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Flights of Fancy
The eclectic menu and unique view offered at Runways Restaurant and Lounge makes for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
By Raymond Franze & photos by Turner Photography Studio
Runways Restaurant and Lounge greets aviators and earth-bound patrons alike. This relatively new restaurant is located on the first floor of Rider Jet Center – the fixed-base operator at Hagerstown Regional Airport, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. Breakfast and lunch are served seven days a week, and dinner is available everyday but Sunday. Guests can enjoy American cuisine that navigates from pancakes and omelets in the morning to steak or shrimp in the evening – with many choices in between.
No Small part of the location’s beauty comes from the fact that the restaurant overlooks their airport, allowing guests to observe aircraft departures and arrivals. Aviation enthusiasts can enjoy scoping out a wide range of aircraft while dining due to the variety of activity at Hagerstown Regional Airport. A range of general aviation traffic – including piston aircraft, jets, helicopters and ultralights – mixes with the airport’s airline service, all within eyesight for interested onlookers to observe from the airport’s newest observation gallery.
Aircraft, however, aren’t the only things taking off at the airport these days. Business for the restaurant increased rapidly, as the ability to walk in and sit down gave way to the need for reservations. Using modern-day metrics, Runways Restaurant’s Facebook page received 1,000 likes within a couple weeks of opening, and 2,500 likes just a couple of months later. Manager Kevin Benner states that the restaurant’s business has climbed beyond his expectations, and remarks that at this point it’s had “more sales than I thought possible.” He attributes several factors for the rise in the restaurant’s popularity. These include the modern facility utilized by the restaurant, and the unique atmosphere where aviation comes to life just beyond the large glass windows. But most importantly, he attributes it to the continued support from the community who come back and spread the word among friends and family.
When appropriate, the restaurant’s management has made efforts to give back to the very community that helps sustain their business. During the holiday season, they held a Toys-for-Tots drive exchanging discounts for the donation of an unwrapped toy. A similar drive was created to donate school supplied to the Washington County public school system. The main event was the Super Bowl party held in the banquet room for the highest bidder and up to 21 of his, or her, friends and family. The winning bid was donated to the charity of the bidder’s choice, and the restaurant donated the meal and facility for the party.
Dave Forrester who, with his wife, provided a very generous donation to a more-than-worthy cause was impressed with the experience. “We had a great time at the party. Kevin (was) a wonderful host, and Chef Mario had the best meal. It included crab dip and shrimp appetizers and the main course was steak and lobster. The part showed Kevin’s generosity and concern as well as making a charity event of this size by donating all the food possible.”
Chef Mario, the man behind the menu, loves the variety they offer guests in the dining room. Breakfast options are typical, with omelets being the most popular option. Chef Mario is excited to bring back the beignets (“ben-yays”), which were pulled from the menu temporarily as he perfects the recipe he got from New Orleans. Chicken sandwiches, Reubens, and wraps are popular lunch dishes, although it may be the “propeller fries” that are the most intriguing option available at lunch. Steak and seafood options dominate the landscape during the dimly lit evening hours. It may come as no surprise that crab cakes are also very popular among the restaurant’s guests. But it’s the success of the liver and onions that has caught Chef Mario most by surprise, he says.
Coconut shrimp, wings, and flatbread pizzas are available for those who like to fire up their taste buds with popular appetizers. If you have room for dessert, several options await your sweet tooth. These options include a 5-layer chocolate cake as well as various pies that are all house made. “The peanut butter pies fly off the shelf,” says Chef Mario, who also boasts of their apple and cherry pies.
Weekends and holidays often have their own special menus. In addition to special menus, Chef Mario will add unique items from time to time. An option for bison meat is on the horizon, and there are plans to offer an alligator bisque and fritters.
It’s not uncommon to find “businessmen dressed in suits at one table and Army aviators dressed in fatigues at another.”
Although Chef Mario is pleased with the taste and variety offered on the menu, he credits much of their success to “it (being) a unique place, and that draws a lot of guests. These tables by the windows are very popular spots.” Despite spending most of his time in the kitchen, he gets excited about the variety of visitors on the ram and in the restaurant. It’s not uncommon to find “businessmen dressed in suits at one table and Army aviators dressed in fatigues at another – some enjoying a lengthy mean, others grabbing a quick bite to eat. But it works. The variety offered allows it to work.”
Frank Ciappana flies in on occasion with his wife from Carlisle, Pa., for meetings at the airport before which they usually dine at the restaurant. Frank confirmed the variety, saying “The meals are varied enough to satisfy any palate at any meal.”
Bryan Adamex, owner of V1 Aeronautics, is excited about the restaurant indirectly helping his new, growing aviation business. “The overwhelming benefit that Runways brings to me is getting people to the airport who might not have otherwise come here. Visitors can’t avoid being exposed to the aviation operations that happen on the field. When those people come to Runways to eat, they see my advertisements and their curiosity is piqued. Some of that curiosity turns into business.”
While reservations are recommended, they are not required. Waiting for a table may not be a bad thing however, as celebrities pass through due to local engagements. Jay Leno, Dr. Phil, and Bob Eubanks are a few who have been spotted in the hall of the het center. While the wait times may vary, one thing Kevin wants guests to know is constant is that they can expect a good meal served in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Frank continued, “The service is prompt, friendly, and always willing to go the extra ‘nautical’ mile. Kathi Cannoles travels beyond 30 miles one-way from West Virginia because “not only is the food delicious, but the staff is friendly (and) the best part is watching the plans come and go while we enjoyed our meal.”
Almost a year later, returns appear to be optimistic toward smooth skies for Runways Restaurant and Lounge.
Come In For A Tasty Landing
Runways Restaurant and Lounge
18421 Henson Blvd, Hagerstown
Mon.-Sat.: 7 am - 9 pm
Sun: 7 am - 3 pm