San Antonio’s ‘favorite rural restaurant’ — Wolfe’s Inn — changed hands, not menu during its seven decades – San Antonio Express-News

What was the name of a restaurant which was located on or near the corner of Wurzbach and Fredericksburg roads? It was set back in a wooded area at that location.

It could have been the family business that the heroine of a Hallmark Christmas movie comes home to save — a beloved, rustic restaurant whose wood-burning stoves turn out hearty cooking, served family-style on long tables in a dining room with flagstone floors and an open fireplace. Weather permitting, diners could choose smaller tables with charmingly mismatched chairs on a patio shaded by oak trees hung with multicolored lanterns, a romantic atmosphere enhanced by a wishing well and a rock-lined water feature.

But it was a real place for nearly 70 years: Wolfe’s Inn at 9000 (later 8620) Fredericksburg, a family business for a succession of owners, who added or subtracted some of the features in the above composite description.

More from Paula Allen on S.A.’s dining history: From club days to restaurant era, San Antonio’s Red Carpet served up style

Retired Express-News food editor Karen Haram remembers it as a popular restaurant in the late 1970s, marked by a thick stone wall and an arched entrance that led to the restaurant. “I remember enjoying drinks in the comfortable bar area, then dining on such entrees as steaks, seafood and chicken in the dining room,” Haram said. “Like Crystal Baking Company, it was an excellent choice when you wanted great atmosphere and food but less formal dining than La Louisiane or Chez Ardid.”

The long-lived restaurant opened in 1915 as W.W. Wolfe’s Inn Café — then the name on the soon-to-be famous arched “sign of the wolf,” with its representation of the animal — in the converted home of Worthy West Wolfe and his wife, Estelle. Well outside the San Antonio city limits, their property was at the Fredericksburg end of what’s still known as Hamilton Wolfe Road — not named for a South Texas Medical Center dignitary but for two “home places” and the families who lived there. The Wolfes’ was at Nine Mile Hill (covered here Aug. 3, 2003), a traditional stopping point between San Antonio and Fredericksburg that previously had been a 19th-century stagecoach supply depot and hotel, according to research by Linda Cooper Persyn, past president of the Leon Valley Historical Society, and the late Barbara Poss Fryer.

Worthy Wolfe was a former Missouri-Kansas-Texas (“Katy”) railroad man who had run a restaurant in Parsons, Kan., before moving to San Antonio. The Wolfes, who had six children, built a house across the street, at what became in 1985 the original site of Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano, then at 8539 Fredericksburg Road.

From the beginning, Wolfe’s Inn was a dinner-only destination spot, reached after a “short, pleasant drive” from San Antonio proper. Over the years, the miles outside the city limits gradually dwindled from 10 to 1 and eventually were no longer relevant, as the growth of the Medical Center (discussed here Oct. 30) brought the city to the former country. The inn’s slogan “San Antonio’s favorite rural restaurant” was dropped by the 1960s.

More from Paula Allen on the Medical Center: Foundation behind push for San Antonio’s Medical Center marking 75th anniversary

The menu was enduringly simple. As with most local restaurants of the early 20th century that weren’t limited to short orders, entrees were steak and fried chicken (later with an occasional fish or shrimp), with biscuits and cream gravy, fried (later mashed) potatoes and fresh vegetables, with house-made pies and cobblers.

Dinner prices, which included all of the above, rose slowly over the first quarter-century or so from 50 cents to $1 or $1.50, with the T-bone steak claiming the top price. At a time when you could get a cheese or egg salad sandwich for 15 cents, a Wolfe’s Inn outing could be a splurge, a special evening Monday through Saturday when the restaurant opened at 5 p.m. and closed at 10 p.m. or a leisurely Sunday lunch from noon to 5 p.m.

For several months spanning 1934 and 1935, the restaurant was temporarily relocated to 230 Fredericksburg, formerly Mack’s Log Cabin, specializing in — guess what? Yes, chicken and steak! — in another rustic setting, this one a five-minute drive from downtown. Waiting out road construction, Wolfe’s Inn moved from Nine Mile Hill to Five Points and switched its focus from dinner to lunch, catering to downtown workers with a 35-cent “merchants’ lunch” but staying open until midnight to serve chicken for 50-75 cents.

Find out about the S.A. steakhouse visited by John Wayne: A star businessman, Big John also an actor

As owner and operator, Wolfe “personally direct(ed) the entire operation of his celebrated tavern, select(ed) and (bought) every item of goods served at his place and personally supervise(d) its storage, preparation and serving,” says an advertorial published in the San Antonio Express, Nov. 11, 1935.

The Wolfes weren’t work-shy. From the early 1920s, through later ownerships, Wolfe’s Inn offered holiday dinners, “turkey with all the trimmings,” opening at noon on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days, as well as for regular dinner service on Christmas and New Year’s eves.

Wolfe died of a heart attack at 57 in 1940. The next proprietor was Anton S. “Tony” Greive, former manager of the Vermont Café, 1422 W. Commerce St., “featuring American foods with special emphasis on steak and chicken dinners,” from 1926 to 1945. With his wife, Pauline, Greive remodeled Wolfe’s Inn in 1946 to add private party rooms with their own fireplaces, newly “beautified” grounds, and high chairs and children’s plates to appeal to families, according to the San Antonio Light, Feb. 11, 1946.

The Greives stuck to Wolfe’s Inn’s recipes for success — “skillet-fried chicken, steaks cooked to order, hot biscuits that melt in your mouth (and) country-style gravy” — and printed the family-friendly tagline “A Nice Place for Nice People” on the menu and matchbooks.

Paula Allen on 1940s S.A. dinner club: Importance of Austin Highway night spot was relative

When Greive left in 1950 to open his first self-created restaurant (ultramodern exterior with fireplaces inside), Antone’s at 6838 San Pedro Ave., in collaboration with Shearer Hills developer H.J. Shearer, his Wolfe’s Inn successor was Jimmie (also spelled Jimmy) Harris, former manager of the Pirates’ Cave nightclub, 107½ E. Houston St., “Where everybody has a good time.” With his wife — always styled “Mrs. Jimmie Harris” — commanding the kitchen, Harris promoted the inn’s “incomparable chicken and steak dinners” but also added cornbread (probably more efficient to make than biscuits) and inaugurated phone ordering for food to go. Around the middle of the decade, Mrs. Harris started appearing solo in advertising and kept the steaks and chicken coming until 1968.

The restaurant went dark for about a decade but came back in 1979 as an updated steakhouse, thanks to Danny Tassos and others involved in the Barn Door (covered here Dec. 12, 2020). “My brother, along with David Straus and some other investors bought the property in the mid-1970s,” Billy Tassos said, “and reopened it as a steakhouse, keeping the original name.” As Tassos recalls, “the business wasn’t open that long. Joe (Cosniac) and Nick (Pacelli) from Paesano’s (restaurant) eventually took it over but they closed it shortly thereafter, around 1984.”

Read about a longtime Alamo Heights restaurant: Bright red barn started out as ‘country kitchen’ and retains its 1950s rustic charm

By the late 1980s, the Wolfes’ 1909 house and longtime restaurant building already had been torn down except for part of the rock fence and an iron gate that since has disappeared. The property was sold to Stop-N-Go Markets, said Clarence Simpson, then the company’s director of real estate for the Western United States, with the intention of building a “super-size ‘Market’ with expanded gasoline displays … and a market with a mix of the usual (convenience)-store items and some fresh produce.”

Although the Wolfe’s Inn building already was gone, Simpson anticipated “a firestorm of local protest” and worked with Stop-N-Go’s corporate office in Houston, as well as a group advocating to save one of the oak trees still standing “between the property line and the Fredericksburg Road right-of-way.” With the help of an arborist “who pruned up the unkempt grand old tree and landscaped around it” on the new store’s side, the tree was saved with the cooperation of the Texas Department of Transportation.

More from Paula Allen on S.A.’s dinner club scene: Kit Kat Club appealed to ‘Mr. Average’ for dining, dancing

Stop-N-Go’s construction manager then redesigned the landscaping at the corner to accommodate the remnants of the stone fence. Drawing on a brief history from an old Wolfe’s Inn menu found on the property, Simpson wrote text for a plaque as follows: “Nine Mile Hill/Before the day of the automobile, the road to Boerne, Fredericksburg and the Hill Country crossed this location and was known as ‘Nine Mile Hill’ and was the first rest stop for the horses and buggies. / In 1915, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Wolfe converted their home at this location to a restaurant known as ‘Wolfe’s Inn,’ which was a landmark for many years thereafter. The remaining rock fence has been preserved, and this plaque and the landscaping are dedicated to the memory of those early travelers who found rest and nourishment here by National Convenience Stores/Stop-N-Go Markets. ‘The tradition continues …’ ”

The Southwell Co., longtime makers of historical markers, cast the plaque, which was installed on the remaining portion of the Wolfe’s Inn rock fence at Wurzbach and Fredericksburg. “I feel great every time I drive by that intersection,” Simpson said, “and see my plaque still there.”

Some of this information also was found in my first column on this topic, which ran in the San Antonio Express-News Sunday Magazine section, June 21, 1992. Thanks to Alton Robinson for asking about “the restaurant on the corner of Fredericksburg Road and some other street whose name I’ve forgotten” and to Beth Standifird, San Antonio Conservation Society librarian, for providing this and other articles on Wolfe’s Inn.| Twitter: @sahistorycolumn| Facebook: SanAntoniohistorycolumn

Original News Source