Owners Brett and Jill Wolfe wanted to offer something special and unique to Marion, Virginia. It took a few years, but during the summer of 2013 the doors opened on Main Street to some of the best BBQ in the area (and the only BBQ restaurant in town). The BBQ is delicious, the homemade sauces are amazing, but what is even more amazing is the story behind how these two locals came full circle back to the town where they graduated high school.
Wolfe’s BBQ Restaurant & Catering is the latest of a string of new businesses to open along the beautifully-renovated Main Street corridor in Marion, Virginia. At one point in time, Marion was home to dozens of factories and defense contractors, employing thousands of men and women. Those days are long since gone, so the town found a new focus: tourism. In the past few years, many new businesses have opened, the historic Francis Marion Hotel underwent an extensive renovation, the Lincoln Theater opened its doors again, and people flocked to the small country town to enjoy weekend getaways. Wolfe’s BBQ is the latest and one of the greatest businesses to open in town.
The owners grew up in the area, so they were already familiar with local contacts and the culture of the town. Brett Wolfe spent his childhood in Marion while his wife, then Jill Medley, grew up in nearby Sugar Grove. Years after they graduated from Marion Senior High School they found themselves the owners of Log Cabin BBQ in nearby Christiansburg. Although they enjoyed the success of the business, they really wanted to bring great BBQ flavor to their hometown.
When Brett and Jill bought Log Cabin BBQ, they inherited a menu and set of loyal customers who had come to expect a certain kind of flavor from the menu. But Brett had another idea: he wanted to use his time-honored family recipes. Moving to Marion was a way for the couple to start fresh with their own menu, special recipes, and new flavors. Photos hanging on the walls of the restaurants show the old grocery store Brett’s grandfather owned near Hungry Mother Lake. The recipe for the Austin Burger and Mac and Cheese come from Brett’s step brother, Jeff Austin. They built a locally-owned, family-run business on Main Street, and the food proves they knew what they were doing.
The restaurant occupies the old Franklin Building on Main Street in Marion. The restaurant has a beautiful hardwood floor, high vaulted ceilings, and plenty of room between the tables. Unlike some restaurants that try to fit as many customers on the floor as they can, leaving you with your back pressed against a total stranger and in the middle of their semi-private conversation, Wolfe’s BBQ has comfortable booths along two walls and a single row of tables down the middle. They have room for about 60-80 people at a single time so it’s not like they are wasting any room. The waitresses sport branded t-shirts. Large windows at the front allow natural light to bathe the entire restaurant. Jill Wolfe walks around chatting with customers and asking if they need anything else. Brett Wolfe walks out wearing an apron just to make sure everything is running smoothly. From the first moment you walk through the door you feel at home, more like having a meal at a friend’s house instead of a bustling restaurant. It’s cozy, and cozy is good when you are paying someone else to cook for you.
The food tastes more like home cooking than most other restaurants. While some can claim to have home cooked meals, not many can back it up once the food hits your mouth. Wolfe’s BBQ, however, has more than enough proof with just about any meal you buy. Their BBQ Platters are the most popular menu item and come with either two or three sides. Side items include mac and cheese, handcut fries, sweet potato fries, BBQ beans, Mabel’s macaroni salad (Brett’s grandmother’s recipe), and many more. Just about everything on the menu has a special story or reason for being there in the first place. For example, if you order The Bano Burger, you get a 1/4lb. hamburger topped with cheese, a split hot dog, and chili. 10% of all the sales of this menu item are donated to the Eric Albano Youth Soccer Foundation in honor of local soccer coach Eric Albano who passed away a few years ago.
But what about the food? I will admit, I’m a sauce guy. I like to smother my food with so much sauce that I probably wouldn’t know if I were eating a plate of fried grasshoppers. But this is not because I have an addiction to the sugary sauces, but rather because when I eat at a chain restaurant the food is usually rather bland. I found myself in a quandary while eating at Wolfe’s BBQ, though: the BBQ was juicy, delicious, and made a fantastic meal all on its own, but the four sauces are also made fresh in-house so I wanted to try them. Out of the four sauces, Sweet, Lil’ Kick, Red Hot, and Carolina Red, only one caught my eye: Red Hot. I’m not just a sauce guy…I’m a spicy sauce ohmygod my mouth is burning guy, so I gave it a try. I’ll admit, the sauce was pretty spicy and would probably be enough for most diners, but it wasn’t spicy enough for me (to be honest, the only place I’ve ever found that was spicy enough for me was a place called Thai Orchid in Charlotte, NC).
To finish off the meal I indulged in the mac and cheese and was greeted with a thick, creamy piece of cheesy heaven. Even the beans were full of flavor with each bite, not too strong, and didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. Just as soon as I thought I was done, Jill walked over with a giant brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. It was easily twice the size of what you would find in a chain restaurant at half the price. This was one of those moments where I realized I had sampled foods at three restaurants already that day, my belt was at its limit, but I could not stop eating this dessert. From beginning to end, the food at Wolfe’s BBQ was tasty, juicy, and absolutely delicious.