Woodbridge Inn: Continental Shift

Art of the Meal

Every job has its pitfalls. And it doesn’t take long to learn the related code words: For real estate, perhaps it’s a “unique opportunity.” (Translation: “Snakebit location.”) For sales, it’s “creative financing.” (“Bankrupt customer.”) And for restaurant critics? “Continental menu,” “Oktoberfest” and “charming inn” all set off flashing yellow caution lights.

Certainly, the inn’s surroundings are beautiful: The namesake wooden bridge separates the hotel from downtown Jasper, just a few hundred yards away, providing a clear demarcation to a little island of tranquility. The dining room view is ideal for watching the sunset against far-off Sharptop Mountain. The entryway is a hodgepodge of Jasper marble works, blooming flowers, benches and a burbling fountain.

I order one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, a Maker’s Mark mint julep, and roam the grounds. Made with the inn’s own mint, the drink is a little sweet for my taste, but it’s the perfect decompression valve as I settle in a rocking chair on the front porch, and the house cat curls in my lap. It’s a weeknight, but a steady stream of diners head in — townies in sneakers and jeans, business types in khaki pants and belt-clipped phones, dewy-eyed couples radiating aftershave and perfume. Clearly, the inn is more than a tourist favorite, having found a regular niche among Jasper’s citizens, too.

The wine list is better than you’re likely to find at most small Atlanta restaurants, with trendy favorites like Australia’s Fat Bastard chardonnay and a spicy South African red, tongue-in-cheekily labeled Goats do Roam. You’ll also find B&G Chateauneuf du Pape, Mondavi Pinot Noir and Julius Kayser Liebfraumilch, along with those cocktails, which include a Ketel One martini and Absolut Mandarin Cosmopolitan.

The menu’s German accent is authentic, the stamp of Joe Rueffert, the Bavarian-born owner who bought the place in 1976.

Rueffert’s son, Hans, took over the kitchen in 1992, keeping his father’s European methods (in addition to schnitzels, you’ll find filet mignon forestiere, roast duckling a l’orange, tournedos bernaise, and the ubiquitous Veal Oscar), but subtly streamlining the artery-clogging butterfat and cream sauces, and updating the produce with shiitake mushrooms, fresh ginger and spring greens.

The American-style flatbread and pot of whipped cheddar will still your cravings until your order comes in. Still, the bill of fare is unmistakably Continental — the list of spring specials includes sweetbreads. (Hans Rueffert jokes, “If you have to explain what they are, people won’t order them.”) But those who know these little treats love them, and Hans lightly dredges and sautes them in butter, shallots and mushrooms.

By now, I’ve bought the entire Alpine package and order the fresh venison medallions, served with homemade spaetzle (a kind of German cross between pasta and dumplings) and red cabbage. Grilled and anointed with peppercorn cognac sauce, the venison is tender, the spaetzle comfortingly homey, the red cabbage a sweet counterpoint. Hans manages to keep even this game dish light, adding tender shiitakes to the mix. For dessert, I dive headfirst into a Dutch chocolate crème brulee, and emerge reborn, my cynical worldview forever altered.

You know, if they ever held an Oktoberfest here, I might like to come.

Krista Reese is Georgia Trend’s restaurant critic. Contact her at gtcritic@mindspring.com.

Categories: Art of the Meal