My parents were Mexican immigrants by way of Brazil and Tokyo. With such wanderlust, they were quite eccentric eaters. They didn’t stock our kitchen with Doritos, but rather pickled fish from Russia and stinky, runny cheese my dad bought in Paris during business trips. Every dinner was accompanied with spicy salsas and tortillas whether it was a lamb tagine or seafood paella. If you ever wondered what makes one become a food critic, I suspect my weird family pantry was the start.
At Thanksgiving, though, we were (sort of) like every other American family. As my sister and I grew into cooks, we infused the meal with American and Southern classics like green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, big bowls of buttery mashed potatoes, and cornbread stuffing with sausage. Our parents always had my grandmother’s mole (a spicy sauce with a hint of chocolate) defrosted from the freezer in the garage. Thanksgiving was and remains my favorite holiday, and as summer ends, I get impatient for the holidays and the bounty of comfort food that awaits. However, I don’t believe in waiting for Thanksgiving to eat roast turkey when plenty of places around Atlanta serve it year-round. You can even get a whole turkey dinner with all the trimmings (pumpkin pie included) on a random Tuesday if you’re feeling festive, which is a reason to give thanks even if it is still pool weather.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room
Founded in 1945, the Ponce de Leon institution gets points for longevity and its breadth of offerings. While the fried chicken or meatloaf are solid, the turkey is not to be missed. The oven-roasted turkey arrives at the table set atop cornbread dressing (or stuffing if you roll that way) and is slathered in thick turkey gravy. In true home-style restaurant fashion, the list of sides is dizzying, making the choice of three sides that come with the “Southern Special” dinner ($26.95 per adult and $13.95 per child 10 and under) a difficult one. Fresh hot bread and a choice of dessert (banana pudding, bread pudding with wine sauce, or Georgia peach cobbler) accompany the meal. 224 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast, 404-876-1800
The Colonnade is an iconic spot on Cheshire Bridge that has been open since 1927. On any given evening, blue hairs and families start piling in for the homespun Southern dishes such as fried chicken gizzards and what I consider some of Atlanta’s finest fried chicken. But my real go-to order here is the roasted turkey breast, which is served sliced over celery dressing with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce. Like most meat and threes, the meal comes with your choice of sides from a long list of vegetables, grains, cooked fruit, and more. If you like to plan ahead, The Colonnade also serves a mighty fine turkey dinner on Thanksgiving day and night that is perfect for eating in or taking home to chow down in front of a classic holiday movie such as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. 1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-874-5642
The 2015 reopening of this West Paces Ferry Southern diner after it closed due to a fire brought the devotees and lines back like they’d never closed at all. Waitresses in old school uniforms with blue aprons add to the homey atmosphere of the place, open since 1987. While breakfast is a favorite, lunch and dinner hold plenty of treasures, including the roasted turkey and cornbread dressing ($14.99). The platter of sliced turkey and rustic cornbread dressing is offered with your choice of sides. If you are in a rush and have no time to sit, the cafe has a dedicated take-away area where the cooks will slice you turkey from an enormous roasted bird at the carving station. They’ve got plenty of sides and other goodies, too. 1284 West Paces Ferry Road Northwest, 404-233-2888
Muss and Turner’s
Open since 2005, this Smyrna sandwich (and more) powerhouse has generated all sorts of talent including Chris Hall of Local Three and the late Ryan Hidinger, who cofounded the Staplehouse supper club. The Gobbler is their sandwich ode to Thanksgiving and hits all those leftover turkey sandwich notes that are almost as crucial as the big feast itself. But instead of day-old meat, you get moist, fresh roasted turkey breast, Bubby Muss’ Ritz Cracker stuffing, lingonberry coulis, and thyme aioli loaded onto a bun. Pair it with a craft beer and the meal is pure, portable comfort food—no annoying in-laws required. 1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 770-434-1114
I’ve been ordering hams for special occasions from this chain since I started entertaining. Sure, there are probably more local options, but HoneyBaked Ham can basically turn around a holiday meal in 24-hours with a phone call. That means I can make it November or December in my home on a whim, which happens more often than you’d think. And do you know how hard it is to find a whole turkey in August that hasn’t been sitting in deep freeze since last Thanksgiving? I frequent the same location at the corner of North Druid Hills and Buford Highway that has been there since I was a kid. The whole turkeys ($49.95) are offered roasted, smoked, or Cajun style and serve 10-12 people. If you want a whole turkey meal ($89.95), it comes with an 11-13 lb. turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, turkey gravy, and a pecan pie. They also have options with turkey breasts, whole hams, and you can even ship a care package to someone across the country who needs a pick-me-up. If the turkey-gram isn’t a thing, it should be. Multiple locations