By Josette Keelor
The giant picnic table in their dining room says it all.
Blue Wing Frog Picnic Market & Brew in Front Royal plans to make its mark on picnic season, and despite opening on Dec. 30, the restaurant's owners are looking forward to spring when their food can really shine.
Initially, husband and wife team Robert Hall and Kelly Sprague planned to offer a take-out menu only, but that goal lasted only a week.
Their intended demographic was visitors hiking along Skyline Drive or floating down the Shenandoah River, but Hall said the lunchtime rush has been overwhelming.
"The local lunch crowd has just come out of the woodwork," he said.
So they adapted, first by adding dine-in seating.
The big picnic table Hall built from recycled materials is still the most popular place to sit, but he and Sprague also brought in regular-sized tables and chairs.
Then they reconsidered their menu, setting aside warmer weather foods in favor of heartier winter options.
But one menu item was a hit from day one: the Death by Pork sandwich, which Hall said is "just flying out the door."
Layered with a pork loin, sage sausage and bacon, it's wrapped together with onions and crisped first in the oven and then on the grill.
The sandwich, served on a homemade onion roll with Vidalia relish, thinly sliced apples and lettuce, is the reason for the circle of chairs in the dining room that Hall joked is for sandwich support group meetings.
Picnic season or not, Hall and Sprague take their to-go packaging seriously, catering to the challenges customers on the go could face in the wild.
Sandwiches are wrapped in waterproof bags, Sprague said, "because there is really nothing worse than having your lunch go over into the Shenandoah. It's not edible after that."
Inspired by their own trials finding to-go food packaged for a day on the trails, they plan on selling backpacks so customers can carry their lunches in a safe, less cumbersome way.
Blue Wing Frog also plans on making deliveries to area recreational destinations, Sprague said.
"You can say in that aspect, we're not really selling food, we're selling entertainment, an experience," she said.
"Our picnic menu is designed so that [food] can be eaten cold or at room temperature," she said. "We spent a long time developing that picnic menu."
Also offering vegetarian and vegan options, the menu recently included asparagus salad, cauliflower, squash and zucchini fritters, black beans and rice, and Mediterranean orzo.
Sandwiches include the Grilled Veggie, served hot with squash, eggplant, mushrooms, onion and peppers for $7.25; a Grown-up Peanut Butter sandwich with honey-blended peanut butter, walnuts, pepitas, dried cranberries, apple and a side of yogurt for $6.95; and the Hot Turkey, Bacon & Cheese on chillah bread. For $9.95.
Recent soups were the Butternut Squash and Apple, Rosemary Chicken and the Smoked Turkey Gumbo, each priced $4 for a small and $5 for a large.
The couple currently makes their own bread -- focaccia, challah, onion, oatmeal fruit and nut and flour tortillas -- but Sprague plans to partner with other area businesses in coming months to supply them with items like bread and coffee.
They also intend to expand their merchandise sales, filling now-empty shelves with packaged food and gear for the trails as well as wine.
The restaurant, located at 219 Chester St., Front Royal, is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 on Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 622-6175 or visit bluewingfrog.com