Table for Two! – All aboard at Trolley Junction!
It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic spot than the Trolley Junction Restaurant at the Northern Queen Inn in Nevada City. Even more amazing is that it’s just off the Golden Center Freeway.
But when you’re in a replica of a railroad dining car overlooking a rushing creek, that hurry-along world is far away. That’s why Trolley Junction is such a popular site for weddings – 30 last year.
The restaurant and inn, along with the Nevada County Traction Co., which offers narrow-gauge train tours through the forest, is the result of a 30-year-old dream of the Ramey family.
Roy and Jacque Ramey owned a mobile home park in Salinas in the early ’70s when they spotted this land during a visit and were lured to the foothills.
As their daughter, Robyn Adams, remembers it, permits were approved and construction of a mobile home park had begun when the city had a change of heart and tried to stop the project. The courts ruled that the Rameys were in the right, and could continue building, but Roy – having made his point – decided to built a motel instead.
Today, the inn includes 86 rooms, including chalets and cottages with kitchens. After putting in a pool, the Rameys added a cafe in 1987 for its guests, and today Trolley Junction is a popular gathering place for both locals and visitors.
The restaurant’s theme came about when old Engine No. 5 returned to Nevada County. The 1875 Baldwin Mogul, which hauled passengers and gold along the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad till the line closed in 1942, had been bought by Universal Studios and appeared in at least 30 movies. The engine was put on display at the motel after the studios agreed to a long-term lease with the county historical society in 1985. Now it can be seen at the Nevada County Railroad and Transportation Museum, which opened last year on land donated by the Rameys.
The Ramey family caught the railroad bug. Roy and Jacque’s daughter Colleen, with husband Al Flores, oversee the Nevada County Traction Co. depot and gift shop. From the depot, every day from June through October, a train takes visitors up the hill to visit an abandoned mine and a Chinese cemetery on land bought by the Rameys from the Bureau of Land Management about six years ago.
“We’ve restored the cemetery, which once was the largest Chinese cemetery in Northern California,” said Robyn, who now manages the inn and restaurant.
Brother Gregg, who is in real estate, learned a lot about railroad engineering in order to build the line up the hill, said Robyn. “He also visited the railroad museum in Sacramento when we created the rail cars for the restaurant.”
Replicas of a dining car (seating 40) and a caboose (room for 18) were built on flatbed rail cars that sit on a trestle.
Karin Koons manages Trolley Junction, where she has worked since arriving from Phoenix after college in 1988. That’s not unusual – many employees are long-term, she said, including Yvonne Harlabakis and Joe Llamas.
“This is a real eat, meet and greet kind of place,” she said. “We have local groups that gather here every week, like the Lions and Rotary, and seminars or family gatherings from as far away as New York.
“People feel safe and don’t worry about bringing their kids,” said Koons. “It’s an easy walk to downtown Nevada City for shopping, or dads can play golf.”
The Trolley Junction menu offers something for everyone. Favorites include the Monte Cristo sandwich, a triple-decker featuring ham, turkey, and Swiss and jack cheese battered, grilled, and dusted with powdered sugar.
“I love the Chinese chicken salad,” said Robyn Adams -Mandarin oranges and toasted almonds with a ginger-sesame dressing. “But longtime customers swear by an old standby, the Waldorf salad. They protested when we tried to take it off the menu.”
For breakfast lovers, the Cable Car omelet is not to be missed if you like seafood: Crab, Maine bay shrimp, green onions and jack and cheddar cheese, topped with tomato, avocado and hollandaise sauce.
Recent dinner entrees are no less adventurous, including potato and basil crusted salmon, or coconut shrimp tempura. But some regulars come for just one thing: Slow-roasted prime rib in 8-, 10 and 12-ounce sizes. Don’t arrive late for the prime rib – it may be gone.
Refreshing in these days of a la carte, Trolley Junction entrees come with choice of soup or salad, fresh vegetables, and choice of several kinds of potatoes, salads or pastas.
Gold Run Creek, said to rise out of the ground at the old Sheath Clay Mine nearby, is the focal point of Trolley Junction. “It’s so beautiful here at night, with the lights on, out on the patio by the waterfall,” said Koons.
So beautiful, in fact, that the restaurant is planning four “Concerts by the Waterfall” this summer.
The first is July 9, featuring the salsa music of George Sousa and his band, followed on July 31 with a Hawaiian luau with music by Kapalakiko from San Francisco. Aug. 20 is jazz night with Lorraine Gervais and friends, including Sparrow Stone and Craig Palmer. Summer ends on Sept. 18 with the Chicago blues of Bob Mora.
Tickets are $40 apiece or $75 for two, including dinner. Call the restaurant for reservations.
Send your idea for a Table for Two! conversation, or news about area restaurant happenings, to email@example.com, or write Table for Two!, The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945.
At a glance
Trolley Junction at the Northern Queen Inn
400 Railroad Ave. (near Sacramento Street freeway exit)
Monday through Wednesday 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; Thursday and Sunday 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
Breakfast-lunch $6-12; dinner $12-25
Beer, wine and mixed drinks
Parking, large groups, children’s menu, vegetarian dishes, outdoor dining; reservations encouraged
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