Some people say God works in subtle ways. I suppose it makes for a nice saying, but to be perfectly forthcoming, that saying has always seemed a bit maudlin and trite for me. Blame it on too much Indiana Jones growing up, but for me, manifestations of Divine workings always seemed as if they should come with the same flair and intensity of an Old Testament tempest.
It’s taken me many years — and just as many fights with oscillating passions of zeal and doubt — to begin to understand God doesn’t work that way in our lives. Not that sending bolts of God-power through Nazi tomb raiders isn’t awesome — but it’s just not something that happens or is going to happen. Grace, or how God interacts and transforms us, is a fundamentally Christian concept, yet it’s one I and many others struggle with. So used to defining our own lives in terms of active tasks in the now, the idea that passive actions, inscribed in us and others slowly and over time, can often be beyond our recognition.
When you look for it though, the slow workings of God’s grace are there. We know this because we see this. It’s reflecting in our lives, and the little moments of kindness and warmth which we bring to others and they bring to us.
I was reminded of this last weekend, when I accompanied my parents to Wintergreen, VA. (Obligatory resort photo below…)
I used to work at Wintergreen, and like many jobs people “used to work” at, my job at Wintergreen just wasn’t a good fit. Not with my living situation there, not with what I was doing relative to what I’ve been called to do, and not with where I was in my life at the time. During that time I would often fall into swings of depression and anger, feeling trapped on a lonely and cold mountain while taking nothing but flake from disgruntled guests way above my income level. Because of this frustration, I hadn’t returned to Wintergreen since I left, despite the fact that my parents — who have long vacationed there — have often invited me. “Why?” I’d ask myself. A perceived dark spot in my life, I could see no good from my time in Wintergreen, and questioned if anything could possibly come out of revisiting any vestige of those trying eight months.
Unbeknownst to me, something did come out of that time in my life, and it wasn’t just depression and anger. Little did I realize that people not only knew who I was when I worked there, but they missed me when I was gone. Arriving tepidly at Wintergreen this past weekend, I was greeted, hugged, and made to know just how much I had been missed by every former employee I saw. It was, in a word, awesome. Not because it was flattering — although, I admit it was — but because it was humbling. It was a reminder that one individual really can make an impression and impact on others, even when that individual may think they’re completely worthless. It doesn’t have to come through dramatic actions, but rather through slow but sure impressions left through our very character and being. Like Grace, God’s grace, it’s the kind of dynamic that is always at play and always changing hearts and minds. Yet we never see it happening until its completed its course.
There’s nothing like being reminded of that kind of Divine dynamic to put an extra giddy-up in a guy’s step.
Scratch that. A beautiful day and a leisurely hike definitely contribute to the cherry on top. And when I’m in a good mood I like to try something new. Like Wild Wolf Brewing Company in Nellysford, Virginia.
Wild Wolf has actually been going strong as a restaurant since last fall, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve eaten there once before. My memories of a fumbling wait staff and an overpriced Tofu salad notwithstanding, I was intrigued by their menu online while looking for places to eat around Wintergreen, hoping to convince my parents a change-up from the usual venue (Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co., right down the road) might be in order.
Right off the bat, I loved the setting. Nestled front and center in a kind of village complex, the restaurant has a down-home and southern colonial ambiance from one of those living history plantations they take kids on field trips to. Plenty of shade provides for a cool outdoor seating environment, which gets a boost from the light mountain air and scintillating aroma of smoked meats.
I must have asked a million questions (okay, more like eight or nine) when trying to decide what to order. The waitress was amiable and knowledgeable, and despite giving good recommendations for, well, everything, eventually steered me towards the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich, which I got with a side salad. My father, in a great mood from some chipping and putting the night before (I won) ordered the prerequisite Reuben with Old Bay fries, while my mom, after initially ordering the raved about Fried Chicken Salad, settled on a Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwich special with sweet potato tots. All of our sides were upcharges from the house offered chips.
The food came out in a timely manner, although there was some confusion about the order. While the staff had gotten my request to omit the aioli on the chicken sandwich, they forgot a sweet onion chutney that sounded great (and later was), and mistakenly served Marconi salad instead of sweet potato tater tots to my mother. Fortunately, the staff rectified both cases, and even managed to provide my request of BBQ sauce for a side salad.
The fried chicken sandwich in anything if not unwieldy, with three large chicken tenders stacked awkwardly between a grilled wheat bun. What it doesn’t match Chick-Fil-A in terms of construction, however (what, no pickles? No white bun?) it more than makes up for in sheer flavor and texture of the chicken. The breading is crunchy, well seasoned, and amazingly grease free, while the interior all-white breast meat is juicy-sweet and succulent. It’s fried perfectly, and it pairs well with the sweet and tangy onions in the chutney. This is the kind of fried chicken sandwich worth moving to the South for. My only gripe goes back to construction. Pickles would be great, and the bread choice seems odd. This would almost work better as an open-faced sandwich on some country white bread.
My Dad loved his Reuben. “Different” than the Backbone’s Turkey Reuben (his favorite thing in the world) but something he said would bring him back after a disappointing November outing. My mother really liked the pulled chicken sandwich, and despite not getting a red onion type slaw we saw on someone else’s sandwich, she ate the whole thing. I snagged a few of her tots. They were awesome. Much better than Sonic’s pathetic attempt at sweet potato tots. Fried Oreos were offered for dessert, and despite being genuinely tempted, I passed. My liver can only take so much oil at one time, and that trip back up the mountain ain’t fun when your in the backseat. Those fried Oreos are on my list for next time though.
Maybe it was the food. Maybe it was the setting, or maybe it was God’s grace and the subtle mountain breeze from the Shenandoah Mountains. More likely, it was a combination of all of it, and for those reasons, I have to say this was one lunch with my parents I actually really enjoyed. And that’s saying something, considering I usually hate having lunch with my parents. I was so inspired I even took off running (and jumping) to a nearby Moon Bounce.
We’ll be back to Wild Wolf for sure. And after months of fearing Wintergreen, I’ll be back to the smiling embrace of friends and former coworkers who remind me that God isn’t the only one who can provide grace, and deliver hope, to the lives of others.
Wild Wolf Brewing Company
- Fried Chicken. The way I see it, you can’t go wrong with the salad or the sandwich. While the sandwich has some structural issues I’d like to see addressed, the chicken itself is well worth the cost of admission, and then some. Crispy, thick breading combines the best of classic fried chicken with the juicy, slightly sweet taste of the interior breast meat, which will convince even the most anti-white meat-eater that the humble chicken breast can be taken to sky-high levels. Subtle spices make eating this sans any condiment not only possible, but prefered.
- Ambiance: Open air seating with plenty of shade and the ever-present smell of ribs smoking just a few feet away. Does it get any better? Actually, thanks to a nearby moon bounce for the kids (and Adam) it does.
- Sweet Potato Tots: Crunchy on the outside, sweet on the inside. They’re neither gummy nor mushy, and amazingly greaseless.
- Menu variety. From a Black Bean Burger to a Tofu Sandwich to traditional barbecue with an eclectic, new American feel, they offer something for anyone.
- Friendliness of the staff: Mistakes happen. Orders get screwed up. But if you can feel welcomed by the staff, you can’t leave completely dissatisfied no matter how bad everything else goes. Wild Wolf doesn’t just have a welcoming staff, they’ve got a staff you’ll want to go jump on the moon bounce with.
What needs improvement:
- Sandwich Construction: A wheat bun isn’t the best application for a massive, three tender fried chicken sandwich. Likewise, making sure you get the order of the onion chutney right is a must. Could also use some pickles.
- Side Orders. Drop the premium pricing on everything but chips. A place like this does sides too well to hide something as good as sweet potato tots behind house chips, however good those chips did look.
- Upgrade the side salad. More seasonal vegetables, please.
- Be specific with menu descriptions. Are all sandwiches really served on Kaiser rolls (mine was not)? Are there multiple slaw versions for sandwiches? The server did a good job of answering questions, but a more descriptive menu will help diners get a feel for the eclectic offerings.
Verdict: Overall, I can definitely endorse Wild Wolf if you’re on Route 151 in Nelson County. While I love Devil’s Backbone, I actually think Wild Wolf has a little more to offer with their menu, and better prices, as well. If nothing else, they might be a little more kid friendly. And when you’re the kind of kid at heart I am, that is always a good thing.