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Restaurants have a large and growing role in Thanksgiving

By Jeff Houck
Published: November 28, 2013 Updated: November 28, 2013 at 08:24 AM
Chef Ricardo Castro wields a blowtorch in a demonstration of how he’ll make Pumpkin Pie Croissants for Thanksgiving at Piquant Epicure & Cuisine in Tampa.

TAMPA — Thanksgiving is an American food holiday, but that hasn’t stopped the owners of Piquant Epicure & Cuisine from throwing a little French flavor onto their holiday takeout menu.

In addition to the traditional turkey, Rosana Rivera and Ricardo Castro are offering customers a silky Chardonnay sauce with cream instead of lumpy gravy and a fresh cranberry gastrique in place of the stuff that comes out of a can. A decadent side of potatoes gratin will substitute for boring mashed spuds, and a classic French green bean almondine will replace the traditional goopy holiday casserole.

Piquant is among a growing number of restaurants tapping into a lucrative Thanksgiving audience that is choosing convenience over days spent shopping, cleaning and cooking at home.

Research released last week by the National Restaurant Association found that 33 million Americans will rely on restaurants for all or parts of their Thanksgiving meals this year. In addition, 46 million Americans are expected to dine out while shopping on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday.

“Many of today’s consumers will leverage the convenience of restaurant meals for the Thanksgiving holiday, allowing them more time to spend with friends and family rather than cooking and cleaning up,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group, which conducted the survey.

As with Piquant, some restaurants are providing meals you can take home. Boca Kitchen Bar & Market in Tampa is packaging smoked turkey, maple and brown sugar glazed ham, sausage stuffing, sweet potato mash, cream corn casserole, and pumpkin and pecan pies. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, known more for its premium beef than its poultry, is selling its sweet potato casserole and creamed spinach sides as Thanksgiving takeout convenience food. The goal: to be part of customers’ holiday experience, whether at the restaurant or at home.

“We are experts in cooking up food memories for our guests — the most delicious kind,” Executive Chef Rick Crossland said.

Other restaurants are providing full sit-down service. Timpano Italian Chophouse will put its spin on the meal with oregano-roasted turkey, warm roasted duck salad, butternut squash soup and roasted duck broth. Mitchell’s Fish Market, known more for its high-end seafood menu, will offer a traditional holiday meal in addition to its usual items at its WestShore Plaza location.

Taking the opposite tack, Brick House Tavern & Tap on Dale Mabry Highway proudly announced last week that it “will cater to those not wanting turkey for Thanksgiving but football” by offering its full seasonal menu, 80 craft beers and “prime seats for game watching.”

For Piquant, which opened in January in Hyde Park Village, the holiday will help establish an emotional connection with customers, Rivera said. The restaurant isn’t open for table service on Thanksgiving.

“We wanted to offer a healthy option that is more discerning than what customers could get at a grocery store,” she said.

For Rowena Mateo-Sjovall, a Lithia-based photographer who writes the Saraplicious! Kitchen food blog, the decision to eat away from home this year has more to do with running out of time during a hectic season. This will be the first time she, husband Jim and their children, Evan, 18, and Erin, 17, will celebrate Thanksgiving at a restaurant.

Mateo-Sjovall found the table at Pelagia Trattoria at International Plaza using the Open Table phone app, which allows searches for restaurants serving Thanksgiving items. Pelagia, a modern Italian restaurant, is hosting a buffet similar to its weekend brunch, featuring seafood and a carving station.

“The only thing I’m making this year is reservations,” Mateo-Sjovall said.

Actually, that’s a bit of a fib. She still plans on making traditional side dishes, including pancit, a recipe from her native Philippines made with stir-fry rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, cabbage, carrots and snow peas.

“You know how you like to eat leftovers on the weekend?” she says. “This way, we still can. We just won’t have turkey.”


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