Just by looking at the street-facing décor, it’s obvious that The Poppy & Parliament is anything but ordinary. Whether you’ve taken a selfie with the telephone booth or glanced at the menu as you walked by, it’s hard to ignore the distinctiveness of an English pub decorating the Downtown Huntsville landscape. You might even remember its opening as a Pub first before the addition of a kitchen. While it’s no secret that there is an amazing Dinner menu here, I wanted to check out the lesser mentioned Lunch offerings.
Immediately upon making my way through the outdoor patio with ample seating and a beautiful, red threshold, I noticed a small group watching Football (Soccer) and having a pint. The British theme permeates through the front door and into the bar where you’ll see nods to Rugby and an ample European-import beer selection. Graciously greeted at the front hostess stand and promptly seated, I began to study the Lunch menu.
Executive Chef Kristen Caroselli descends from the upstairs directing the Front of House like an Orchestra Conductor: polite, firm, and exuding confidence as she never misses a beat. These are the moments I thrive for as a Food Writer. A true professional exercising their craft in their native realm. A place where I play spectator and appreciator.
Chef Kristen’s attention to detail is immediately obvious upon talking to her. She wastes no time filling me in on how Chef Barry O’Connor and Shane Brown partnered to open the pub. New York native, graduate of Johnson & Wells, and beginning her Executive Chef journey at a Steakhouse in Tuscaloosa, Chef Kristen’s resume is as impressive as the travels she tells me about. Conversations with accomplished Chefs are equally exciting as they are nerve-wracking. Luckily, we connect about her visit to a Michelin Star restaurant in Thailand that I had seen on Netflix. I use this as my way in to prove I’m worthy to do her just for this article you are reading now. Unfortunately, I forget the word “Hollandaise” as I describe my appreciation for the A Tart Monsieur. Whoops.
She continues to impart some wisdom to me with topics like how to train staff and bring out the best in your team. Her mantra “It’s easier to teach good habits than break bad ones” is evident in her willingness to hire young Line Cooks straight from school and give them a solid foundation to build from. This is the kind of dedication that makes good Chefs great. Sure, Chef Barry visits once a week to train and oversee operations but it’s Chef Kristen that is running every aspect of the day-to-day here. Paired with experience, it is evident that culinary art is Chef Kristen’s passion based on the scholarly way the menu is written. Not an element is missed and everything is phrased in a way that makes the foreign appetizing and relatable.
Here’s an assortment of what you can expect from the Lunch menu:
Beggar’s Purse Frogs’ Legs
Most of us have tried Frog Legs at a buffet and walked away thinking we didn’t like them. I implore you to try the version here. While these are deep-fried, they don’t leave you with a sense of heaviness. The Potato and Basil crust is light and airy which perfectly complements the delicate flavor of the Frog. Many might say Frog taste just like Chicken but I have to disagree. While the texture may be similar, there is definitely a seafood taste to the meat. It’s sweet which makes the Peppered Chimichurri sauce a delightful accompaniment. There’s something to be said about the smoky/sweet combination between the two and pairing that with the herbiness from the crust. I love the Cajun twist on this dish because it feels culturally accurate. If this won’t transport you straight to Bourbon Street, I’m not sure what will.
A Tart Monsieur
This is a spin on the classic Croque Monsieur but better. This is simply decadence in a dish. You’ll get a light, fluffy almond butter puff pastry tart to serve as its base. While rich, there’s a healthy serving of Grilled Asparagus, Baby Spinach, and Rocket Salad (Arugula) to make up for it. Dollops of Chimichurri decorate a generous coating of Lime Hollandaise and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Topped with grilled Flank Steak, you’ll wonder why you never thought of this before. I love the “flatbread-esque” presentation. This is not only pleasing to the eye but allows for all the flavors to be presented in concert. The creaminess of the Lime Hollandaise, the crunchiness of the Asparagus and greens, tanginess of the Chimichurri all work well without detracting from the Steak. The Flank Steak is some of the most tender I’ve had and grilled to perfection.
Traditional Fresh English Fish and Chips
Can we really enter an English pub and not order the Fish and Chips? Of course not. To be fair, this is an amazing rendition and not being sold just for the novelty. This recipe stays traditional by frying up hearty wild Atlantic Cod with housemade Chips. The presentation is gorgeous as it comes wrapped in newspaper just like if you were in London. The meatiness of the fish can’t be overlooked and, although fried, is juicy and tender to the last bite. The real winner here is the Chips (aka Fries for us uncultured “Yanks”). Fried in Beef Fat, the Chips take flavor to a whole new meaning. I usually don’t like fried potatoes so I couldn’t seem to figure out why these were so addictive. It’s no wonder McDonald’s used Beef Fat in their original recipe. Not that I’m comparing the two, but it’s still neat to taste a piece of history.
Go try The Poppy and Parliament next time you are Downtown. Allow the menu take you across the pond on a gastronomic journey. Still feeling timid? Lunch is the perfect time to check out some of their most popular offerings at a reduced price. If there’s anything you will learn from the experience, it will be not to fear the unknown. Embrace change and do something different. Let Chef Kristen be your culinary tour guide.
Growing up between the Washington DC suburbs and Savannah, GA, Brett always found music and food to bridge the gap between the two worlds. Musician, US Army veteran, Software Engineer, dedicated home chef, Brett has worn a variety of proverbial hats and is used to traveling outside his comfort zone in pursuit of new experiences. Whether studying abroad in Greece or deploying to Afghanistan, food and the people involved in the process, became a way to relate to his ever-changing world view.
While an engineering career may have led Brett from Tampa, FL to Huntsville, more importantly, there was a flourishing food scene to explore. After discovering most of his coworkers had no idea what their city had to offer, he started a food blog to catalog his experiences and share recipes that demystify culinary techniques. He has found an audience in fellow foodies and industry professionals alike.
Aside from food, Brett also enjoys building his vinyl collection, sipping craft beer and whiskey, and building websites for small business owners. He loves exploring the city through the stories told by its long-time locals.
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