Dining with Dan
The Swinging Bridge: Paint Bank, VA


by Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Writer

Dan Walker

Paint Bank, is where heaven meets Virginia,” says Mikell Ellison, manager of The Swinging Bridge Restaurant.

Indeed, the 40-mile drive west from Interstate 81 to Paint Bank, located on highway 311, is one of the prettiest drives in Virginia. “We don’t fit in any category,” says Mikell, “There’s nothing like us around.”

Hidden away in the Allegheny Mountains’ Potts Valley, this old railroad-town community recalls a time when hospitality was a way of life.

With The Swinging Bridge Restaurant, you’ll find a general store, a gift shop with a year-round Christmas section, and a wild-game outfitter’s shop.

The Depot Lodging offers accommodations from a 19th-century “Company House,” a log cabin, a cottage, and even a caboose. Nearby fishing and hunting in both Virginia and West Virginia are popular adventures for guests to enjoy.

This multi-faceted location also features bluegrass music on Thursday evenings, and on the weekends, artisans display their works in Tingler’s Mill, a historic grist mill renovated in 2004. 

A barbecue-lover's dream entree - a quarter barbecued chicken and a rack of ribs; banana pudding

In its promotional materials, The Swinging Bridge Restaurant is described as a place where you’ll find “old time Southern stick-to-your-ribs good cookin’ with a hillbilly gourmet flare.” Visitors will find a real swinging bridge suspended above the restaurant’s enormous stone fireplace. 

The restaurant is known for its buffalo dishes and the fresh vegetables grown at its own farm nearby. As Mikell points out, “You never saw a fat Indian, because buffalo is 35 percent higher in protein and 65 percent lower in fat than chicken.” 

Opening the menu, the entrée titles caught my eye. For breakfast, you can dine on “French Toast with a Drawl,” “Lighter than Air Flapjacks,” eggs and omelets your way, and, of course, authentic Southern-style grits. 

The signature sandwich for lunch is “The Great White Buffalo Sandwich,” made with thin-sliced buffalo and served on a hoagie bun, smothered with Swiss cheese with a light and creamy horseradish sauce. This is served with Cindy’s onion strings and an onion dipping sauce. Another unique lunch selection is “The Almost Famous Paint Bank Sub,” served as a deep-fried bun loaded with chicken salad, bacon, and topped with cranberry sauce. 

The restaurant's namesake swinging bridge, high above its rustic fireplace.

I visited The Swinging Bridge for dinner and found a menu featuring favorites such as rainbow trout, angus and buffalo steaks, and grilled salmon. Two menu items really caught my eye. One was “Carter’s Country Smothered & Covered Chicken,” a char-grilled chicken breast covered with mozzarella cheese, smothered with caramelized onions and topped with crispy bacon. 

And on Fridays, The Swinging Bridge special is barbecued baby-back ribs prepared outside on a grill that looks like an old steam locomotive. As I arrived at The Swinging Bridge, I followed the wonderful aroma to find Sweet Willie, the grill master, working his magic with the ribs and chicken. 

The bouquet of fresh mountain air and rich grilling sauce combined with the sight of caramelized ribs smoking hot on the grill left my menu selection no longer in doubt: a half-rack of ribs and a quarter barbecued chicken. I complemented my entrees with homemade applesauce and coleslaw. I also included the onion strings with dipping sauce. 

I was not disappointed! The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, and Sweet Willie’s sauce was a grand blend of spices, brown sugar and tomato base ... I think. As I often find when visiting recommended restaurants, ingredients are a secret, and in this case, the sauce’s composition is known only to Sweet Willie. What a great secret!!

I can’t leave my dinner discussion without mentioning a special dessert. Being a Southern boy, I was raised on nanner puddin’. As Mikell explains, and I agree, banana pudding often comes in a box and is served with Cool Whip. By contrast, nanner puddin’ is made from scratch and has a golden-brown meringue topping. There is as much difference between the two as there is between living in the city and living in a little slice of heaven. I highly recommend nanner puddin’ and a little slice of heaven any day.

I had received a number of emails from Cooperative Living readers recommending The Swinging Bridge, and I would invite you to experience the delicious food, shops, and lodging in Paint Bank. It’s where heaven meets Virginia, and people gather to enjoy warm, old-fashioned hospitality.

I’m always looking for interesting restaurants in Virginia. Let me know about your favorite restaurant at dwalker123@comcast.net.  


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