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Lakeview on Instagram: The Collective at Pepper Place

The Collective at Pepper Place
Image via The Collective

There’s something a little mysterious about hair salons. Whether Steel Magnolias-style refuge for Southern women, or just intimidatingly high-end, the salon can feel like a business that trades in secrets. So we’ve been intrigued following The Collective at Pepper Place, with its active Instagram account showing everything from fun training trips to the results of individual stylists’ work. This new social salon offers style goals and a sense of the Pepper Place community, so we approached owner Beth Doyle to find out more.

Doyle had a vision for her salon, she explained. A former teacher, she wanted to create a space that really developed the skills of individual stylists. “I set out to create a place where stylists would have the freedom to expand themselves creatively,” she said.

Visually, the salon’s space in Pepper Place is reminiscent of Scene: white walls, big windows, open plan. There’s a bit of an art studio feel to the stylists’ spaces, lined up in two rows down the room, separated by a row of stand mirrors in the middle.

But a setup that could seem severe looks inviting, with warm wood floors and lots of natural light. “We offer guests a peaceful space with upbeat personality,” Doyle said. The waiting area has a comfortable mid-century style that could easily be a downtown Loft District living room. That’s fitting, since Doyle said “building relationships is the cornerstone of what The Collective is about.”

“We have a diverse crowd which we love,” Doyle said. “Getting to meet people from all walks is one of the best parts of being a stylist.” That’s certainly the impression we get from the salon feed. There are shots of special styling work like photo shoots, but much of it features day-to-day clients. Folks who could be any of us, coincidentally photographed with great hair in natural light.

It’s an accessible artistry that makes sense in this Pepper Place Market neighborhood. You may even recognize some of the wall art from market vendors, and the salon’s own Lindsie Mosley has her own Eiley Grae Fabric Coline of baby clothes, quilts, and accessories.

“Being in the Lakeview area and the vicinity of all of the great things that are happening in Birmingham is so exciting,” Doyle said. “We really try to celebrate our city, especially all the great small business.” Lakeview and Pepper Place specifically are areas of concentrated revival, and The Collective’s enthusiasm for things local is a perfect fit.

Bham Eats: Sky Castle Gastro Lounge

sky castle burger

 

Avondale’s business district has built its reputation on a strong sense of place. Parkside, Avondale Brewing Co., and Fancy’s on Fifth all reference Avondale Park, while Rowe’s and Post Office Pies nod at the former occupants of their spaces. It’s a new Birmingham place that owes its ambience to the past. Lakeview’s entertainment district, in contrast, has long time businesses but a less present history. Until Sky Castle Gastro Lounge, the newest venture for the Bajalieh restauranteurs and chef Haller Magee.  

The original Sky Castle was a forward-looking radio studio, the restaurant’s website notes, conveniently situated above Ed Salem’s Drive-In. Drive-in customers stayed around to see radio happen in real time, according to the site, creating an early combination of food and entertainment. The restaurant describes itself as a place “giving a nod to the past while shaping the future,” and we’re inclined to agree. With its throwback name and place in Lakeview’s premiere mixed-use development — 29 Seven — it has feet firmly planted in both local lore and present progress.

Like its name, the styling is nostalgic without being full-on retro. It’s the set of Mad Men filtered through a CB2 layout. Burnt orange chairs and formica-inspired tables line an olive-toned banquette, effecting a classic diner gone chic. Coordinating couches and chairs form a low-slung lounge zone along the front windows. Dramatic waterfall wood paneling, Lakeview photo murals, and a copper bar backsplash create a solid visual brand: the sleek modernism of 29 Seven tempered with the palette of a former age.

But all that style and story would be worthless without a menu that could stand on its own. Sky Castle’s is full of delightfully hard choices — Pimento cheese or poutine? Tagliatelle carbonara or chicken and waffles? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to develop a strategic plan for your gastronomical approach, phased in over a series of regular visits. For now, we can recommend the pimento cheese fritters or roasted cauliflower appetizers, along with the Sky Castle burger or oyster & bacon sandwich entrees.

We could wax on about the subtle creaminess of tahini sauce or the sweet tang of caramelized onions and tomato jam. What really stands out, though, is the overall lightness of some truly heavy menu selections. We’re not saying fried pimento cheese offers any health benefits, of course, but by rights we should have struggled with the weight of excess. Instead, we left feeling delighted (albeit not hungry for a very long time).

The gastropub (lounge) has come to mean casual fare with a serious foodie attitude. Or, put another way, comfortable favorites through a fine dining lens. It’s a highly calibrated balance that Sky Castle achieves from branding to styling to the food itself. Head here for its new retro vibe and its heavy food favorites cooked with a light hand.

 

Want more? Check out our Sky Castle-inspired styling tips.

Bham Eats: Babalu Tacos & Tapas

babalu

 

Lakeview is no longer just an entertainment district. It’s now a place where people live, and that’s changing the options available — for the better, in our view. Developments like 29 Seven and Iron City Lofts are offering new residential space, but transitioning from an entertainment destination to a complete neighborhood means offering more than novelty options. There has to be substance there, too, for it to attract a sustained resident crowd. With Babalu Tacos and Tapas, Lakeview has managed both the flash of an entertainment district and the depth of a neighborhood restaurant.

We have to admit: We’re often suspicious of the tapas-style approach. Too often, small plates turn into large checks as you cobble together a meal from teasingly dainty portions. Happily, the small plates at Lakeview’s Babalu tend to pack a satisfying punch. At the very least, you’ll feel that you had a complete meal, which is the genius behind assertive taco plates and wonderfully layered tapas.

As dedicated tasters who insist on sampling around the table, this relatively affordable small plate concept works well for us. If you’re not into sharing, rest assured there are still options built for one, including generous meat-topped chopped salads and the Baba burger. It’s best to have a consistent table strategy, though, so plates arrive in proper sequence.

No matter what, you’ll want to start with tableside guacamole. It’s fresh and delicious and not too much of a spectacle. Plus, you’ll need the time to strategize your order. Go ahead and choose your drink, which may take some time. There’s a long cocktail list, but Babalu is also a good bet if you fancy experimenting with the wide world of sipping tequilas. Consider saving room for dessert as well, since the sampler option offers the taste of multiple sweets we always crave. Whatever combo you choose, we’d suggest including the dulce de leche cheesecake.

The bottom line is that Babalu is punchy and fun. It feels new and young without having too specific a crowd. It’s thematic but not overblown, which fits well with surrounding Lakeview entertainment. Where, say, the Loft District or South Avondale tend toward a polished industrial style, Lakeview is a little more all over the map. It’s where role-playing mystery games happily coexist with barbeque from an old house on a hill, sports bar trivia, and late night dancing. Like its neighborhood, Babalu is full of a quirky but appealing energy. It’s the kind of place you could easily be a regular, especially if you lived upstairs.

Bham Eats: Winter Restaurant Week

winter restaurant week

 

Birmingham Restaurant Week used to be a late-summer fling, something to look forward to before the busy fall season and the inevitable march of winter kicked in. Now, it’s also a post-holiday beacon, shining through the cold, dreary slump between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. As inveterate fans of Birmingham’s food scene, both restaurant week and otherwise, we couldn’t resist weighing in on the premiere winter season offerings. We combed through the posted options within Birmingham, and flagged the following dinners as our dream menu options.

 

Bottle & Bone (Uptown):

We’ve mentioned our love of bacon flights before, and now’s your chance to score a bargain tasting. We’re all in for their $20/person menu, of a bacon flight, joyce farms free range airline chicken breast stuffed with crackling corn bread with potato gratin and green beans, and bacon praline bread pudding. All of our pork-y dreams surrounding a delicious-sounding entree? Yes, please.

 

The Wine Loft (Loft District):

Just down the street from our offices, the Wine Loft has a $20/person menu basically guaranteed to warm the cold nights. We’d start with the cup of house made clam chowder, move on to the pan seared salmon with fried corn salsa and oven roasted brussels sprouts, and finish with the oven baked apple pie drizzled with port reduction and a side of ice cream. Between this menu and the restaurant/bar’s cozy interior, our money’s on the Wine Loft as a perfect date night plan.

 

BYOB (Lakeview)

One of our friends swears by the BYOB experience because you can actually have your burger at the temperature you crave — no solid gray medium-well nonsense when you want a true, pink medium. Burger cooking preferences aside, they had us at the golden tots appetizer with house made queso, cilantro, garlic, scallions, and ghost pepper cheese. We’d go classic Topper Price for the entree — essentially a classic cheeseburger jazzed up with lemon aioli — though the Cheesebroker, which includes bacon and pimiento cheese, may be the winner for heartier appetites. The dessert of white chocolate and raspberry bread pudding with lemon whipped cream and fresh mint sounds fresh enough to end a heavy dinner on a high note. Bonus points to BYOB for offering an old fashioned-inspired Bulliet bourbon cocktail accompaniment. Dinner menu is $30/2 people.

 

Iron City Grill (Five Points South):

You’ve been to Iron City for shows, but have you had dinner at the grill? We’d start with crispy chang mai cauliflower with crispy Asian slaw and sweet soy reduction, then move on to blackened gulf coast shrimp, whose sides include sweet corn couscous and an avocado lime crema. The vanilla creme brulee is a more classic dessert pairing, but we say lighter flavors might as well culminate in true decadence: salted caramel cheesecake with dark chocolate custard, graham cracker crumbs, and house-made marshmallows. It’s our version of culinary balance.

 

The J. Clyde (Five Points South):

The thing we appreciate about J. Clyde’s $30/person menu is that it’s an all-in experience. There are no tough decisions here, since the slate has already been paired down to a single “reception,” appetizer, entree, and dessert, all with suggested beer pairings. The brilliance of their menu is that it seems to balance hearty, heavy flavors like smoked riblets, gouda grits, and brown butter with lighter notes of leeks and apple cabbage slaw. But this menu that begins with a “traditional Scottish winter soup” closes with a pub-appropriate dessert (Fatso pudding) that’ll surely have you ready to brave the rest of winter.

Lakeview Spotlight: Pepper Place Market

There are nationally-recognized days that mark the beginning of the spring season, but those are just dates on a calendar. The real sign of spring? The opening of the Pepper Place Market, scheduled for April 11th this year.

More than just local fruits and vegetables, the market celebrates a simpler time. A time when bread was baked by hand, livestock grazed on grass, and Michael Pollan had yet to identify “edible foodlike substances.” It’s possible we’ll never get all that back, but Pepper Place is an excellent way to try.

Image via Pepper Place Market

Even if you have little use for fresh raw ingredients — we get it, not everyone’s the cooking type — the market still has plenty of products ready for consumption. Local businesses like the Baking Bandits and Birmingham Breadworks got their start selling artisanal goods in Lakeview. And it really is the best place to discover the kinds of products you hadn’t realized were making a handmade comeback in Alabama.

Our view of Lakeview wouldn’t be the same without Pepper Place. There’s something about it that represents another age, reinterpreted for modern life but not totally suppressed. It’s a chance to shop on foot and buy from folks who’ve produced the goods they’re selling. It’s old-fashioned market day for the new-fangled millennial (and everyone else). For much of the year, it functions as a kind of retail crossroads, somewhere between a European market and a temporary downtown. It’s an experience of bringing people in, connecting folks from all over the city to producers throughout this part of the state.

Image via Pepper Place Market

And since we’ve also been talking about Publix recently, it has us thinking about the central role food plays in our communities. It’s no accident that Pepper Place is attracting new residential opportunities, but we’re curious to see how the different modes of food shopping alter the neighborhood atmospheres. Will the Pepper Place area become an enclave of creatives living the slow food lifestyle? Or will it just be another convenient Birmingham place to live, with the added value of charming community amenities? We look forward to finding out.