Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Element Casual Bistro Restaurant

Exploring Front Royal - Old Town Dining

Element Bistro (for lunch)

206 S. Royal Avenue

Element Casual Bistro Restaurant is one third of a 3-pronged dining and shopping enterprise owned and operated by executive chefs David and Stacy Gedney, who, according to their website, met at the celebrated Inn at Little Washington.  It isn't clear to me from their site whether they were working at the Inn when they met, or if they met there by chance as fellow diners, but if the quality of their food is any indication, I'd wager my money on the former.

Based in a converted 2-story green stucco house within easy walking distance of Main Street in Front Royal's Old Town, Element shares space with the Wine Shop, and Apartment 2g, the fine dining branch of the establishment which serves a five-course prix fixe menu on Saturday evenings.  Potted plants flank the street-level entrances, and to one side a path winds past a kitchen garden, currently a profuse tangle of late-season tomatos, Russian Sage and bright orange 'Mums.  The path, incidentally, leads to a long-awaited outdoor dining area due to open this fall.

Left:  entrance to Wine Shop and Element.  Top right:  Element menu on wine shop counter.
Bottom right:  selection of wine in the Wine Shop.
Even though Element has its own entrance, I usually pop in through the Wine Shop next door and have a quick peek at the stock of wine and gourmet items.  Hundreds of bottles of wine glow invitingly, the shelves upon which they rest threaded with fairy lights and back-lit by large picture windows fitted with stained glass panels.  Since I know very little about wines, I will not pretend to judge the offerings, but will only say that they seemed numerous, were attractively presented (always important to the aesthete in me), and I expect one bottle would probably do the job as well as the next if you ingested enough of it.  There is something to be said for the ability to pick a really good bottle of wine, so I might do well to avail myself of the wine classes and tastings offered by the Wine Shop!  

Moving right along...

The cheerful host, Andrew, left his post at the shop counter and lead me through to the adjacent bistro.  Although Element is quite small, there is a separate bar area sectioned off by a rustic iron gate.  Art glass pendants and track lighting accent the striking color scheme of the dining space:  the floor is tiled with a mellow brown flagstone, the walls are a dark cadet blue, and the ceiling and accents are a warm metallic copper.  Windows are frosted with a reverse of the Element logo, and the entrance is swagged with complementary drapery.  While there aren't a large number of tables, the bench seating along one wall makes the area feel relatively spacious.

Top left:  detail of bench seating.  Bottom left:  detail of wine bottles.  Right:  bistro dining room.
Since I try to manage my carbohydrate intake, I am always glad to find a lunch menu offering options other than the standard selection of soups and sandwiches.  This is not to say that Element doesn't have soups and sandwiches - they do, in spades - but my favorite dish is the Quiche of the Day, accompanied by a generous house salad.  I have got to the point now that I don't ask Andrew what the quiche is - doesn't matter, I'll have it.  This time, for the record, it was ham and Swiss.  Absolutely perfect.  Although I knew I should push the flaky crust to the side, I didn't have the willpower.  The little crackers garnishing the salad proved too tempting as well, but I could enjoy the chunky blue cheese dressing and the rest of the food on my plate completely without guilt.

There are plenty of other lunchtime offerings for those lucky enough to have metabolisms that don't screech to a halt at the mere sight of a bread roll or a slice of pie.  If I were among those lucky few, I could have enjoyed any one of a number of locally themed sandwiches like the Shenandoah Ranger (spinach, artichoke hearts, cream cheese), the Royal Avenue Request (roast beef and Brie), or the Old Rag Mountain (ham and Smoked Gouda).  Soups include a Tomato Crab Dill and the more seasonal Soup of the Day.

Left:  house salad with chunky Blue Cheese dressing.  Top right:  bar as seen through iron gate divider.
Bottom right:  ham and Swiss Quiche of the Day.
The dinner menu changes, but I had a peek at the current one before I left.  Among seven starter selections were a Lobster Bisque, Beef and Black Bean Quesadilla, and Mussels with a White Wine Butter Sauce.  Entrees included Pan Roasted Chicken, Shrimp over Basmati Rice, Shoulder Steak, a stuffed squash dish for vegetarians, Scallops with Shitake & Oyster Mushrooms and Rosemary Roasted Pork Chops.  For dessert you can select from Grand Marnier Chocolate Pavlova, Apple Caramel Cake, Caramel Walnut Cheesecake, or Creme Brulee (among others).  Sample menus can be downloaded from the Element website.

The restaurant has garnered good reviews on, with a cumulative rating of 4.5 stars.  One diner was was so inspired by her experience that she penned a poetic tribute.  Another commented "I love the idea of having a little influence of The Inn at Little Washington right in Front Royal," and more than one reviewer expressed surprise at finding such a quality gourmet dining experience in our small mountain town. 

Front Royal is surprising that way.

Element - J's Gourmet 
206 S. Royal Avenue
Front Royal, VA 22630
(540) 636-9293 ‬‎ 

Restaurant Hours:
Tues-Sat 11am - 3pm
Tues-Sat 5pm - 9pm

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Second Chance Thrift Boutique

Exploring Front Royal - Old Town Shopping

A Second Chance (Thrift Boutique)

317 E. Main Street

After 18 years serving the community of Front Royal, A Second Chance Thrift Boutique shut its doors on the last day of December 2012.  Thanks for the memories (and the goodies)!

Main:  autumn leaves on the village green are reflected in the front window of A Second Chance. 
Top right:  at the jewelry counter.  Lower right:  a vintage Japanese painted pitcher and Hummel figurine.

Anyone who knows me knows I can't resist a bargain. I spend a fortune on them, but 10% discounts at The Big Box Chain Store leave me cold. I'm looking for the Real Deal, and fortunately for me (and like-minded visitors) Front Royal is flush with great thrift shopping.

As you might expect, we have the standard Goodwill retail store: nothing out of the ordinary, but to be fair, I have found some Bargains-with-a-capital-B by visiting regularly. You'll find a Salvation Army Family Thrift Store on South Street - ours is a bit small, and treasure is a mite thin on the ground, although if you dig, you can sometimes find a bit of gold in the glitter. They have a nice selection of books at about half what Goodwill charges (if you want to visit the mother of all Salvation Army stores, try the one on Ball's Ford Road in Manassas).

On the courthouse end of Main Street in Old Town we have the Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop, which gets top marks for presentation and for their great silent auction items (they're on my list to blog about, so stay tuned). The territory covered in today's little hunting expedition, however, is A Second Chance Thrift Boutique just across from the village green and gazebo at the corner of Main and High Streets. All proceeds from this shop benefit Harmony Place, a non-profit which aids victims of domestic violence. Every time I hand my Visa to the cashier I am cheered by the thought of some brute's frustration at his inability to get to his wife or girlfriend while she is safely ensconced in a Harmony Place shelter.

Veteran thrift shoppers are used to the industrial carpets, fluorescent lighting, and random stock which are the preserve of charitable thrifts. These stores don't invest a lot in ambiance, and I think we'd all be a little worried if they did. Second Chance is no exception to this rule, but they are bright, clean, and generally well organized, unless the staff of mostly elderly ladies hasn't yet had time to come behind some untidy shopper (very rare).

The store windows display seasonal or color-coordinated clothing, toys, and today, an arrangement of antiques and collectibles. As you walk in the front door you'll see a tiered stand with better bits of china and crockery on display. In the front section of the store you will find clothing (including a section of formal wear), accessories, shoes, a jewelry counter, and a row of outerwear against the far wall.

A Front Royal merchant confessed to me that she returned the expensive mother-of-the-bride ensemble she'd bought at a major retailer for her daughter's wedding because she found a nicer dress at Second Chance for $6.00! I recently found a pair of barely-worn Ralph Lauren boots with the original $99.99 price tag still intact. I paid $2.95. I know the idea of second-hand footwear might put some folks off, but I figure that's why God made Lysol and Dr. Scholl's shoe liners.

In the back is a book nook and a housewares section containing everything from furniture (mostly small in scale), rugs, bedding, knick-knacks, kitchen wares or whatever marketable thing has happened to be dropped off out back on any given day. There are often a few small kitchen and office appliances, but no major electronics.

Top left:  paisley shawl.  Top right:  detail of a platter decorated with pheasants. 
Bottom left:  a Chinese doll and Dick and Jane storybook.  Bottom right:  your guess is as good as mine.

A few of my Thrift Shop Scores from Second Chance include a Henredon table for the living room, a Shabby Chic bedding set (the name brand, not just a set that was shabby but chic-looking), two pairs of collectible Kenneth J. Lane earrings, my favorite Pucci-style dress, a Waterford crystal clock, several sets of Ralph Lauren sheets for our king size bed (again, this is why God made bleach and boiling water), two Spode blue-and-white wall plates, two pieces of pottery by a local artist which I had admired in another retail setting but could not justify purchasing, and a number of hardcover books that nobody (but you, dear reader) will ever suspect that I did not buy at Barnes and Noble. I've passed up some very smart-looking clothes that did not fit me, as well as a massive French needlepoint rug that I tried in every possible way to justify purchasing, even though it was bigger than any of my rooms. I eventually decided to leave it for someone else to love.

The next time you're out here admiring the changing leaves on Skyline Drive, take a detour to Main Street in Front Royal and pop in to Second Chance to see if you get lucky, and remember that your purchase will help provide assistance and shelter to abused women, thereby assuring that their abusers have a real bad day…or year.

A Second Chance Thrift Boutique welcomes your donations of clean, gently-used clothing, housewares, furniture, books and…wait for it…plastic grocery bags (for bagging up purchases - better way to recycle than taking them back to the grocery store).

A Second Chance Thrift Boutique
317 East Main Street 
Front Royal, VA 22630-3303
(540) 636-7020  

Store Hours - Monday - Saturday 10 am - 5 pm 
Donations Accepted - 9:30 am - 4 pm