Written by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Sky Castle Gastro Lounge recently opened at Seventh Avenue South on the ground floor of the 29 Seven Building in Birmingham’s Lakeview district. Sky Castle’s concept incorporates a backdrop of nostalgic rock and roll integrated with sports bar and a hint of edgy, upscale restaurant woven into its ambiance. And the fare is something new, too: globally influenced, Southern progressive comfort food.
Sky Castle Gastro Lounge is the third and newest of the Bajalieh brothers’ (Chris, Jason, and Jeff) Birmingham restaurants. The Bajaliehs are also the owners of Sol’s Sandwich Shop and Deli and Slice Pizza and Brew. They stocked the kitchen with an impressive array of talent. Here, executive chef Haller Magee leads a well-seasoned culinary team: sous chef Richard Trent; pastry chef Ashley Bolton; and chefs James Habshey and Dave Smith. Ellen Rogers serves as general manager.
Outside is a space complete with umbrella tables. Inside the restaurant a replica of the glass-walled deejay booth from Birmingham’s first Top 40 Station, WSGN’s “sky castle,” sits above the entryway and hostess stand on the left wall. This wall is covered in a mural that brings back days of the bygone era of 1955 when Ed Salem’s Drive-In occupied this space. In those days, WSGN had a remote studio where deejays took live requests from their “sky castle.” To the right is the lounge area, where several groups of mismatched sofas, coffee tables, and comfy chairs are arranged. The lounge space has views of the patio and a huge LED television with four separate panels. If you want to catch the game, no problem. No matter where you sit, you will be viewing a television. Eleven more large screen televisions wrap around this wall and the back wall above the copper bar (with more brews on tap than I can count) and the partially open kitchen. And in the center of the space, there are tables for six on the bar side and smaller tables on the front side of the space. The restaurant seats 165, including the bar and patio tables. Sky Castle is open for lunch, dinner, and late night from 11 a.m. until midnight on Sundays through Thursdays, and is open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Kitchen closes at 11 p.m. during the week and at midnight on weekends.
I am delighted to see my favorite, Champagne Delamotte NV, offered by the glass. So we order it and a glass of Lakeview Lemonade from the cocktails list. The tasty lemonade is pink and served in a highball. We opted for the Little Neck Clam and Gulf Fish Chowder and Grilled Caesar Salad to start. The creamy chowder is chock full of large bites of fish, clams, potatoes, carrots, and corn. I highly recommend it. The whole leaf romaine salad is large, yet light, topped with capers, Parmesan, garlic croutons, and a house-made dressing.
For entrees, we select the Black Grouper and Duroc Pork Chop. The pan-roasted grouper arrives golden on the outside and milky white on the inside. Served over a beautiful basmati rice mixed with cranberries, apricots, and a walnut pesto, it is colorful and delicious. The tender bone-in chop is thick and juicy. It is grilled perfectly and is served atop fingerlings and a fennel apple slaw and red wine agro dolce drizzle. To finish the evening, we were wowed by pastry chef Bolton’s Banana Pudding Creme Brûlée. It is presented with a wedge of banana dusted with powdered sugar, alongside a dollop of cream and a house-made vanilla cookie. It is among the best brûlées I ever tasted. From start to finish, it tastes like the Bajalieh brothers have another winning recipe with Sky Castle Gastro Lounge.