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Eating Out: Thanksgiving at a restaurant? More people are doing it

People are increasingly dining out for their Thanksgiving meals. Restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House offer this traditional Thanksgiving meal with oven-roasted turkey with gravy, sausage and herb stuffing and cranberry relish.
People are increasingly dining out for their Thanksgiving meals. Restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House offer this traditional Thanksgiving meal with oven-roasted turkey with gravy, sausage and herb stuffing and cranberry relish. Special to The Bee

Thanksgiving is changing.

Where it once meant a cozy kitchen alive with the smells of a roasting turkey that a family matriarch got up early to start, along with hours of prep work for the giant meal, many are opting for a something simpler: dining out at a restaurant.

Restaurant owners say they’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people having their Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant in last few years.

About five years ago The Manhattan Steakhouse & Bar would serve about 175 diners on the day. Now, it’s more than double that, says restaurant owner David Milutinovich.

“A lot of people don’t want to spend the time our grandparents and parents spent,” he says. “Now everybody’s real busy.”

The restaurant gets whole extended families, with one party of 35 reserving its own room. Then there’s the groups of two or four and pretty much everything in between, he says.

The Elbow Room had taken reservations for more than 700 people last week. Owner Mike Shirinian expects they’ll serve between 800 and 850 people that day.

He says he’s seeing more two-income families (or families with even more jobs) with limited time who don’t mind spending the money.

This Thanksgiving, it will just be Cherish Cazares of Fresno and her mom at a restaurant. They’ve got plenty of family, but a daughter lives on the East Coast, a brother is spending it with his girlfriend’s family and so on.

Cooking a turkey and all the sides for two people “makes no sense at all,” she says.

So they’re leaning toward going to Elephant Lounge on Shaw Avenue in Clovis. The restaurant is hosting a buffet with Thanksgiving food and Indian food.

“I personally won’t miss all of the work and the prep,” says Cazares, who has hosted for years. “You get up at 5 in the morning to put the turkey in.”

If you dine out, reservations are a must. Although high-end steakhouses tend to get the bulk of Thanksgiving Day business, there’s different kinds of experiences available.

Here’s a sampling of what’s happening. This is not a comprehensive list. If you don’t see your favorite restaurant here, give it a call to see if it’s open.

Classy restaurants: Steakhouses and similar nice restaurants offer the traditional Thanksgiving meal along with options for people who aren’t interested in turkey. You can find this sort of food at Elbow Room, The Manhattan Steakhouse and Bar, Ruth’s Chris, and The Vintage Press and The Southern Pacific Depot Restaurant in Visalia.

Many post their menus online, so check that out for specifics. But to give you a sampling, the Manhattan’s four-course meal offers herb-roasted turkey, filet mignon, lamb chops, and an Asian-style glazed Pacific salmon among its entrees. Prices vary.

The Elbow Room offers a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing and pie for $24.99, $14.99 for kids. But about 25% of people order off the regular menu, whether seafood or the restaurant’s signature steak sandwich.

Other places will have a traditional Thanksgiving plate and a limited menu available beyond that, including The Vintage Press and the Southern Pacific Depot. Other options there include prime rib, salmon and a vegetarian dish.

Chinese restaurants: Many like Imperial Garden are open on Thanksgiving, though they tend to have special hours, so call and check first.

Imperial Garden, at 6640 N. Blackstone Ave. is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will have its regular Chinese food menu available, but also dim sum. This is where the wait staff wheels a cart around with numerous small options to choose from, including pot stickers, dumplings and deep-fried crab claws.

The casual experience: No need to dress up for places like Marie Callender’s or Mimi’s Cafe, though it would be smart to make a reservation. Marie Callender’s is offering a ham or turkey dinner priced at $19.99 for adults, $8.99 for kids, topped off with a slice of pie of course – pumpkin or apple. The regular menu will not be available.

Mimi’s Cafe is also serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal for $18.99 for adults, $9.99 for kids. In addition to the traditional turkey and sides, diners get a choice of pumpkin pie or bourbon pecan pie. The regular menu is available.

Macaroni Grill will also be open on Thanksgiving for the first time from 4-8 p.m. It will serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but also its regular menu.

Something different: The above-mentioned Elephant Lounge at 80 W. Shaw Ave., in Clovis, has a buffet for $10.95 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The buffet features Indian food, traditional roasted Thanksgiving turkey and a blend of the two: fusion dishes such as turkey meatballs in a curry sauce.

While still in the classy restaurant category, the School House Restaurant & Tavern in Sanger is a little different mostly because of its atmosphere. It’s in an actual school built in 1921.

The restaurant will be open from 2-6:30 p.m., serving a two-course meal for $38 and a three-course meal for $46. The menu includes local Pitman Farms turkey with all the fixings, lobster carbonara pasta, other entrees and caramel apple bread pudding with hard cider caramel sauce for dessert.

The National Park experience: If you like a little tromp through the woods – and possibly snow – after your meal, restaurants at all three nearby national parks are hosting Thanksgiving meals.

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge has a choice of entrees with varying prices. The more casual Grant Grove Restaurant will have a special menu with a choice of organic turkey or maple-brined pork chops for $24.95 for adults and $11.95 for kids.

Restaurants in Yosemite are open, too. The Ahwahnee has perhaps the fanciest dining experience and menu offering everything from organic turkey to a sheep’s ricotta “lasagnette” at $91 for adults, $29 for children 12 and under.

The Wawona Dining Room and the Mountain Room Restaurant at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls both have multi-course meals available with turkey and other fall options. Prices are $49.95 for adults and $21.50 for kids 12 and under at Wawona, $54.95 for adults and $23.50 for kids at the Mountain Room.

The really classy experience: Erna’s Elderberry House in Oakhurst is the only 5-star restaurant in the central San Joaquin Valley, so of course it is going to have a fancy Thanksgiving.

The seven-course meal features traditional Pilgrim fare with a decadent twist. Think braised duck legs, herb-roasted organic turkey, pan-seared venison with fennel and a honey-chocolate gâteau for dessert.

Dinner is served between 2-6:30 p.m. and costs $115 per person, plus $85 if you want wine pairings with each course.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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