By Joanna O’Leary
If the idea of cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner makes you break out in a cold sweat, hives, or both, you can rest easy this month. Many Houston restaurants and food purveyors understand that not everyone is eager to channel their inner Martha Stewart on Turkey Day and, to that end, are eager to help you create (or rather, curate) a customized feast. The following are our picks for the best appetizers, mains, sides, desserts, and drinks available for large-scale takeout. Yes, you’ll probably spend an hour or two driving around to assemble your meal, but look at the bright side: that’s two fewer hours you’ll be with the in-laws.
For a cheese plate to end all cheese plates, go to Houston Dairy Maids. With over 150 cheeses, including many varieties made in Texas, this premier cheese shop can help you put together a spread of soft, hard, smelly, and/or tangy fromages to suit all tastes. We’re especially partial to the “June’s Joy” (goat cheese infused with honey, pepper, and thyme) and the “Baby Caprino” (a bloomy blue cheese with a brie-like consistency). All platters also include complementary accoutrements like fresh fruit and dry-roasted hazelnuts. And for a sweet contrast, don’t forget to add some black Mission fig and balsamic confit, made in-house at Urban Eats. It’s available by the jar ($8), so it can also be a great send-off gift for your out-of-town guests.
Everyone knows that the so-called “sides” are actually front and center on the Thanksgiving table, often overshadowing the meleagrine masterpiece. Eschew boring old dinner rolls for Hugo’s slightly spicy, moist mole cornbread, which is just about perfect for sopping up all that excess gravy. Houstonians of Mediterranean lineage should consider adding an Italian inflection to their holiday repast with a pan of umami meat lasagna and parmesan mashed potatoes from Tony Mandola’s, or a family-size order of earthy fettuccine with black truffles from Amalfi. And because it’s Thanksgiving, you could further expand your collection of carbohydrates with some stuffing (or dressing?) from Mockingbird Bistro, whose novel version includes andouille sausage and molasses sweet potatoes. If you must add a little greenery to the table, rest assured that eating your vegetables is deliciously easy when they come in the form of Kenny & Ziggy’s spinach kugel and creamy carrot soufflées. Swapping out traditional Southern macaroni and cheese for Backstreet Cafe’s cauliflower au gratin (made with real cream, buttery bread crumbs, and gobs of cheese) is another terrific way of adding some botanical balance. We promise it’s just as decadent.
Your protein pièce-de-résistance can be procured at The Rainbow Lodge, which, in addition to selling fully cooked turkeys, also offers tender whole-roasted ducks, pheasants, gooses, and game hens. If fowl is not your fancy, a juicy giant roasted suckling pig or pork tenderloin adorned with apple spätzle and radicchio will also be a crowd-pleaser.
Isn’t the human stomach amazing? After a rousing walk (or, more likely, a lengthy nap), you’ll be ready to eat again. Halloween may be all about candy, and Christmas means cookies, but Thanksgiving is pie time. With a hearty dulce de leche pumpkin pie from The Dessert Gallery, a rich chocolate fudge pecan pie from 3 Brothers Bakery, and a Dutch apple pie crowned with cinnamon and sugar crumble from Flying Saucer Pie Company, you can assemble a buffet of traditional flavors with a local twist.
And for all the liquid lubrication you’ll need to make it through a dinner with Uncle George recounting the glories of his high-school football career for the zillionth time, go to The Nice Winery. Cordon Bleu-trained chefs and certified sommeliers (not to mention partners in life as well as business) Ryan Levy and Ian Eastveld can advise you on the best cabernets, pinots, chardonnays, and bubblies to pair with each course. And should you run out of fermented beverages at any point, who you gonna call? Top Shelf Delivery is an app-based service that will bring your favorite beer, vino, and spirits to your door.
Tip: Inquire early with all of these vendors for their Thanksgiving ordering deadlines and pick-up hours. Some restaurants are only open for a few hours on Thanksgiving morning.
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.