Tag Archives: Birmingham

Sky Castle Gastro Lounge

Sky Castle is a gastropub located in Lakeview, right between Hattie B’s and Babalou. Named after the a glass-walled booth where deejays took live requests in the 1950’s, Sky Castle sits in the same location as Birmingham’s first Top 40 Radio Station. Sky Castle was created by three brothers: Jeff, Chris, and Jason Bajalieh, the same brothers who created Sol’s and Slice.

If you are eating in Lakeview on a Friday or Saturday evening, parking will be an issue. Usually a valet is available, although, unfortunately for us on this night, the attendant was unavailable. We only had to walk a few blocks, and luckily for us, we didn’t wear any heels.

When you walk into Sky Castle it looks like a modern, cool sports bar. There are televisions everywhere with plenty of seating available, including a few couches. The bar was quite large with dozens of beer on tap. Nate and I saw plenty of people enjoying drinks on the couch while waiting for their tables, or just watching some tv.

Nate and I started off with some cocktails, which were very good. We both ordered the “Call Me Old Fashioned.” The drink had Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Plum Preserves, and Bittermens Boston Bitters. This was a very good take on the Old Fashioned. Both Nate and I thought this was one of the better Old Fashioned variants we have had in Birmingham. It had the classic Old Fashioned taste that was complimented very well by the plum.

Next, for our appetizer, we ordered the “Buffalo Chicken Dip.” Neither one of us were crazy about this one. The only description the menu gives is, “Served w/ Potato Chips.” Maybe we are in the minority on this one, but we ended up getting a dip that was heavily cheese based (just not what we were expecting) with tortilla chips. This wasn’t a terrible appetizer but it wasn’t what we were expecting, and not the best cheese-based dip I’ve had.

For our entrees I had the “Sky Castle Burger,” and Nate had the “Chicken Lemon Alfredo.” The burger was very good, it came with caramelized onions, bacon jam, cheese, and dijonaise. The fries came in this cute little frier, and they were good as well. Nate’s pasta had chicken meatballs, house pasta asparagus, capers, and parmesan. I’ve never seen chicken meatballs before. Nate wasn’t the biggest fan.

In addition to my “Call Me Old Fashioned,” I also ordered the “Lakeview Lemonade.” This drink contains raspberry vodka, house made sour, and a spash of cranberry. This wasn’t quite the drink for me. Very fruity, and very lemony. I normally don’t try drinks like this, but I thought I would give it a shot. Not saying it was a bad cocktail, just make sure you enjoy lemon before you order this one.

For dessert we had the “Banana Pudding Crème Brulee.” I thought this was a good dessert. I also really enjoy banana pudding and crème brulee. It doesn’t have the prettiest presentation, but if you like banana, it’s a very good dessert.

Overall, I thought it was a fine restaurant. If you are wanting to watch some sports and enjoy a well-crafted cocktail, I would recommend Sky Castle. If you are just looking for high quality food, this wouldn’t be the first place I would suggest. I recommend sticking to simple food, such as the burger. Overall, we give this Taste of the ‘Ham 3 stars.

http://skycastlebham.com

-Josh Zaslawsky,  Hungry, Hungry Hebrew

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Ovenbird

Located in historic Pepper Place, OvenBird is the latest Chris Hastings restaurant. For those of you not familiar with Chris Hastings, he is the owner and executive chef of Hot & Hot Fish Club, one of Birmingham’s most awarded restaurants. OvenBird is a more casual restaurant; it is not as formal as Highlands or Hot & Hot. They only accept reservations for parties of 6 or more.

OvenBird is a live fire restaurant, which has become very popular among more high end restaurants. OvenBird does not use microwaves, or conventional ovens, the food is cooked using wood-burning ovens. The distinctive smoky flavor of food cooked over a wood-burning oven cannot be matched by a conventional oven.

In addition to being a live fire restaurant, OvenBird is also unique in that it serves small plates, similar to a tapas restaurant. So don’t let the menu fool you, although it looks very affordable, you will need to order at least 2 small plates per person.

Nate and I arrived at Ovenbird around 8pm the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. We only waited about twenty minutes. Our waitress told us that people have typically been waiting for an hour and half or longer on a Friday night. Our wait time was likely much shorter due to people leaving for the holiday weekend. That being said, if you plan on dining on a Friday or Saturday night, I would be prepared for a wait, but please don’t let this deter you from visiting. While you wait, you can enjoy OvenBird’s fantastic cocktails, and even their own OvenBird beer.

The restaurant has a great outdoors seating area. It would be a great place to eat in the fall or spring (probably not late May). The inside feels very warm (not the temperature). The table tops are marble, and true to the wood-oven theme, the chairs and much of the décor are wooden.

Nate and I waited at the bar for our table. I ordered the Wild Hunt, which contains, Four Roses Bourbon, Cynar (an Italian bitter liqueur), lime, Chamomile Syrup, and Hellfire Shrub (shrub concentrated with alcohol). This drink was awesome! All of the ingredients complimented each other flawlessly. The Hellfire Shrub was a very nice touch. It gave the drink a little spice, but certainty was not unbearable. Nate had one as well. He didn’t like that the drink was “spicy,” but Nate also has zero tolerance for any heat.

We sat down, and our waitress explained the concept of OvenBird: the wood-oven cooking and the small plates. Nate and I started with an appetizer: the Tuna and Avocado Toast. If you are going to get an appetizer this is a must-get. Along with fresh avocado and tuna, it also contained pickled onion, raddish, and herbs. Compared to some of the other small plate portions, this one was about average. Nate and I each got two pieces.

Next, we ordered our small plates. Nate and I decided to order 6 small plates. I recommend agreeing on small plates to share with each other. If you decide to each order your own plates and not share, you are missing out on tasting more food. Something else to keep in mind, because the dishes are cooked using a wood-burning oven, your dishes are brought to you once they are finished, not all at once. Some of our dishes arrived 15 minutes after we received our first small plate. We ordered: Ciabatta Flatbread, Roasted Carrots, Beef Shoulder Complex, Braised Goat, Alabama Shrimp and Clam, and the Beef Fat Candle.

The Ciabatta Flatbread had spring vegetables, garden herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. It was very tasty, and the bread had a very good crunch to it. The only downside is it is a small portion compared to other small plates. This is only about two bites per person.

The Roasted Carrots have: harissa, beef fat, yogurt, and heirloom grain. The yogurt serves as a dipping sauce. This was one of Nate’s favorite dishes. He said the dipping sauce was superb. This dish was a decent portion. I highly recommend this one.

The Beef Shoulder Complex was my favorite dish. It had ash baked vegetables, and chimichurri. The meat was very tender, and you could taste so many flavors. The chimichurri sauce was topped over the beef. It was so flavorful. This is a must-get when you visit. I will get this each time I visit. A decent sized portion as well.

Nate’s favorite dish was the Braised Goat. The Braised Goat had a soft poached egg, grits, and preserved lemon. The goat sat on top of the grits, and was topped with a poached egg. Neither of us had eaten goat before, and we were not disappointed. The meat does have a distinct taste, but it was the grits and the poached egg that made it even better. Nate said he would get this dish each time we go. This was also the most generous portion we received. There was probably enough for four people to get several bites.

The Alabama Shrimp and Clam had: fideos, aioli, chorizo, and sofrito. I thought this dish was tasty, but wasn’t spectacular, likewise, Nate didn’t think it was anything special. There are very few shrimp and clams, so if you get this dish with a larger party, you might end up not getting any shrimp or clams. The fideos (a Spanish-style pasta) provides a nice bed for the shrimp and clams, and you do get a lot of it. I wouldn’t say on its own its worth getting though. Just not a ton of flavor here.

Finally, our last small plate was the Beef Fat Candle. This was probably the least tasty dish we had (still good though). It had sofrito, herbs, and jus. This dish is a little gimmicky. When it was brought to us, we were instructed how to eat it. They actually give you a candle and you are supposed to let the candle burn down to help melt the fat. Once the candle burns down, you dip some bread into the bowl. The bread is very crunchy (not saying it as a negative). This is another small portion. We ordered it because several people we knew talked about it, but neither of us would get it again.

During the course of the meal I ordered another Wild Hunt, and also had the Rufus Horneros. The Rufus has: Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey, pecan syrup, chocolate bitters, and Angostura Bitters. I thought this cocktail was very good as well. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Wild Hunt, but I would certainly order another one. Nate had the Gaucho, a mix of Famililia Camarena Resposado (tequilia), Vida Mescal, yerba mate syrup, and lime. Nate was not a fan of this one.

For dessert we ordered the Beignets. The Beignets had a blueberry glaze, lime curd, and blueberry lime ice cream. These are not the typical beignets you would get in New Orleans, so don’t order them expecting that. They were more like donut-holes with blueberry. Neither Nate, nor myself thought these were particularly special. If we went again, we would try a different dessert.

Overall our experience was wonderful. This was one of the best meals either of us has had in Birmingham. Even though we each spent about $100, it was well worth it. We give this Taste of the ‘Ham 5 out of 5 stars!

http://www.ovenbirdrestaurant.com

-Josh Zaslawsky,  Hungry, Hungry Hebrew

Fancy’s on 5th

It’s been quite a while since our last post but…life happens. Josh and I started back on our eating adventure this summer at a fairly new restaurant in Avondale: Fancy’s on 5th. Fancy’s was opened by the owners of the nearby Melt restaurant along with the executive chef, Joey Dickerson, in March of this year. Just like any new spot in the Avondale neighborhood, it was met with great excitement and judging by the wait time for a table, people are clearly still excited about trying “the new hot thing” in this ever-growing neighborhood.

At 6 o’clock on a Friday night we were told we would have to wait an hour and half for a table for two, but we ended up only waiting about 30 minutes (I think we got lucky more so than it being an over-estimate of the wait). We, of course, visited the bar during our wait and aside from the many beers that you can find at any local restaurant Fancy’s serves several “fancy drinks” that were pretty good. While I think there is some expectation to be “different” when making your cocktail menu these days, the selection wasn’t quite as hipster as some of the other bars and restaurants in Avondale. I had beer from Avondale brewery and Josh had a “Pig Fashioned” and a “5th Avenue Sour”.

So we were somewhat confused by what we had heard from others about the type of food that Fancy’s serves, but they aptly describe themselves as an “Oyster Dive and Burger Bar.” We started with the “Oysters Avondale” and these were easily the best part of our meal. I’m not normally a fan of oysters, but we were told they were very good, and I’ll try pretty much anything if you cover it in cheese. At only $10 for a half dozen oysters, they are definitely worth a try. We didn’t try any of the other oyster options, but since it’s pretty close quarter seating, we could tell the other table’s oysters looked really good.

Josh and I agree that, yes, there are really good burgers out there, but there’s only so much you can do with a burger, and you have to try pretty hard to make one truly bad. Josh had the “B&B” burger which comes with “homemade Worcestershire, grilled onion, bacon, and blue cheese crumbles.” I had the “Blue Collar Burger” which was just about as basic of a burger as you can get with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Both burgers were good, and we agreed that we would go back because the prices were decent. That being said, if asked who had the best burger in Birmingham, Fancy’s wouldn’t be our first thought.

Now I’m not one to skip dessert, but there weren’t that many options and none of them really stood out to us so we didn’t try any of the three choices on the menu. Overall the food was good, but nothing spectacular; the ambiance, décor, and location is great, but too small; but the prices are very reasonable and no one should be confused by the name and think it’s too Fancy for a casual night out. We give this Taste of the ‘Ham 3 stars.

http://www.fancyson5th.com

-Nate Ennis, Foodie in Training

Original Pancake House – 5 Points South

OPHThe Original House of Pancakes is a major chain, but has only one restaurant in Alabama. It is located right in the heart of Five Points South. The interior of the restaurant was unimpressive; it looked just like your average IHOP or Denny’s. There was a pretty big crowd (we went on a Saturday morning), but we only waited about 20 minutes.

We sat down, and ordered our drinks. The restaurant was very full, mostly with families. I ordered the peanut butter pancakes with bacon and orange juice. Our food came our promptly, and the portions were very generous. The peanut butter pancakes were smothered peanut butter chips, and the bacon was thick and crispy. It was tasty, but eating that much peanut butter and syrup is pretty difficult. It would probably be better as a few bites rather than a whole meal. Nate had the “Three Little Pigs in a Blanket”. They were sausage links wrapped in pancakes and topped with powdered sugar and syrup. He said they were tasty, but he didn’t rave about them.

I wasn’t disappointed, but overall it seemed pretty mediocre to me. It is very affordable, the service was good, and the portions were large, but the food quality wasn’t anything spectacular. I would go back, but I’m not planning on going back anytime soon. Good place for a big, inexpensive breakfast or brunch, but don’t expect anything special. I give this taste of the ‘Ham three stars.

http://www.originalpancakehouse.com/

-Josh Zaslawsky,  Hungry, Hungry Hebrew

Post Office Pies

POP

Post Office Pies just opened in March of this year, and is brought to you by the owners of Saw’s Soul Kitchen. It is located in Avondale in an old post office building (hence the name). It was a highly anticipated restaurant, and Nate and I were very exciting about going.

We walked in to a very busy restaurant, trying to look for seats and peruse the menu. Nate and I ordered a white pizza and a meatball pizza (this was a special for the night). We ordered some Avondale beers, which is definitely one of the best things about Post Office Pies, and began our search for a seat.

We started outside, and then Nate found a table inside, but it was right under an air vent and in the middle of the restaurant. After patiently waiting, we finally got a nice table in the back along the wall. We got a couple of more beers, and our pizzas were brought to our table after waiting for about 30 minutes.

The pizzas themselves looked good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The same could be said about the taste. They definitely weren’t bad pizzas, but they were very mediocre. There was too much crust, leaving only a few bites of actual pizza. To quote Nate, “I would rather have Pizza Hut.”

Although the pizzas weren’t very good, they were very affordable. I don’t plan on going back, but I wouldn’t say no if someone really wanted to go. I would be going for the Avondale beers (and location) more so than the pizza. I give this Taste of the ‘Ham 2 stars.

-Josh Zaslawsky,   Hungry, Hungry Hebrew

Chez Fonfon

chez fonfonChez Fonfon is one of those Birmingham restaurants that we had always heard everyone talk about, but we never knew anyone who had actually been there. I was a little nervous about this one because I really didn’t know what to expect in the way of dress code, the usual clientele, or pricing, but we ended up fitting in just fine.

The restaurant was started in 2000 by the famous Alabama native chef Frank Stitt.  As many Birminghamians already know, Frank Stitt is also to thank for Bottega Restaurant and Café, as well as the world renowned Highland Bar and Grill. Chez Fonfon serves French fare and a wide variety of wine and cocktails, and is decorated to look like a Parisian café.

The first thing we noticed after valeting the car (we didn’t really have a choice), and walking up to the restaurant, was how tiny and loud the inside of the restaurant was. It was a rainy Friday night and we only later found out that there is an outdoor courtyard that usually holds some of the overflow diners, but we were able to snag seats at the bar while we waited (an hour and a half) for our table. The bartender was very nice and helpful in picking out drinks, and we decided to go ahead and have an appetizer of “grilled jumbo asparagus with morels and crawfish hollandaise.”  I’m not a big fan of asparagus, but it was delicious!

Other than the deafening roar of the music and diners, the night was off to a great start…until we met our waitress.  I almost hate to speak ill of the restaurant at all but the service that we got from her was so bad that it ruined our overall experience. It was very obvious that she did not want to be there.  Like the appetizer, our meals ended up being wonderful.  I had the famous hamburger fonfon and Josh had a nightly special of snapper over mixed vegetables. The hamburger definitely lived up to all the hype and though I’m not much of a fish eater, the snapper was tasty too.  We shared the coconut cake for desert by default (it was all they had left), but it ended up being some of the best cake I have ever eaten!

The food was excellent, but this “Taste of the ‘Ham” is getting 3 stars from me, simply because the service was so terrible. We’ll give it another try in the future and see if things change.

http://www.fonfonbham.com/

-Nate Ennis, Foodie in Training

SAW’s BBQ Homewood

saws-bbqSAW’s BBQ is a fantastic “hole-in-the-wall” barbeque restaurant. Founded in 2009 by North Carolina native, Mike Wilson, SAW’s BBQ has received rave reviews from Birmingham natives and tourists alike.

Walking in, it is clear that SAW’s BBQ is not concerned with a fancy interior. The seating is extremely limited, but luckily, we were able to find a table outside. Nate and I placed our orders at the counter, and our food was ready before we even sat down. I was a little apprehensive about my food being ready so quickly, but it was absolutely delicious.

I had the pulled pork plate with macaroni & cheese and potato salad. The pork was tender and moist, but it was the barbeque sauce that really made it awesome. It was a little thinner and spicier than the usual barbeque sauce, but it was perfect for dunking bread. Nate had the loaded baker, which he said was very tasty, but nothing to write home about.

Overall, SAW’s BBQ is a great barbeque joint. If you are craving barbeque, or want to show a non-Southerner what Southern barbeque is all about, SAW’s BBQ is the place to go. I give it 4 stars, and I’m looking forward to going back.

http://www.sawsbbq.com/

-Josh Zaslawsky,   Hungry, Hungry Hebrew