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