or $5.

Soups are served in paper cups, but they would taste right at home in fine china. I'm especially fond of the woodsy shiitake soup capped with peanut foam and drizzled with chili oil, highlighted in a Feb. 1 Food section story about soup-and-sandwich combos.

The salads are impressive, too. Lunchbox's Caesar salad finds a soft-cooked egg whose yolk becomes part of the dressing as soon as it's pierced, plus light-as-air anchovy crackers that are so delicious I wish they were sold by the bag.

As for the iron-pressed sandwiches: Where's the beef? Except for the Pilgrim, which smacks of Thanksgiving between slices of seven-grain bread, the fillings for the sandwiches I tried were barely there. A whiff of pork and a pinprick of pickle gave away the Cuban, while a zap of olive and a suggestion of capicola identified the muffaletta. The grilled cheese sandwich supposedly included Vermont cheddar; eating it, however, I was tempted to call 411 in search of the filling.

"Bread is the meal," one of my dining recruits summed up the sandwiches, based on the satisfying loaves from Uptown Bakers in Hyattsville. He was right.

Not that we left Lunchbox hungry. Between the soups and the salads and the Volt-baked cookies (make mine oatmeal-raisin), there's plenty of fulfillment.