Most Americans have been programmed nearly from birth to begin craving traditional Thanksgiving dishes as soon as the days start getting shorter and there’s a chill in the air. Turkey, relegated to brown-bag-sandwich duty the rest of the year, suddenly beckons us with Rubenesque curves of leg and breast provocatively clad in crisp, burnished skin. Our normal aversion to candied yams, overcooked green beans and jiggly cranberry sauce transforms into abiding affection. Stuffing, mashed potatoes and country gravy, those demons of almost every diet fad and exercise regimen, become more essential than our morning CrossFit routine or monthly juice cleanse.
But with just over a week between us and our annual sidle up to the Thanksgiving trough, where are we to turn to satisfy our hankering for the fall flavors of our favorite food memories? A few cooks around town have come up with some creative alternatives to ensure an early Turkey Day fix without stealing your grandmother’s Thanksgiving thunder. Here are a few of them:
The Pilgrim Pie at Denver Deep Dish
1200 West 38th Avenue
Over on the edge of the Highland neighborhood, Denver Deep Dish is coming closest to setting the Thanksgiving table early with a feast in pizza form. Owner Jason McGovern has been making the Pilgrim Pie for several years, even before he opened his shrine to Chicago on West 38th and was just peddling deep-dish pizzas from a window at the back of the Bar Car on the opposite side of town.
The Pilgrim starts with McGovern’s standard Chicago-style dough and a thin layer of mozzarella. The rest of the toppings read like a list of Food Network-inspired ideas for holiday leftovers. The restaurant smokes its own turkeys just for the pizza, studding it with tender, smoky bits of white meat. Following that is a layer of stuffing made with Polidori sausage and marbled rye, then crumbles of corn soufflé and a topping of chunky cranberry relish — also made from scratch (not the gelid glop from a can).
After nearly half an hour in the oven, the Pilgrim comes out golden around the edges and a deep garnet color on top, thanks to the now-caramelized cranberries. A bite is like the sandwich your dad taught you how to make around midnight, after all the relatives have gone: Pull out the leftovers and pile everything you can between two halves of a Parker House roll. The cornmeal crust on Denver Deep Dish’s Chicago-style pies is buttery, flaky and light, and mimics the qualities of that dinner roll almost perfectly — with just a hint of pie-crust crunch to bring dessert to mind, too. The rest of the ingredients meld together in a mélange of savory, sweet, herbal and meaty, with a smoky underpinning and a tangy top note from the cranberries.
McGovern says he’ll be offering the holiday special through November 25; he suggests calling ahead if you want one, since a large pizza — the only size available — takes about thirty minutes. If you can’t rally a crew to help plow through the Pilgrim, individual slices are also available.
Turkey Galantine Sandwich at Il Porcellino Salumi
4334 West 41st Avenue
Bill Miner and Brian Albano just opened Il Porcellino last month in the Berkeley neighborhood, and they’ve been busy ramping up production of Italian cured meats and other porcine delicacies. But with Thanksgiving approaching, they’re also adding a holiday sandwich. Miner says it will be served open-faced on Grateful Bread Company brioche and will start with a nice cross-section of turkey galantine — deboned turkey stuffed with pork-based forcemeat. That will be nestled into potato purée and topped with Il Porcellino’s 24-hour turkey gravy. The sandwich isn’t on the menu yet, but look for it next week or call ahead to find out the exact days it will hit the specials board.
There are plenty of other fall flavors on offer now, though. Miner notes that the country pork pâté, a regular in the deli case, currently sports jewels of dried cranberry embedded in the meat. Il Porcellino’s chef, Bryan Languell, says he soaked the cranberries in Peach Street Distillers pear brandy before adding them to the pâté blend.
Pumpkin soup will be available on the menu for the next couple of weeks, and one of the more intriguing sides is pickled delicata squash, which is sliced thin, blanched, then soaked in a solution of maple syrup and cider vinegar. The result is a unique, sweet-tart salad of just-crunchy squash with a few toasted hazelnuts thrown in for good measure. This alone would be a feature on many of Denver’s top small-plates menus, but at Il Porcellino, it comes free with any sandwich order.
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Miner and Albano have also got your back when it comes to your Thanksgiving cooking needs. They’ll have gravy, stock, lard and other kitchen basics ready for takeout orders. And if you’re more into pork than turkey, they’re also taking orders for housemade Berkeley hams (at $12 a pound).
The Posu Bowl at Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery
3536 West 44th Avenue, 720-524-8282
8181 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village, 720-485-6738
Turkey stuffing isn’t always made from leftover bread; in the north-central part of the country, you might encounter dressing made from wild rice, which grows abundantly in the Great Lakes region. Wild rice is a common ingredient in Native American cooking, and Denver’s two Tocabe locations now feature it on the menu. Tocabe, founded by Matt Chandra and Ben Jacobs, is the only Native American eatery in town. Wild rice is the key ingredient in the new Posu Bowl that was recently added. “Wild rice is also known as ‘manoomin,’” Jacobs explains, “but we chose the name ‘posu’ because in the Osage language, which is my heritage, ‘posu’ means rice.”
Tocabe captures the spirit of Thanksgiving by offering Denver Red Lake Nations Wild Rice, which is grown, harvested and sold by Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota. The dish isn’t intended as a Thanksgiving-themed dish (in fact, it will be available year-round), but for those of us for whom wild rice and duck were as much a part of the holiday table as turkey, the nutty flavor conjures the same childhood memories. Jacobs adds that the Posu Bowl is built with a vegan diet in mind. “We thought it was important to add some additional diverse options that appeal to all tastes and dietary needs,” he says.
The bowl includes wild rice and a choice of several different styles of beans, plus a choice of vegetable toppings and housemade salsas. Cheese, sour cream and meat can also be added for those who aren’t following a plant-based diet.