My family has never celebrated Thanksgiving in a huge way. We all love to eat, and my mother and I are pretty great cooks (if I do say so myself). But we're a family of three, so it never seems worth it to spend our day off slaving over a hot stove while my dad watches football in the other room, instead of taking the time away from work to just hang out with each other.
And that's why take-out Thanksgiving is so cool.
I don't recall being aware of Thanksgiving meals to-go when I was younger, but these days, it seems like half of the restaurants in Houston are offering take-out options. To see what it's all about, I asked Ouisie's Table to prepare their take-out Thanksgiving feast a little early this year. I arranged to pick it up and bring it to the office last week so I could fill you in on every step of the process before you decide if that's the route you want to go.
Before I start, though, I will say this: We had a lot of happy employees here at the Houston Press once Ouisie's arrived. And all the food was gone by the next day.
Ouisie's offers several options for your Thanksgiving feast. The largest, most expensive meal is the $350 herb-crusted beef tenderloin with brandied sauce and crostini, which serves 15 to 20 people. There's also smoked salmon with "the works" for $175 (feeds 15 to 20). I opted to go the more traditional route with roasted turkey with gravy, two sides and a dessert for $175. The menu says it should feed 10 to 15 people, but I'm pretty sure we fed normal-sized meals (as in, not Thanksgiving-style-stuff-your-face-meals) to about 20 people.
I picked up the order around noon, and there were three people waiting to help me carry it to my car. Because we wanted to taste a few extra things, we ended up with three sides and two desserts, which means we had a large aluminum roasting pan full of turkey, three smaller aluminum pans with the sides, two boxes with pies and three plastic containers of gravy.
Every package survived the 12-minute drive from Ouisie's Table to our office in Midtown, though the juice from the green beans had leaked all over the inside of the bag and, consequently, me when I picked it up. It's okay though. I like smelling of garlic and tomatoes. Makes me feel like I've been working in an Italian kitchen.
The sides and turkey also stayed very hot in their aluminum pans, even after I had them sitting out for several minutes to photograph before I allowed people to dig in. We did discover that we had no proper utensils for carving a turkey, so if you're bringing take-out to your office rather than your home, do be prepared.
The turkey was beautiful, though; shiny and juicy with a lovely golden crust on the skin. It's a whole roasted turkey, and in spite of the fact that there appeared to be only a small amount of Italian parsley and maybe some onions and carrots in the pan with the turkey, it had a lovely, subtle flavor. The turkey meat itself -- rather than a glaze or stuffing -- was the star of that dish.
Once we were able to get it cut, we found the turkey meat tender and juicy, with a wonderful roasted flavor. The dark meat was particularly decadent, and when we scooped up some of the juices to pour on top of the meat, it became even moister and more flavorful. One person who claimed the turkey neck swimming in the juices called it "divine."
The green beans paired wonderfully with the turkey and provided a bit of acid that was missing in the gravy (a brown, peppery, glutinous topping that I wasn't wild about, but others seemed to enjoy). I particularly enjoyed the green beans, because they were clearly fresh beans and they were bathed in a tomato and garlic sauce -- none of that cream of mushroom soup business. In the absence of a salad, they were a delicious healthy alternative.
We also got lobster mashed potatoes, which seemed to contain a mixture of shrimp and lobster and got rave reviews from everyone who tried them. Even a few people who claimed not to like seafood were won over by the simple, creamy, yellow potatoes with chunks of sweet crustaceans suspended throughout.
Our least favorite side was the corn bread dressing, which, though not bad, was a little on the sweet side and a little too mushy.
After indulging in the bounty of turkey and sides, we all had to take a break from eating. When we finally felt like we had just a tad more room in our full bellies, we dove back in for the desserts: Pecan pie and pumpkin cheesecake. Though the dinner items were good, upon tasting the desserts, I was immediately regretful that I had not started with them. I think we all were.
The pecan pie had the perfect texture -- crunchy on top, slightly gooey underneath -- and it seemed flavored with just a hint of bourbon. The pumpkin cheesecake was so good that I continued to get emails from my coworkers throughout the day proclaiming their love for the seasonal dessert. It had just the right consistency for cheesecake without being heavy or overly rich, and the pumpkin spice was neither too subtle nor too overwhelming. I'm ordering one this year, no doubt about it.
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So if take-out Thanksgiving seems foreign or daunting to you, worry no more. We survived it, and we're really glad we gave it a shot, 'cause that turkey and those desserts were just as good -- if not better -- than homemade.
To place an order from Ouisie's Table for a full meal or a la carte sides and desserts, call Ouisie's Table at 713-528-2264 or The Bird and The Bear at 713-528-2473 (both restaurants are offering the same Thanksgiving menus). All orders must be received by Thursday, November 21. Dinners may be picked up on Wednesday, November 27. Check out B4-U-Eat to see the entire menu.