When it comes to my reviews, the restaurants always fall into one of three categories.
There are the places that I have already visited – those are the easy ones.
There are the places that I have never been to, but I have researched so much ahead of time that I already know what I am going to order.
And then there are the places that we decide to go and have no idea what we are walking into.
This week, I gave the choice to Julie, and she took door number three: a visit to Bixler’s Lodge, a place neither of us had been and had done next to no research about.
We were flying blind. I knew very little about Bixler’s Lodge except that it sat at the base of Mount Penn. Google told me it was on Friedensburg Road in the village of Stony Creek, just north of Mount Penn borough.
Pulling up to the front of the building for the first time, it looked smaller than I imagined. Perhaps the awkwardly shaped parking lot that seemed to squeeze cars behind the restaurant just made it feel tiny.
Walking through the front door, I found a restaurant with character – part dive bar and part date night destination.
The single dining area featured a bar on the right. A couple flat screen TV’s were mounted on the wall above the taps.
On the left side of the room, tables set for two and four people. The stonework of the fireplace added a bit of historic charm.
What really surprised me though was the robust menu, filled with a mix of standard pub fare and inspired entrees.
Not sure what to order, I asked our waitress for a recommendation. She gave me a few of her favorites, and I chose one that intrigued me above the rest – the “Southwest Bixler Bistro Tender.”
The 10-ounce steak was rubbed in southwest seasoning, cooked to my preference and served with sautéed mushrooms atop a bed of roasted red pepper sauce. It was a unique combination, to say the least.
My favorite part of the dish was the red pepper sauce. The pairing of the sauce with beef was unexpectedly pleasant, though I would have liked just a little more sauce (but, then again, I’m a guy who loves to load up on A1 sauce when there is steak involved).
If I have one complaint, it’s with myself for ordering it well instead of medium-well. I don’t like pink beef. This is a meal that needed the steak to be a little more rare to soak up the seasoning and really bring it to life.
On the side, I had a very enjoyable pan of potatoes au gratin, the potato of the day. The cheese was nicely toasted on top, but smooth and creamy like an alfredo sauce on the inside. It was a very good addition to my meal.
Entrees at Bixler’s Lodge are served with a starter salad. It’s your typical mixed greens, Julienne carrots and cucumber (complete with the obligatory cherry tomato).
Not stopping there, I also ordered a cup of chicken, kale and white bean soup. I was expecting a thicker, hearty soup, but it was more of a chicken noodle soup without the noodles. And there were only a few beans. It was a good chicken soup, but I had my hopes up for more.
The starters we both enjoyed came in the bread basket. Julie tried one of the mini cornbread muffins and loved it. I enjoyed the dinner roll, myself.
Bixler’s has a surprisingly large selection of seafood, and that’s where Julie went for her entree as she opted to try “Bixler’s Big 100% Crab Cakes.”
The meaty crab cakes had very little filler (I guess that’s why they’re 100% crab cakes), just how Julie likes them. They were served with a side of cocktail sauce, and while Julie used it, the crab cakes stood out on their own.
Another standout was her French fries. The fries were a thicker fast food-style that were well-seasoned. I may have helped her clear them from her plate.
The vegetable of the day – peas with pearl onions – was a letdown from the rest of her meal. Peas are peas, and two or three pearl onions weren’t going to turn them into anything more.
Our final bill was reflective of our entree choices. At $18.99 and $16.99, they were two of the more expensive on the menu so I was not surprised when our total came to a little more than $40.
For the record, about half of my steak and potatoes came home with me for later.
I learned a lot about Bixler’s Lodge during my visit. I learned that red pepper sauce pairs well with beef. I learned that Bixler’s Lodge first opened as a restaurant in the 1930s.
But I think the most important thing that I learned is this: Bixler’s Lodge is very good.
1456 Friedensburg Rd
Reading, PA 19606