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River Birch Lodge pairs rusticity with class

by Lindsay Craven

My stepdad has a hunting lodge that he and his closest friends call home for about three and a half months out of the year. It’s minimal by my standards: plain walls with the occasional deer head or horns for encouragement and decoration. I never pictured the lodge as inspiration for a fine dining establishment but this is exactly the kind of location to which River Birch Lodge pays homage. I have seen the rustic, cabin-like restaurant driving down Robinhood Road in Winston-Salem many times but I never had an opportunity to stop in. On Sunday, with my mom in tow, I decide to see whether this restaurant that so strongly resembles my stepfather’s hunting lodge can deliver a decent meal. We arrive at the restaurant at about 3:30 p.m. and once inside the doors we meet our hostess who stands in front of a stone wall holding glass panels etched with leaf designs. She quickly seats us in the dining room, fairly empty now between meals. The restaurant is bedecked with hunting and fishing gear. Framed fishing tackle, snowshoes, a canoe and various horns and antlers adorn the walls. The walls are wood paneled and the carpet has an earthy tone. Even the chairs and booths are covered in leaf designs. A giant chandelier hangs from the ceiling with intimidating bull horns jutting out below each glowing light. The menu is broad although not particulay vegetarian friendly. Diners can choose between sandwiches and wraps, salads, pizzas and an array of all the animals fit to be eaten. I bounce between the cheesesteak hoagie and the River Birch Lodge signature pasta, but since I always get some variation of pasta when dining out I decide on the cheesesteak. The waitress is very helpful to my mom who is stuck between the Robinhood chicken wrap and the salmon wrap. She encourages mom to order the Robinhood wrap without hesitation, raving about how great it is. Our spinach and wild mushroom rolls arrive at the table later, made from baked phyllo pastry. Inside the flaky hide they contain a mix of saut’ spinach and mushrooms, cheeses and garlic. A raspberry merlot sauce accompanies. We dig in, flakes of pastry flying. The roll itself is crisp though messy, but the contents inside lack a bit of flavor. Everything has its expected taste but it’s all rather bland and unimpressive. I decide to try the sauce to see if it provides the needed kick. This doesn’t work. The sauce is delicious but doesn’t work well with the rolls. It’s similar to dipping them in jelly. My mom compares the flaky roll and fruity sauce mixture to Toaster Strudel. I have to agree. I give up on trying to find a way to love the appetizer and share in some momdaughter conversation. The entrees finally make their appearance. The Colorado cheesesteak with potato wedges finds its way to me while the much talked-about Robinhood chicken wrap slides in front of my mom. The cheeseteak is messy, so full of shredded prime rib, green chiles, red peppers and cheddar cheese that it can’t be closed. I realize that even though I get the sandwich folded, the underside is so moist and weak that the contents will fall out of the bottom anyway. I manage to maneuver well enough to get a bite. The flavor is good and the steak is tender. Despite all of the items stuffed within the hoagie bun it is still lacking a bit on the horseradish mayo. The potato wedge fries are surprisingly light and tasty, with a light seasoning of salt. They’re not large and undercooked in the center like you find at most restaurants. My mom gets a tortilla wrapped around grilled chicken, saut’ spinach, spiced pecans, cranberries and feta cheese, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. It’s crisp and sweet. I’m not a fan of nuts mixed in with my food so I’m not crazy about the inclusion of pecans. Her homemade lodge fries are traditional fried potato chips, crisp and light and not too greasy. Neither of us is able to completely clean our plates but our stomachs are filled to capacity. The check arrives with a total of about $35. The atmosphere and d’r are a pleasant and different take on dining. While the meal is not perfect it is balanced out with pleasant, friendly service and unique surroundings to view and discover.

River Birch Lodge and Restaurant; 3324 Robinhood Road, Winston-Salem; 336.768.1111; www.riverbirchlodge.com

River Birch’s Robinhood chicken wrap consists of grilled chicken,sauteed spinach, roasted pecans, cranberries and feta cheeese. (photoby Lindsay Craven)

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