Port City Flavor: Festive feasts

Port City Flavor: Festive feasts

By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

The spooky sights and after dark delights of Halloween are firmly in the rear view, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. While the holiday is an opportunity to reflect on life and celebrate the people and connections that fill our lives with joy, it also comes with added stress for the person cooking up all that delicious food.

For some, Thanksgiving is not just one day: The days leading up to it are just as eventful, with meal prep, cooking and the stress that ensues from trying to make the day so special. Fortunately, Alexandria’s cornucopia of local restaurants are on hand to assist.

Last year, due to the pandemic, Thanksgiving was different for a lot of people. At a time when being indoors with a crowd of people posed a serious health threat, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner was not a possibility for many. In lieu of a homecooked festive feast, many families turned to their local eateries for alternatives.

This year, with effective vaccines widely available, things are a little different and family gatherings are possible once again, but Alexandria restaurants still have a range of Thanksgiving options for families that want to celebrate the holiday out of the house – or out of the kitchen. From traditional Thanksgiving dinner served in a 19th century dining room to modern twists on holiday classics, here are just a few of the Port City’s festive offerings.

Historic hosts

For those intent on having a truly traditional Thanksgiving meal, look no further than Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant.

Alexandria’s streets are drenched in history, and Gadsby’s Tavern, first constructed in the late 18th century and located at 138 N. Royal St., is a cornerstone of the city’s story. The tavern was more than just a place for people to share food and drink – it was where burgeoning political minds first had conversations about the future of a new nation.

Today, that history lives on in tours of the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and the food and drink served in the restaurant that was built in a 19th century colonial dining room.

Photo/Visit Alexandria
The historic Gadsby’s Taver Restaurant provides a more traditional Thanksgiving experience in a historic 19th century dining room.

For Thanksgiving, Gadsby’s offers a traditional set of options for its three courses. This year, guests can start with either the tavern salad, consisting of mixed field greens, red grapes and roasted peanuts with a white balsamic and honey dressing, or the Surrey Co. peanut soup, which features roasted peanuts simmered in chicken stock with garlic and ginger for a hint of spice.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without turkey, and this year, Gadsby’s is serving its bird with a savory giblet gravy and glazed Virginia ham. Gadsby’s turkey dinner also comes with an impressive array of fixings: sage cornbread stuffing, cranberry chutney, smashed red potatoes, candied yams and a vegetable medley. Those who want something a little different can also choose Gadsby’s herb-crusted rockfish covered in a lemon butter sauce and served with smashed red potatoes and a vegetable medley for their main dish.

For dessert, Gadsby’s also sticks with the Thanksgiving classics. Diners can choose either pecan or pumpkin pie topped with vanilla-laced whipped cream. All meals come with Gadsby’s famous Sally Lunn bread, cornbread and whipped lemon butter for some zest.

Thanksgiving meals are $58 per person – half-priced for children under age 12 – and seating times are scheduled at noon, 2:30, 5 and 7:30 p.m.

Eating Thanksgiving dinner in the Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant is an opportunity to reconnect with family – and maybe even the famous figures of the Washingtonian era.

Caribbean carousing

If you’re tired of the awkward silences that accompany most Thanksgiving dinners, Trademark Drink and Eat in the Carlyle neighborhood has a solution: rum.

Trademark, located at 2080 Jamieson Ave., is offering its “Rums of the Caribbean” Thanksgiving turkey dinners for pick up or dine in. The turkey is brined and roasted using Trademark’s custom Bright and Stormy Grog cocktail, which is full of lively hints of ginger, lime, basil and citra hops as well as darker, deeper flavors from brown sugar, cinnamon and allspice.

The Carlyle-based neighborhood bar’s rummed-up bird is available for pickup as a full turkey, which serves four to six people and comes with three sides and a dessert, or as a half turkey with two sides and one dessert for a smaller party of two to three people. Sides include everything from festive green beans served with cranberries and almonds to roasted sweet potatoes covered in old fashioned rum cocktail butter. The full turkey option runs $149, while the half turkey option is $99.

The rum-soaked ride continues in Trademark’s selection of four desserts: rum pecan pie, cranberry and apple tart, winter spiced dark chocolate torte and classic carrot cake.

The three-course dine-in option is $40 per person and includes one starter, a choice of two main courses, including the turkey and wild mushroom-filled, apple thyme cream-covered pumpkin ravioli and one of the four desserts.

Waterfront festivities

Ada’s on the River’s seafood-filled Thanksgiving menu proves that sometimes it’s alright to eschew tradition. For $59 per person – and $19 per person 12 and younger – diners at Ada’s, located at 3 Pioneer Mill Way, get a three-course Thanksgiving meal that evokes more surf and less turf.

It starts with the three options for appetizers, including a playful twist on the standard potato side dish. The preserved root vegetable tartare includes a tangy horseradish cream, crispy capers, shallots and herbs. Diners can also choose to order seared scallops served with corn fumet, pickled corn and a brown butter crumble or the oxtail ragu, which is served with Parisienne gnocchi, garlic bread crumbs and pickled chiles for a little kick.

The dining area of Ada’s on the River (Courtesy photo)

Ada’s three entrée options include a turkey dinner, but this Thanksgiving staple has been reinvented as well. “Instead of a whole carved turkey, we’re going to do a turkey roulade,” Brandon Whitestone, corporate chef for Ada’s parent company, Alexandria Restaurant Partners, said.

“[We’ve] boned out the turkey, make a rillette out of a leg so the meat is basically slow cooked in butter and aromatics and stuffed into the breast and then rolled and tied and cooked in our coal burning oven.”

Alongside the roulade comes rye bread stuffing, hashbrown pave, smoked shallot and thyme gravy and cranberry-charred orange preserves for a citrusy, acidic twist. Diners who want to leave tradition entirely can opt for a seared halibut or prime filet mignon instead.

Ada’s three dessert options include a pumpkin tart, a play on classic pumpkin pie; maple pecan cheesecake served with a whipped, Mediterranean-style yogurt called labneh, candied pecans and decadently sweet maple caramel; and a ginger-blood orange parfait that mixes ginger panna cotta, blood orange gelatin and white chocolate mousse.

Ada’s Thanksgiving menu will be served from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Whitestone said that even though several of ARP’s restaurants took more than 300 Thanksgiving orders last year during the pandemic, this year is a welcome return to at least some sense of normalcy at a time when families need it most.

“This year, a couple of our locations are approaching being sold out already. People are excited to get back out and return to a normal holiday, more or less,” Whitestone said.