BY MADOLINE MARKHAM
Portions of fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese, turnip greens and cornbread are far from small at Hartley’s in Chelsea.
“You will not leave Hartley’s hungry,” said owner Amy Hartley. “We give you a home-cooked meal without the cooking.”
One man said their food is “like mama’s, but better.”
Customers will come on a specific day of the week for their fried chicken, fried catfish or fried green tomatoes. People say they can taste that their mashed potatoes are real, too.
Kids love the creamy, cheddar-topped macaroni and cheese.
Different selections of homemade cakes and pies are served daily along with the peach cobbler, which counts as a “side” and sells out every day.
As the only cafeteria-style meat and three in the Birmingham area of Highway 280, Hartley’s draws hungry customers from the Summit or Harpersville as well as nearby businesses for lunch. They recently opened for dinner on Wednesdays in addition to Thursday and Friday.
The restaurant is located behind the Chevron station and Frontier Bank in Chelsea Corners on Highway 280.
You are guaranteed to find mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and collard or turnip greens at Hartley’s any time they are open. The rest of the menu rotates daily with fried okra, country fried steak, meat loaf, beef tips and rice, hamburger steaks, black-eyed peas and more. There is always a meat of the day, vegetable of the day and casserole of the day.
Because everything is served cafeteria-style, a meal can be quick if you are on a lunch break or passing through Chelsea on the way to Auburn or Lake Martin. It’s all available for carry out, call-in or catering as well.
Owners Amy and Caldwell Hartley have tons of customers they see every day of the week.
“It’s fun because you know them and they know you,” Amy said. “And they always ask about our kids, especially Brady, our 15 month old.”
The couple chose a location for Hartley’s just a few miles from their home so they could still keep their family close. A restaurant had always been a dream on the backburner as Caldwell pursued a real estate career and Amy taught art at Chelsea Park Elementary until they decided to take a leap of faith in October 2009.
“We had all our mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes and were making them for dinner already,” Amy said. “We wanted everything to be fresh and homemade.”
More than two years later, they have found their niche in “down-home” cooking and even still have most of the wait staff from when they opened.
The Hartleys’ kids go to Chelsea schools, and they have made the restaurant part of the schools as well. During football season, the high school football team comes to eat at the restaurant before the games, and they bring food to the middle school before their games.
While Amy works the front, Caldwell is mostly behind the scenes in the kitchen, but he is very concerned with making people happy.
“Everyday he asks me, ‘Did anyone say anything today?’” Amy said.
Hartley’s Down-Home Kitchen
150 Chelsea Corners Way
Sunday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wednesday-Friday, 5-7:30 p.m.