On the Road Eats: Thanksgiving-Inspired Restaurant Dishes
We’ve got a cornucopia of FN-approved restaurant dishes to satisfy your Thanksgiving food cravings all year long. Take a tour through these cross-country spots that feature everything you’ll need to re-create the Turkey Day feast, from twists on the traditional bird to festive cocktails to comforting desserts that you can find every day of the week.
Mike's City Diner — Boston
If one Thanksgiving dinner a year just doesn’t suffice, then turn to Mike’s classic turkey dinner plate to feast in Pilgrim fashion any day of the week. Piled high with juicy turkey slices, creamy mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy, this turkey plate is so popular that Mike’s goes through four whole turkeys every day. They cook the birds upright on a special stand (similar to beer can chicken), which cooks the meat more evenly and delivers what Guy called “super money tender” turkey on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. All the fixins are made from scratch daily and served in hearty, holiday-worthy portions for the full Thanksgiving experience, no matter the season.
George's Place — Cape May, N.J.
This 42-year-old Greek spot off the Garden State Parkway presents a Thanksgiving bird with a decadent twist in the form of turkey confit. Turkey breasts are rubbed with an herb-infused salt made with tarragon, rosemary and parsley before being submerged and cooked in duck fat until meltingly tender. Paired with a spicy cornbread and andouille sausage stuffing, this dish is “turkey dinner gone wild,” as Guy said after one bite. In addition to this contemporary take on turkey, George’s also offers a Greek version of Thanksgiving dinner with a roast leg of lamb. Studded with garlic cloves, then roasted and seared, juicy lamb slices are served over roasted red pepper and eggplant orzo for a wholesome helping of Greek holiday tradition.
Landmark Restaurant Diner — Charlotte, N.C.
Started by a couple of ex-New Yorkers, this family-approved spot introduced North Carolinians to Northeast diner classics like the turkey dinner plate. Landmark’s version is called the American Turkey Tom-Tom, otherwise known as “Thanksgiving on a plate every day.” Instead of roasting the turkey, Landmark boils the birds in a giant pot filled with turkey stock. The stuffing takes an unusual turn, too, with apple pie filling and sugar added to a savory mix of homemade challah breadcrumbs, onions, garlic and sage. That sneaky sweetness and hint of cinnamon comes through in the final baked stuffing, which is cut into thick squares, topped with turkey and slathered in turkey stock gravy. On Triple D, Guy praised the “tender turkey and big flavor” on this all-American plate.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q — Decatur, Ala.
This Alabama barbecue pit bears four generations of hickory-smoked know-how, so you might be surprised to hear that smoked turkey is “the best thing on the menu,” according to “Dr. BBQ” Ray Lampe on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The doctor stands by his diagnosis, though, as this turkey’s secret is a special brown sugar brine that yields a supremely juicy and succulent bird. After its briny bath, the turkey breast is smothered in mustard and olive oil, then covered in a secret spice rub before hitting the smoker, where it takes on a sweet, caramelized sheen. The meat emerges so moist and flavorful that Ray insists there’s no need for sauce or gravy on the side. So take the doctor’s advice: Order one smoked turkey, and call us in the morning.
Harriet's Cheesecakes — Inglewood, Calif.
Harriet’s has the Thanksgiving dessert course covered with more than 50 kinds of cheesecake available at this specialty bakery. The flavors range from Key lime to Black Forest, but the famous sweet potato cheesecake is the quintessential choice for your fall feast. The closely guarded family recipe begins with a dark graham cracker crust that’s covered with a vanilla cream cheese filling and a smooth sweet potato layer, then finished with a sour cream topping and candied pecan garnish. It’s surprisingly light and airy, and it's so delicious that Jeff Henderson from The Chef Jeff Project insists “you don’t even need a fork” to eat it, on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. With its sweet and richly flavored layers, this cheesecake makes Jeff’s table at every holiday dinner because “at the end of the day, Harriet’s is best.”
Provisions — Nantucket, Mass.
The Turkey Terrific Sandwich at this New England eatery is so beloved that locals complained when the owners tried to tweak it even slightly. Simply perfect as-is, it’s a classic stack of thick, smoked turkey slices, stovetop stuffing, canned cranberry sauce and a slather of mayo on tender Portuguese bread. Alex Guarnaschelli finds the sandwich so comforting that she claimed on The Best Thing I Ever Ate that she’d take “a subway to a bus to a car to a ferry” to get it. This simple pleasure sandwiches the “whole Thanksgiving table between two slices of bread,” but be sure to get it when the store is in season, as Provisions is closed from mid-October through early May. The upside? You can satisfy your holiday turkey craving even when the weather turns warm in Nantucket.
Hog Heaven — Nashville
At this famous Music City smokehouse, Claire Robinson discovered what she called “the best turkey sandwich" she'd ever had,” on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Centered in the heart of Nashville, Hog Heaven smokes all the usual barbecue standards, but it’s the smoked turkey that takes the starring role around Thanksgiving. They smoke a massive 15-pound turkey breast for hours, then hand-pull the meat into juicy strips to serve on an onion roll or between cornbread slices. Then it’s smothered with their famous “Kickin’ Chicken” white barbecue sauce that’s made with mayonnaise and buttermilk (plus a host of super-secret house ingredients). It’s so tangy, creamy and addictive that you’ll want to ask for extra dipping sauce on the side.
Sammy’s Food Service & Deli — New Orleans
Thanksgiving in the Big Easy means amping up the classics Cajun-style, and Sammy’s Deli does just that with their Southern turkey and oyster dressing. The entire turkey is brushed with a garlic butter rub and dusted with Cajun seasoning while the dressing gains substantial flavor and texture from a creamy béchamel sauce and a “boatload of oysters.” Roasted over a bed of vegetables and chicken stock, the turkey emerges with ready-made pan gravy, perfect for spooning over top to complete what Guy called “Mardi Gras on a plate.” On the sweeter side, Sammy’s serves up thick slabs of pumpkin bread pudding made with roasted pumpkin puree and dotted with candied walnuts for crunch. A thick rum sauce completes the slice and caps off a Bayou-inspired holiday bite.
Gotham Bar and Grill — New York
At this acclaimed New York restaurant, you’ll find an indulgent three-course prix-fixe Thanksgiving meal that’s worthy of giving thanks. Michael Psilakis called this special feast “American food at its best” on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, when he raved about each individual dish. He feasted on a first course of decadent seared foie gras with Concord grape gelee, followed by butternut squash risotto with sage and spiced butter, which leads into the main event of “perfectly cooked organic turkey” over a silky smooth potato puree with cranberry compote. This fall-inspired menu brings traditional Thanksgiving food to new heights and lets you enjoy the holiday outside of the kitchen.
Becky’s Diner — Portland, Maine
At this family-run joint on Hobson’s Wharf, you’ll find delicious diner fare with seafood-inspired flair. Becky started the place 20 years ago and enlisted all of her kids to help out, with her son catching fresh lobsters and her daughter serving them up as a Thanksgiving special every November. Stuffed lobster is their seasonal riff on the main course, which features locally caught lobster filled with a creamy collection of scallops, shrimp, haddock and crab meat that Guy described as “everything you want seafood stuffing to be.” Brimming with tender meat, this stuffed crustacean is a New England-style alternative to traditional turkey, boasting briny ocean flavor and five types of seafood all in one shell.
Grant Grill — San Diego
Described as “Plymouth Rock in a glass,” Grant Grill’s Smashing Pumpkin Martini is the quintessential cocktail to get the Thanksgiving season started. Featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, this seasonal sip is made specifically for the holiday, and the house mixologist is known for his culinary-inspired cocktails and innovative methods. The Smashing Pumpkin begins with rum that’s infused with farmers' market pumpkin for fresh fall flavor. This festive spirit is shaken up with Grand Marnier, ginger, Meyer lemon and homemade saffron syrup for golden color, then served in a goblet with a tiny pumpkin garnish. Perfectly spiced and subtly sweet, this Thanksgiving drink would surely be Pilgrim-approved.
Willie Bird’s Restaurant — Santa Rosa, Calif.
Willie Bird’s is both a restaurant and farm for family-raised, free-range turkeys that’s been around since 1924. This turkey empire raises 100,000 birds every year, which explains why 90 percent of the menu involves turkey in some form. Guy called Willie Bird’s “a world of turkey,” as it features countless international variations like turkey scallopini, turkey stroganoff, teriyaki turkey and turkey-fried steak, which even uses turkey eggs in its breading egg wash. The decadent scallopini swaps slices of turkey for meaty chunks and sautés them with mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce. Willie Bird’s promises “turkey always and turkey all ways!” And with so many options, it’s tempting to take a full tour of the turkey-centric menu and try each variation of the versatile bird.
Alpine Steakhouse — Sarasota, Fla.
To get the most bang for your Thanksgiving buck, head to this Sunshine State steakhouse that serves up a “superbird,” otherwise known as the turducken. This outrageous special begins with a chicken filled with Cajun-spiced cornbread and spinach stuffing, which is then placed inside a whole duck. Next, both of the birds are stuffed inside a giant turkey and roasted for upward of 12 hours. This powerful poultry trio unites to form a moist and complex “flavorfest,” as Guy described during his visit, with each layer providing its own unique textures, from the light and tender chicken to the deeply rich duck. There’s no question that the turducken is the “king of birds” — and a great way to get your ultimate Thanksgiving fix.
Funk 'n Waffles — Syracuse, N.Y.
Two Syracuse grads opened this inspired underground café that was modeled after their college house parties, complete with homemade waffles and a spinning DJ. Their imaginative waffle inventions have since taken a funky turn, with flavors like bacon-stuffed buttermilk, brownie and falafel waffles on the menu. They even serve a Jive Turkey waffle that was featured on Triple D; it “changed Thanksgiving for me forever,” Guy said. This waffle harnesses the holiday with a chunky stuffing batter made from bread cubes, caramelized onion, celery, rosemary and chicken broth. That’s cooked until crispy in a waffle iron and then covered with sliced turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce to turn out “the most funkin’ ridiculous waffle” you’ll ever try.
Whitner’s Barbecue — Virginia Beach, Va.
Beachside barbecue is Whitner’s specialty, where the owners are “crankin’ out the 'cue” in countless forms, from burnt ends to brisket. The most righteous dish of all is Mr. Whitner’s Smoked Turkey Sandwich, which is timely for Thanksgiving, but equally delicious any time of year. This holiday on a bun is heaped with turkey breast that’s smothered in barbecue rub and hickory-smoked for woodsy flavor. That’s topped with sweet and tangy cranberry chutney, a curry-habanero mayo and crunchy cornbread croutons that deliver unexpected texture. Guy called this towering sandwich “top-notch” and asked to take out “3,000 to go, please,” when he tasted it on Triple D. With such hefty praise, you know this turkey must be worth a road trip or two.
For more FN-approved restaurants, check out Food Network On the Road.