If there ever was a good year to not cook Thanksgiving dinner, this might be it.
With COVID-19 numbers rising and officials warning against gatherings, we seem destined to have fewer and smaller holiday celebrations this year.
A Thanksgiving dinner for 10 or 20 at many homes may now be dinner for two or four.
Add to that the fact that so many restaurants and other food businesses are hurting for business in a climate where the government restricts their capacity and where customers are skittish about eating out.
In other words, restaurants that are having record-low revenues as a result of the pandemic will be especially appreciative of your business.
As a result, even more restaurants than usual are offering Thanksgiving specials — including full dinners from appetizer through dessert.
The time to start thinking about ordering is now. Most restaurants have an ordering deadline about a week before Thanksgiving.
Depending on the restaurant, you may be able to order a full meal or pick and choose a side dish here, a pie there to supplement something you want to cook yourself.
And even if you plan to cook a whole meal, you might want to at least glance at some menus for something new and different to try this year.
Of course, the majority of restaurants stick to the classics – roast turkey and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. But there are a lot of alternatives available, too.
Prices vary widely, but in many cases people can get a complete meal to go for $15 to $20 a person.
Bib’s Downtown — known for its wood-fired barbecue — has been offering whole smoked turkeys every year. It also sells whole spiral-cut ham and smoked half and whole beef ribeyes. “Thanksgiving is kind of a turkey thing, and Christmas is more ham. But we’ll offer it all through the holidays,” co-owner Mark Little said.
Bib’s holiday menu also include cobbler, banana pudding and pumpkin spice cake, as well as such sides as collards, mac ’n’ cheese and mashed potatoes and gravy.
Little said Bib’s sold about 120 whole turkeys last year. But he’s unsure that he’ll top that this year, if only because he thinks people will be having small gatherings and may not want a whole 12-pound turkey.
The folks at 1703 Restaurant seemed to have the same thought. Though they do offer whole turkeys — from 12 to 22 pounds — customers also can order turkey one pound at a time. The restaurant offers a long list of sides, that include sausage and herb stuffing, squash casserole, green beans, creamed spinach and tandoori-roasted root vegetables — all sold in portions of 4 to 6 servings.
The Porch Kitchen and Cantina offers a Tex-Mex take on Thanksgiving. The Porch sells only meal packages, but they come in three size, to serve three to four, four to eight or eight to 12. Each package includes ancho-chile whole turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, salad and chips with queso dip, salsa and guacamole — plus a choice of three sides.
Sides include Dijon Brussels sprouts with Parmesan and bacon, roasted vegetables, jalapeno cornbread and two kinds of mac ’n’ cheese (one with pureed cauliflower, one with fire-roasted tomatoes).
"So far of all our pre-orders, the small one (or three to four servings) is the more popular one,” owner Claire Calvin said, adding that she has received more orders than usual this year. “I think a lot a people don’t plan to have a big Thanksgiving this year. If it’s just you and your family, you don’t want to spend two days making tiny amounts of all these things.”
The Porch also has separately priced add-ons of wine, cocktail mix and dessert. And The Porch will even deliver your meal for an extra fee.
Rooster’s A Noble Grille is selling almost everything a la carte in mostly four-portion servings, and is offering people a lot of variety for those who want something other than the All-American turkey menu. Entrees include smokey turkey breast but also grilled salmon, braised short ribs, meatloaf, seared scallops, beef tenderloin and more. The list of starters and sides is just as long and includes shrimp and corn chowder, grits, grilled asparagus and butter beans.
Some people may want to spread the love around, getting their favorite sweet potato pie and spicy greens from Sweet Potatoes, cornbread stuffing and succotash from Milner’s American Southern, and limoncello cake or tiramisu from B.L.L. Rotisserie Factory.
Midtown Café & Dessertery offers a classic Thanksgiving package of turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, green beans or collards, mac ‘n’ cheese or mashed potatoes, Hawaiian rolls, tea and pecan pie. But it also lets you buy everything a la carte.
Midtown also offers brunch dishes just in case if you have big appetites that need to eat before dinner. Brunch dishes include quiche, bacon and breakfast casserole — and you can get them with bottle of bubbly and orange juice for making mimosas.
And, of course, the Dessertery will be well stocked with all manner of desserts — its list is 30 items long, including pumpkin pie with spiced nut crust, German chocolate cake and five-flavor pound cake.
Speaking of dessert, area bakeries are gearing up for the holiday season. Pam Cager at 3 Layers Cakery downtown typically does big business between now and Christmas, and this year is no exception. “People usually wait until the week before Thanksgiving, but people are ordering early this year,” she said.
Cager is mainly known for her cakes — a lot of people know her from her booth at the Dixie Classic Fair — but she has a long list of pies she makes, too. Cakes include Hummingbird, pineapple, red velvet, maple sweet potato crunch, pumpkin layer cake, pumpkin spice poundcake and chocolate mousse cheesecake. Pies include sweet potato, coconut cream, key lime, streusel-topped pumpkin and Southern buttermilk. Cager will make pies gluten-free and vegan on request.
At Baked Just So, Stacey Milner is offering a 10% discount on orders before Nov. 14. She offers a variety of holiday sweets, including cinnamon buns, pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin muffins and even pumpkin croissants. She also is selling such pies as apple, pecan and pumpkin and such cakes as sweet potato Bundt and pumpkin cheesecake. Baked Just So also has gluten-free options.
Camino Bakery downtown has pumpkin pie, pecan tart and carrot coffee cake with pecan crumble for dessert, but also offers a variety of breads, including honey butter yeast rolls, harvest wreath, baguettes, San Francisco sourdough and cinnamon raisin bread.
So even if you plan to cook a Thanksgiving feast this year, restaurants offer a lot of opportunities to take some of the weight off, expand your menu and offer them a little help at the same time.
Mark Little at Bib’s Downtown noted that many restaurants rely heavily on catering jobs this time of year. “The lack of catering is what really has hurt us the most,” he said.
He and others hope that some big Thanksgiving and Christmas pre-orders for family meals can help offset the dearth of catering orders and of restaurant orders in general.
Cager has been lucky that people seek out comfort foods during the pandemic. “My walk-in traffic has really gone down, but more people have been calling in orders for whole cakes,” she said. “But catering is definitely way down.”
Many restaurants have shut down during the pandemic. Those still open are trying everything they can to keep the doors open, staff employed and bills paid. Holiday specials make up just one part of the strategy — but they can use all the help you can give them.
Order early. Order often. And support your local restaurants.