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Holiday at Birmingham’s Arlington House means special meals

By Susan Swagler

Birmingham’s historic Arlington House is putting its neighbors and friends in a Thanksgiving frame of mind with whole roasted chicken dinners just ahead of the holiday.

The dinners, which come with collard greens, mac and cheese and cornbread, are prepared by executive chef Matthew Murphree, who said, “We thought it’d be a good time to try something new, something kind of different. … We try to just really focus … on our community and everybody around us, to bring them in and show them that we are here and what we have to offer for them.”

The roasted chicken is available with a lemon-herb seasoning or simple salt and pepper. The whole-chicken meals will feed three to four people and cost $40. These simple, yet still celebratory, meals are well-suited for the pared-down family gatherings that are advised for the holidays this year.

A roasted half-chicken meal is available for $15. These come with collard greens, mac and cheese and cornbread, too.

Go ahead and order, though.

The last day for ordering the whole-chicken dinner is Saturday, Nov. 21, for pickup on Tuesday, Nov. 24 by 4 p.m. You can get the half-chicken dinners through Friday, Nov. 20 until 2 p.m. during the regular curbside service hours.

If these meals are well-received, Murphree said, “there’s a great chance that we’ll just pick it back up and do it again for Christmas.”

Situated on 6 acres of shady lawn and colorful gardens in the heart of Old Elyton, the first permanent county seat of Jefferson County, Arlington House offers a beautiful setting for historical, cultural and civic activities, as well as weekday lunches made special. Dating from the 1840s, Arlington is a lovely example of Greek Revival architecture. Originally called “The Grove,” the house was built by Judge William Mudd, one of the 10 founders of Birmingham, and is the last remaining Greek Revival antebellum mansion in the city.

Chef Matthew Murphree enjoys bringing a rotating menu of Southern delights to the community around Arlington House. (Chanda Temple)

Murphree, who trained at Culinard and previously worked at The Veranda on Highland, said the food served in Arlington’s spacious, light-filled dining room (open once again), and for convenient curbside pickup, is simple, Southern and from scratch.

“It would seem kind of silly to do anything but Southern food here,” he said. “So that’s just how I try to keep it – simple and Southern.”

Turns out, it’s more than that, though.

In keeping with Mayor Randall Woodfin’s citywide Putting People First initiative, Arlington House offers healthy, home-cooked options for the neighboring community, where most of the offerings are from fast-food and chain restaurants.

“I think we’re trying to get a foothold with that in our community,” Murphree said, “just to have something different for the community to choose from when they’re looking for meals or for a place to have an event.

“I just enjoy cooking, and one of the great things about being here … I pretty much have the freedom to cook whatever, really. I just try to keep it interesting and keep it different as often as I can.”

To that end, Arlington House has added new meals to its curbside (and indoor) lunch menu available Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (The menu at Arlington House changes regularly and with the seasons; look on the Facebook page for updates or sign up for email notices.)

Lunch items can range from Southern white bean casserole ($10.50) to seared salmon and penne pasta tossed with grilled onions, peas, carrots, tomatoes and Parmesan cream ($12.78), to a burger with tomato-bacon jam and cheese ($11). Depending upon the season, there are okra and corn fritters, toasted pecan Southern slaw, hamburger steak with wild mushroom gravy and chicken nachos.

Murphree even put a Southern spin on poutine with homemade pimento cheese, crispy bacon, Swiss cheese, caramelized onion gravy and pickled jalapenos atop fries. It costs $12.73. “I’ve always thought that was just a really delicious dish. I thought it might go over pretty well here with everything else we have to offer and by incorporating a little bit of Southern into it with the pimento cheese. I think it’s pretty tasty, and everybody else who has had it has thought so as well.”

Summers at Arlington House see special Soul Food Saturdays and Fish Fry FryDays, both of which draw fans from all over the city. The blackened catfish with the restaurant’s signature remoulade on Soul Food Saturdays is one of the most popular dishes at Arlington House, Murphree said. “It always sells out.”

These inventive, from-scratch dishes are just another way Arlington House is providing food variety in a city known for its diverse culinary community. It’s a way, Murphree said, to fill a need for the neighborhoods around the landmark and to be a part of the larger, exciting Birmingham food scene.

“One of our main goals,” he said, “is to focus on the community around us and to incorporate them and bring them in to see what we’re known for, what we have to offer – good, from-scratch food.”

Arlington House

331 Cotton Ave. SW

Birmingham, Alabama

To place orders, call 205-780-5656.