Chef Philippe Massoud has spent years developing and honing the Thanksgiving feast at Ilili, his Lebanese restaurant with locations in Washington D.C. and New York. He serves an acorn squash salad with fresh figs and chankleesh balls (a farmer’s cheese made from strained yogurt and spices), slow-roasted heritage turkey, and a lamb sausage “cappuccino” gravy, named for its dark, rich color.
Massoud, like a number of chefs across the country, takes Thanksgiving as an opportunity to reinterpret the traditional feast through his own lens. “Being able to give a different twist on a traditional American holiday is an homage to my adopted home,” says Massoud. “So we take it very, very seriously and also have a lot of fun with it.” His New York location has been open for 16 years and has served Thanksgiving every year.
Thanksgiving isn’t a meal most of us associate with going out to eat. These days, though, the high cost of groceries is making diners across the country rethink their plans for the holiday. Chefs and restaurant workers are taking notice and electing to work, turning out menus that make the prospect of putting down the baking mitts and making a reservation even more appealing. For these chefs, Thanksgiving has become an annual opportunity to bring some warmth to their dining rooms.
For Eric Huang, the chef and owner of Pecking House in Brooklyn, this marks the first year his restaurant will be open on the holiday. “I figured we’d give it a shot,” he says. “I don’t really know what to expect.” When asked why he decided to give it a try in the first place, he explains that many of his staff don’t celebrate: “The work is important to them; keeping their hours, saving their PTO for when they need it is important. So we figured we’d keep the restaurant running,” he says. “Let’s see what happens. I’m not doing anything either, so why not?”
With the holiday fast approaching, Huang is still figuring out what makes sense for his restaurant in terms of menu offerings. “I’m probably going to try to run some sort of special to entice people to spend their Thanksgiving with us,” he says. Otherwise, Huang is planning to appeal to folks with the same catering menu available throughout the year. You won’t miss the big bird when you can take home Huang’s specialty: Sichuan-seasoned fried chicken.
Though many would-be diners are hunkering down at home right now, planning out their menus with requisite dishes like green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, the restaurant industry is buzzing as the big day approaches. From a diner’s perspective, there are many things to love about going out to eat on Thanksgiving, but as far as I’m concerned, the best of all is seeing how chefs interpret the holiday. At the Southern restaurant Big Jones in Chicago, Cajun-style deep-fried turkey and wild mushroom etouffee are on the menu, and at the Malaysian restaurant Phat Eatery in Katy, TX, the Thanksgiving spread includes a golden-brown beef rendang wellington. Chef Tom Aviv is serving a roast turkey with tamarind glaze at Branja in Miami. Mister Mao, the self-described “spunky, tropical roadhouse” in New Orleans, is gearing up for a feast complete with chicken and rice dumplings and turkey tikka masala.
The vibe in the dining rooms of these restaurants is unsurprisingly joyous on a holiday that celebrates eating: “It’s definitely very convivial” says Steve Simon, co-founder and partner of Fifth Group Restaurants in Atlanta, which includes four locations of South City Kitchen. “We’re busy from when we open at 11 a.m. until we take the last seating at 7 p.m.”