Inadequate cooks and/or Type B personalities have long known the secret to hosting a stellar Thanksgiving: Order the food ahead from a really, really good restaurant.
In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, some 14 million Americans will take away at least part of the Big Meal from a restaurant this year, and 4 million of us will have a professional cook the whole thing.
With the holiday’s traditional 8 million side dishes, plus one particular protein that is notoriously difficult to pull off (do visions of the turkey from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation come to mind?), it’s no surprise that many of the area’s finest restaurants, as well as upscale grocers, gladly offer their own riffs on the classics.
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Chef Jon Bonnell, who will serve up plenty of birds and sides this year at Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth, is happy to take away the pressures of producing the meal.
His smoker will “be full of birds most of the week,” leading up to the holiday, and he even sets up additional fryers just to handle all of the fried-bird orders.
“My goal for our customers is to take the stress out of the day so that people can just enjoy great food and being with their families,” Bonnell says.
He might have a horse in the proverbial race, but Bonnell endorses such outsourcing, which is all I needed to start thinking outside my box of a kitchen.
For those who are feeling this less-stress-is-more tactic, we’ve compiled the following list of a handful of stellar options (Note: Many items require thawing and/or re-heating, so you’ll have to do some work). Along the way, we tried to taste-test any vittles we could get our hands on.
So, choose any of these places and 1) you might fool your guests into thinking you actually made these dishes, and/or 2) you might save your sanity.
Because Thanksgiving is really just the dry-run for the rest of the holiday hosting season.
Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine
What it offers: Chef Jon Bonnell’s Thanksgiving menu thankfully does not waver from his eclectic take on Southern cowboy fare.
Expect appetizers like grilled and chilled quail legs with spicy buttermilk dip ($24 per dozen) and lamb-chop lollipops with rosemary Dijon ($60 per dozen). Sides like Creole gumbo ($32 per quart) and jalapeño creamed spinach ($12 for two people) will surely entertain. And the main event should not disappoint: A 10-pound Creole or deep-fried turkey is $55.
What we tried: We wanted to taste a full meal from an area restaurant, but chefs told us it was “too early!” — most of their food had yet to come in. But Bonnell was kind enough to make us his roasted green chile cheese grits ($12, enough for 2-3 people) and a pumpkin spice cheesecake ($38, serves 12-14).
Both were stellar, with the grits yielding subtle green chile, garlic and rosemary flavors. The cheesecake, with its sweet, cinnamon-y icing, was a thing of beauty — perfect for a centerpiece on any dessert buffet.
Most expensive item: Whole buffalo tenderloin, which serves 8-10, and the whole prime rib, which serves 15-20, are each $300.
Most nontraditional item: Grilled cactus ($12, serves 2)
Best for: Your weird uncle with the hunter/foodie tendencies
Deadline: Noon Friday, Nov. 20
What it offers: Everything from smoked salmon platter appetizers to traditional turkey-dinner meals. There are classic sides too, such as cornbread dressing and whipped russet potatoes, and more “modern” offerings — butternut squash-apple dressing and green beans with carrots and hazelnuts. Special props for the vegetarian and gluten-light menus.
Most expensive item: Beef tenderloin dinner (beef tenderloin with horseradish cream, roasted mushrooms with zucchini and leeks, cauliflower gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts and brioche rolls, $209.99 for 6-8 people)
Most nontraditional item: A Mediterranean appetizer platter with grape leaves, tabbouleh, feta, hummus and tzatziki.
Best for: Your friend’s 5-year-old who has a curiously insatiable appetite for lox and/or your aunt who “tries” to go gluten-free.
Deadline: Tuesday, Nov. 24
To order: www.centralmarket.com
Chef Point Cafe
What it offers: From a whole 18- to 20-pound turkey ($78.99) to rack of lamb ($95.99 for 2-4 people), your holiday standards are covered. There’s also mashed potatoes (with either brown or white gravy, $34.99 for 10-12 people) and cornbread sage stuffing ($32.99 for 10-12). And don’t forget chef Franson Nwaeze’s famous bread pudding — a whole or half pan ($168.99 for 25 people, $89.99 for 14).
Most expensive item: Whole prime rib ($299.99 for 14-16)
Most nontraditional item: Lobster macaroni and cheese ($96.99 for 5-8)
Best for: Your sister, the secret carbohydrates fiend
Deadline: Nov. 22
What it offers: A “chef-crafted” take on Thanksgiving, with lots of well-sourced dishes at surprisingly reasonable prices. Interestingly, there are no appetizers on the menu — so hit up the cheese department when you pick up the rest of the food — but the other offerings are classic and enjoyable.
There’s oven-roasted turkey breast ($25.99 for 3-4 people); jalapeño pecan stuffing ($18.99 for 4-6); sweet potatoes, drizzled with brown-butter caramel and topped with mini-marshmallows ($18.99 for 4-6); and broccoli rice casserole ($15.99 for 4-6).
What we tried: We stopped by the Grapevine location last weekend to try a sample of the Thanksgiving menu. On the tiny dish (with portions so small I threatened to eat the Styrofoam plate, too): oven-roasted turkey breast, cornbread stuffing ($16.99 for 4-6 people), gruyere and spinach gratin ($18.99 for 4-6), green chile grits ($12.99 for 4-6), jalapeño cornbread ($6.49 for 4-6) and pumpkin pie ($14.99 for 6-8). We liked everything: The gratin was excellent; the grits were more like a cheesy soufflé (but who’s complaining?); and the turkey, a boneless breast, sliced, was moist and a no-brainer of a preparation.
Most expensive item: Pumpkin cheesecake ($31.99, serves 8)
Most nontraditional item: Fruited brioche ($9.99 for 4-6), a soft bread with mixed fruit and infused with orange water and rosewater.
Best for: Your mother-in-law, who says she just wants to try a smidgen of everything — but then after the meal, scarfs Parkerhouse rolls in the laundry room.
Deadline: Tuesday, Nov. 24
What it offers: A decadently unique take on the classic meal, from house-made yeast rolls ($10 a dozen) to pimento-cheese grits with chives ($12 for 3-4 people) to a 12- to 15-pound herb-roasted turkey with giblet gravy and cornbread stuffing ($60). The hot, creamy collard-green dip appetizer with tortilla chips, smoky onions and Gruyere sounds amazing ($18 for 4-6 people).
Most expensive item: The turkey, the 44 Farms rib steak ($60 for 3-4 people) and …
Most nontraditional item: Pig-head carnitas ($60 for 3-4 people): corn tortillas topped with the rich pork, salsa roja, salsa verde and a radish salad.
Best for: Your snobby cousin, in town from New York, who is determined that your ordered-in Thanksgiving will never trump that time he celebrated the holiday at upscale Eleven Madison Park.
Deadline: Saturday, Nov. 21
What it offers: Not everyone eats meat, or for that matter anything that comes from animals. Spiral Diner, being the vegan haven that it is, offers “holiday fixin’s” for the noncarnivores among us who also skip dairy. That includes a 1-pound Tofurky stuffed breast (it comes frozen — you thaw it and bake it). Sides, such as whipped coconut sweet potatoes with pecans and the cranberry pecan dressing, will slide right into any Thanksgiving meal.
Most expensive item: Hazelnut cranberry field roast en croute, a 2-pound thaw-and-bake item ($21.25)
Most nontraditional item: Everything’s pretty nontraditional, considering the lack of meat.
Best for: Your niece who realizes just where that turkey comes from.
Deadline: Nov. 24 for the Fort Worth location; Nov. 25 in Dallas
To order: Download an order form at www.spiraldiner.com/menu, and bring it to one of the restaurants or call in the order. 1314 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-332-8834; 1101 N. Beckley Ave., Dallas, 214-948-4747. www.spiraldiner.com
What it offers: Meat and more meat. (No sides for you!) From a rack of ribs ($48) to whole brisket ($135), the cultish Deep Ellum barbecue joint brings the protein. There’s also smoked ham with apricot-molasses glaze ($89), and of course, a smoked turkey ($109).
Most expensive item: Spice-crusted beef tenderloin ($179)
Most nontraditional item: Handmade smoked sausage links ($27 for six)
Best for: Your other uncle, the one who only eats meat. Even for dessert.
Deadline: Noon Friday, Nov. 20
To order: Visit www.shop.pecanlodge.com
Billy’s Oak Acres BBQ is offering fresh ham ($50), whole prime ribs ($225) and half prime ribs ($125). Deadline is Nov. 23; food can be picked up till noon Thanksgiving Day. 1700 N. Las Vegas Trail, Fort Worth, 817-367-2200, www.billysoakacresbbq.com.
Chef Blythe’s Southern Bistro, new in North Richland Hills, has ham as well as fried and smoked turkey available for order ($50 each), plus sides and desserts. 9160 N. Tarrant Parkway, No. 180, North Richland Hills, 817-770-4905, www.chefblythessouthernbistro.com.
Copeland’s of New Orleans in Southlake has Cajun fried turkeys ($49.99), as well as such Louisiana-style sides as oyster dressing ($9.99) and corn maque choux ($6.99). 1400 Plaza Place, inside the Hilton Southlake Town Square, 817-305-2199, copelandssouthlake.com.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit offers smoked turkey and Cajun-fried turkey meals (both $89.95), as well as larger turkey and ham “feasts” ($109.95) and other holiday meals. Multiple locations; www.dickeys.com.
Kirby’s Prime Steaks and Seafood skips the turkey and offers prime-rib dinners: mesquite-smoked or slow-roasted 10-pound prime rib ($250 for up to 12) or a full dinner ($300). 3305 E. Texas 114, Southlake; 817-410-2221, kirbyssteakhouse.com.
Meat U Anywhere BBQ has smoked turkeys and ham ($70 each); smoked peppered tenderloin, prime rib and whole brisket ($150 each); and several sides. Deadline is noon Nov. 22. 919 W. Northwest Highway, Grapevine, 817-251-1227, meatuanywhere.com.
Michaels Cuisine, the granddaddy of Fort Worth’s Southwestern-cuisine scene, has oven-roasted, deep-fried or pecan-smoked turkeys ($85) and “ranch holiday classics” like breakfast casserole ($75 for a half-pan) or the “Ancho Chicken Mixteco” casserole (also $75). Also, appetizers, sides and desserts. Deadline 6 p.m. Nov. 23. 3413 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-877-3413, michaelscuisine.com.
Whole Foods Market offers turkey dinners, $79.99 to $119.99, depending on size and how organic you want to get. Other holiday options include a vegan holiday dinner ($14.99-$49.99). Two Tarrant locations: 801 E. Lamar Blvd., Arlington, 817-461-9362, and 4801 Colleyville Blvd., Colleyville, 817-918-3821. wholefoodsmarket.com.