The world is a fast-changing place, moving from horse and carriage toward electric and self-driving vehicles in barely a century, from tin cans on strings to cell phones and Pokémon Go. The American experience constantly morphs, but Thanksgiving dinner and its staple turkey, stuffing and cranberry combo has remained unchanged.
Restaurants are embracing the opportunity to provide a family tradition minus the prep work and cleanup, serving traditional Thanksgiving dinners where no one has to carve the bird or mangle that first piece of pie.
Roughly a decade ago, Craig Rebers, owner of Roasted Pear, saw a changing tide for the holiday—not in cuisine, but setting. “Families are broken out further, it’s harder to get a bunch of people together,” he says. “Nobody has to clean the house, cook all day, sit down to eat, and re-clean the house,” if they come to a restaurant, he says. After verifying that staff could work the holiday, it’s become an annual tradition both for Roasted Pear and also for the families who return year after year. Like Mother’s Day and Easter, Thanksgiving has moved toward a buffet set-up where reservations are recommended.
To measure the impact of the bird on diner’s minds, look no further than the Italian restaurant Buca di Beppo. “People don’t want spaghetti and meatballs for Thanksgiving,” admits general manager Michael Kielkucki. “You want to cater to the general public’s cravings for that day.”
Turkey leads the charge, but it’s not stopping restauranteurs from extending the Thanksgiving theme in new directions, whether by adding a unique twist to a beloved tradition or forgoing the whole concept.
Claddagh Irish Pub: Honey Glazed Ham
Claddagh focuses on the feast. Known for their shepherd’s pie and corned beef, Claddagh observes tradition but offers more than 50 items on their buffet: the expected turkey, candied yams, and green bean casserole, but also Irish foods such as bread pudding, homemade soda bread and honey glazed “ham.” Ham comes in quotation marks from manager Elaine Cloutier, explaining that the Irish-style ham is, in truth, a pork tenderloin brined and cured similarly to a U.S. ham. A multi-day preparation process fuses the meat with cloves, honey and a brown sugar glaze, slow cooking it and letting the juices and added flavors permeate the meat. “It is known to us as ‘honey glazed back bacon,’” she says. (Buffet $24.99)
Buca di Beppo: Italian Sausage Stuffing
This family-style Italian restaurant is a perfect fit for a day of gathering with loved ones, as their daily menu is geared toward dishes to be passed and shared, exactly the meaning of the holiday. Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for the national chain, but with a one-time American twist on their Italian menu. While the regular menu is available, Kielkucki says that few guests order the year-round fare. Instead, guests gravitate to the family-style servings of classic turkey breast, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie. “It’s not plated per person, it’s on the table just like you would [have it] at home,” he explains.
While much of Buca’s special is traditional, European flavors work their way into the stuffing, made with Italian sausage which may be a bit spicier than at home. It’s the same sausage used elsewhere on the menu, from rigatoni to arrabbiata, and it creates a savory stuffing where the peppery spice blends and Italian parmesan cheese mix with traditional croutons, parsley and butter for American Thanksgiving, Italian-style. Check website for price.
Malone’s Bar & Grill: Firecracker Shrimp
Although not open on Thanksgiving, Malone’s offers some tasty options for the Black Friday shopping crowd. Serving their happy hour menu of appetizers, flatbreads and sides, there’s variety from lettuce wraps to waffle fries and steak bites, general manager A. J. Stevens stresses, but the ever popular firecracker shrimp is a unique item. Served on a bed of lettuce, firecracker shrimp features 14 breaded and fried shrimp that blend sweet and tangy sauce with a light seafood sauce (and optional squeeze of lemon juice). (Firecracker shrimp $7.50 during happy hour.)
Girvan Grille: Carved Meats
Balancing modern tastes with tradition, Edinburgh Golf Course’s Girvan Grille offers a diverse buffet that implements traditional turkey and mashed potatoes but presents side dishes and salads that feature seasonal ingredients including kale, nuts, berries and more. There’s Waldorf salad, potatoes and the big bird but also fish and other carved meats to fill out the lineup.
The carved meat station defines the experience, whether selecting bird or fish or other mode of roast beast. The sides are a mix of fall seasonal traditions with glazes and contemporary herb and spice seasonings. The desserts are also part of the delicious experience. Check the website for price.
Lookout Bar and Grill: Zesty Mac and Cheese
Stressing the traditional element, The Lookout serves a daytime Thanksgiving buffet with the likes of roast turkey and stuffing classics. But utilizing a buffet’s unique something-for-everyone element, they present a twist on Thanksgiving comfort food with zesty mac and cheese or broasted chicken, ham and alfredo pasta.
Zesty mac and cheese features a homemade cheese sauce spiced with fresh jalapenos that give color and kick but only a minimal heat factor; it’s a balanced side dish that’s versatile enough to have with a slice of turkey breast while standing on its own as a variation from the norm. Buffet $13.
Roasted Pear: Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Craig Rebers of Roasted Pear says, “Tradition, to me, says, if you went to Grandma’s house, this is what you’d expect to eat”: green bean casserole, cranberry relish, corn chowder, and all the pecan and pumpkin pie you want. That’s the concept behind Roasted Pear’s family-themed buffet. It’s all the basics, but there are a few surprises that set it apart including fried chicken and a popular smoked salmon.
Rebers’ grandmother is the inspiration behind most of the menu, including sweet mashed potatoes, a take on sweet potatoes that adds brown sugar and vanilla while sculpting into a mashed potato texture topped with roasted marshmallows. “It’s just this side of dessert,” he says. Roasted Pear often runs a wine special on Thanksgiving to complement the meal. Thanksgiving hours: seating 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., (Buffet $21.95 for adults, $9.95 ages 10 and under and free for children under 2)