Remember when you were little and Mom would portion out heaping spoonfuls of sausage gravy, batter them in biscuit breading, and then deep-fry to golden perfection?
Skytown photos by Tom Dorgan
Yeah, me either.
But I do remember when Stephen Durley decided to turn a traditional breakfast dish inside out, take it for a swim in the fryer, and knock my freakin’ socks off! Welcome to Skytown, Wilmington.
Apparently, serving up sensational tacos and margaritas on reg wasn’t enough at Beer Barrio wasn’t enough. Thus owners Hayley Jensen and husband Chef Stephen Durley decided to take on a new edible adventure with a side of suds. This time around, instead of tapping batches of guest brews, they’re making the beer in-house.
Readers who have wrapped their mouths around Beer Barrio’s beer-braised beef burrito or sampled the smoky Carolina pulled-pork taco are fully aware Durley throws down when it comes to meat. Thanks to Hayley—the hop pro in the family (a certified cicerone)—it’s clear Skytown’s standards for signature crafts are also high. I had my very first sample at a recent beer fest and let me just say: An afternoon solely scheduled for day-drinking doesn’t often result in remembering what was what. Skytown’s Dreamsicle Milkshake, however, proved my theory wrong. The ale’s luscious mix of vanilla bean, orange peel, lactose, and slight bitterness was surprising in the best way. With one too many hazy milkshake IPAs under my belt, I’ve been well over the style.
The Dreamsicle’s juicy, citrus creaminess carried me right back to Flintstone’s Orange Push-Pops and I was suddenly a child again … well, one who could legally drink.
Housed in a newly constructed shopping center on New Centre Drive near Target, Skytown sits among several other novel midtown eateries. The interior has a clean, industrial feel (different from the colorful, urban landscape of its sister eatery downtown) with an exposed brewing system and a trio of sauces on each table. The artwork (created by Hayley’s mom, Carol) offers funky vibrancy to the simple color scene. Service-wise, I can only speak for our server, but he was as friendly as could be.
I got my BBQ fix on a chilly Wednesday evening and the modest dining room was quiet, without being completely empty. On a weekend night, I imagine folks could run into a short wait time. My date and I started with two brews at opposite ends of the spectrum. I went with the 3rd Street Lager (Skytown’s flagship). It was clean and refreshingly dry-hopped with a slight sweetness from flaked corn. It was exactly as described and super crushable. I couldn’t have picked a better companion for all of the smoky items to come.
My date went for the Door Mouse Porter, a silky lower ABV dark brew with notes of cocoa. It was a bit on the flat side (as opposed to something dry-hopped and more carbonated), but super smooth and balanced with a soft lingering chocolate profile. The menu featured Durley’s innovative take on regional BBQ. His rendition of a representation of ‘cue across the country had bits of tradition weaved throughout, with plenty of modernized twists to please the Southern palate. We’re in North Carolina, after all. I knew I was going to fully dig the deep-fried sausage gravy bites, but I couldn’t envision how the execution was happening backstage.
The light-brown fritters were so symmetrically round and impeccably gooey in the middle, I imagine the process is similar to making a Scotch egg. Flavor-wise, well, come on—it’s deep fried sausage gravy. Think: savory pork morsels swirled into a luscious white gravy, tucked inside a hushpuppy, and served in a cute little fryer basket. What more could anyone ask for? Well, I got a side of ranch, but to each his own.
In an attempt to taste my way through the various BBQs, I landed on the three-protein platter, which came with a quarter of three different meats of my choosing plus two sides. For $20 dollars, I would gladly dub this a “meal deal steal.” The pulled pork was moist, succulent and an idyllic partner to Durley’s Carolina-style sauce, loaded with pepper flakes, sugar and vinegar. Next up was the Alabama Chicken. Typically fried and doused in a mayo-horseradish-vinegar sauce, the dish can be heavy. Durley chose to smoke and grill tender, juicy boneless thighs instead (well played on the dark meat, sir) and gently brush them with white mixture. I gave it a swipe through a pool of Kansas City tomato-based sauce for some extra tang.
I didn’t wake up that morning craving jackfruit, but I felt it was necessary for a well-rounded review to taste Skytown’s vegan offering. For those completely unfamiliar, jackfruit comes from the breadfruit family, lives in a tree, and has become wildly popular as a plant-based meat alternative. The young, unripe fruit soaks up flavor like a sponge— and when cooked it takes on a stringy, meat-like consistency. While chomping down on the smoked jackfruit alone, it’s easy to detect it’s not, in fact, meat. Texture-wise, it is a touch rubbery and less unctuous than pork. Still, when doused in one of Skytown’s sauces (the South Carolina mustard sauce was perfectly pungent), it was damn good. For folks not necessarily vegan, but looking to cut back on animal protein intake, Durley’s smoked jackfruit on a bun and topped with coleslaw will trick the palate into thinking it’s pulled pork—and without needing a nap after lunch.
Side-wise, I treated myself to two specialties (a small upcharge but totally worth it). With the first forkful of mac and beer cheese, I was hit with an undertone of funk (from what I was certain was truffle, possibly truffle oil, tossed into the toasted breadcrumb garnish). Or the strong bite may have come from a hoppy infusion of beer. It needed a dash more salt, but was outstanding on every level. Clean bowl club: The Burnt End Brisket Chili was an earthy, rich, comfort food creation with tender red beans and crispy pieces of brisket. Easily one of the best I’ve had in Wilmington. Throw some cheese on that bad boy and gimme a blanket.
If Skytown is a metaphor for heaven, I’m lining up at the gates.