At his pizzerias in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, proprietor Nick Argy likes to get creative with his toppings by offering pies with options from fig jam to chicken fingers. But come November, he takes things to the next level in recognition of the Thanksgiving holiday.
That is, he puts the entire traditional Thanksgiving spread — turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce — on a pizza.
“It’s just something about the holiday,” says Mr. Argy, owner and chef behind Macy’s Place Pizzeria, of his inspiration. “Or maybe I’m a weird guy.”
Actually, Mr. Argy might be more in the mainstream these days. Increasingly, restaurants of all kinds are getting in on the Thanksgiving act, creating mashup items that combine various elements of the holiday meal.
At Socarrat, a Spanish restaurant with locations in New York City, a Thanksgiving paella is on the menu, featuring turkey, butternut squash and green beans, among other items. At Burrito Union, a Mexican restaurant in Duluth, Minn., November is all about — what else? — the Thanksgiving burrito, filled with turkey and the traditional sides.
And at King David Tacos, another New York City establishment, the current favorite is the Cranbirdy Taco, a breakfast offering with turkey sausage, sweet potatoes, eggs and cheese, accompanied by a cranberry salsa. The taco has been featured during November for the past four years, says King David founder Liz Solomon Dwyer.
“People know the Cranbirdy is back and they get it every time,” she says.
Your turkey and gravy now comes in the form of a soda
Jones Soda Co.
The trend doesn’t necessarily stop with restaurants. Consider Jones Soda Co., a craft beverage brand known for its oddball flavors. This year, it’s bringing back its Turkey & Gravy soda, a flavor it has featured occasionally in the past. Marketing director Curt Thompson explains that the brand relies on natural flavorings to create the soda, which is vegan-friendly.
“No turkey was harmed,” Mr. Thompson says.
Salt & Straw, an ice-cream company with locations throughout the country, has also claimed a piece of the Thanksgiving pie—and not just with its holiday-themed Pumpkin & Gingersnap Pie flavor. Each year, the company creates an entire Thanksgiving menu of flavors, both sweet and savory. The 2022 edition includes Roasted Peach & Sage Cornbread Stuffing, Parker House Rolls with Salted Buttercream and even a turkey flavor — namely, Caramelized Turkey & Cranberry Sauce.
Salt & Straw co-founder Tyler Malek says the Thanksgiving offerings can create their share of controversy, noting that a mashed potatoes-and-gravy flavor served in the past was especially divisive. But this year’s turkey ice cream has gone over well. “It’s surprisingly delicious,” he says.
Nasser Al-Rayess, a 26-year-old San Francisco resident, counts himself as a fan of all the Salt & Straw Thanksgiving flavors, including the turkey one.
“It is wrong to put turkey in ice cream, but they somehow make it work,” he says. He adds that he’s contemplating substituting the holiday meal with the assortment of Salt & Straw Thanksgiving flavors, though he’s not sure his mother will buy into the idea.
Nick Argy with his Thanksgiving-themed pizza, replete with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and cranberry sauce
Courtesy Nick Argy
Not that putting together a Thanksgiving mashup is so easy these days for restaurateurs. One problem some are facing: a turkey shortage.
Rod Raymond, owner of Burrito Union in Minnesota, says he purchased 87 cases of frozen turkeys to meet expected demand for the Thanksgiving burrito he offers throughout November. But sales this year are so strong that he looked to buy more birds, only to find that his supplier was out of stock. Mr. Raymond fears he may end up disappointing customers by month’s end.
“We’re already two-thirds of the way through our turkey,” he says.
What’s behind the Thanksgiving mashup boom? Culinary experts say the food-gone-viral trend plays a role: Restaurants and brands often create items with an eye on how they will grab attention on social media. And indeed, many of those offering Thanksgiving mashups do promote the items: Jones Soda offers a free T-shirt to those who post a video of themselves chugging its turkey-and-gravy soda.
There’s also the fact the food world has embraced cutting-edge approaches in general and mashups in particular in recent years. Think such fusion innovations as Korean tacos or Philly cheesesteak egg rolls.
“The bar for creativity has moved,” says Andy D’Amico, the chef behind 5 Napkin Burger in New York City. He offers a Thanksgiving-themed burger with ground turkey mixed with a cornbread-sausage stuffing, complemented with gravy and cranberry mayo.
Others warn that some Thanksgiving offerings may be testing the limits of good taste, literally.
“There’s good fusion and confusion,” says Stephen Zagor, a hospitality consultant who also teaches a course on the food business at Columbia Business School.
Michael Lomonaco, chef and partner at New York’s meat-centric Porter House Bar & Grill, serves a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and side dishes at his establishment. He sees no place for mashup items.
“Putting an infinite number of things into a dish doesn’t make me more creative as a chef,” he says. “Self-editing is very important.”
To that end, some chefs say they are careful not to go overboard with their Thanksgiving mashups. Will Gilson, chef and owner at Puritan & Company, a Boston-area restaurant, has a Thanksgiving-inspired Swedish-meatball on his menu that features ground turkey meat and a cranberry-soy glaze. But he resisted the temptation of adding more Thanksgiving flavors to the mix.
“You’re focusing on the balance of flavors rather than jamming everything down the throat,” he says.
Even Mr. Argy says he showed some restraint with his Thanksgiving pizza. When he originally came up with the recipe, he included mac ‘n’ cheese as one of the toppings, since the pasta dish has been a staple at his family Thanksgiving dinners. “It was a little too much,” he says of the decision not to include it.
And while Mr. Argy does smother his Thanksgiving pizza with a mix of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, he stops short of adding tomato sauce to his already overloaded pie. “That would be disgusting,” he says.