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My Imaginary Thanksgiving: A Progressive and Indulgent Romp Through the Delaware Valley Culinary Scene

I have to be honest: I’m not the biggest fan of Thanksgiving. Oh, I love seeing family and sharing our blessings and thankfulness. And my aunt’s deviled eggs are a delicacy I can only enjoy that one day of the year. But there’s so much shopping, so much cooking, and so much cleaning up after a blitzkrieg of eating, the ratio of time preparing to time eating being something like 30-to-1. It can all be a real drag.

But what if I could vaporize all that obligation for just one day and embark on a culinary journey through the suburbs?

Like any civilized endeavor, we’d need to start with cocktails. There are countless bars to pick from. Many of us have options within walking distance, especially in towns like Media, Doylestown, and New Hope. But when I want proper cocktails – the kind one searches out on a holiday – I can do no better than Avalon Bistro and Bar in Bryn Mawr, with its impressive array of bourbons and ryes, the warming brown elixirs that go hand in hand with Thanksgiving. The citrusy Bulleit-based Bourbon Smash and the, well, smoky Smoked Manhattan, made with that vegetal Italian aperitif Cynar and a hefty dose of George Dickel rye, will most definitely kick the party off in the right way.

I might be tempted to snack on a few of Avalon’s bar-only small plates, whether it’s the chicken liver mousse or – mmm – bacon-wrapped dates. But this is a progressive dinner, so go I must in search of appetizers. Whenever I think holiday, my mind goes to seafood. (Well, and to tomato pie from Corropolese, but I digress.) Seafood is just so luxurious and celebratory. And when I think of seafood appetizers, I think of a couple of places. Fortunately, because this is my imaginary progressive Thanksgiving dinner, I can go to both. That’s what Uber is made for, right?

I’d start off in Ridley Park at Rosemary, the hot new restaurant with Center City vibes that everybody is talking about. And though I’m partial to oysters on the half shell, which they do at Rosemary, chef Elijah Milligan conjures up the most magical roasted oysters with spicy Calabrian sausage and cream infused with garlic. Should I choose to be indulgent (and why wouldn’t I, since it’s Thanksgiving?), I would also have to summon up the peerless tuna tartare with avocado, shiso, and compressed melon. One bite will light up your mouth.

But I can’t leave Delaware County without going to my favorite seafood restaurant, The Clam Tavern. Where Rosemary leans into the New American, the comfy Clam Tavern leans into the old school. The Clam Tavern appetizer everybody talks about is their baked clams, served on a one-of-a-kind tray that was made years ago at a machine shop around the corner. And they talk about them for good reason. But don’t overlook the made-to-order shrimp cocktail, which will make you forever eschew those grocery store shrimp rings, if you’ve fallen into that trap. And the self-explanatorily named crab balls are fried, briny delights.

So now we have to talk turkey, right? Wrong. Just because turkey is the traditional Thanksgiving bird doesn’t mean we have to eat it, and at the end of the day, no self-respecting human with any taste buds whatsoever can say that turkey is the fairest fowl. However, if I were to eat turkey, I wouldn’t go in for the typical dried-out roasted Gargantua that your Aunt Edna used to serve. I would visit pitmaster Steve Wilson at Upper Darby’s Wilson’s Secret Sauce barbeque restaurant for a whole smoked turkey – once you try a whole smoked turkey, you can never look back – or his incomparable fried turkey. (Save yourself the grease fire: Get a pro to fry your turkey.)

What I really want for pretty much every holiday, just because I don’t tend to eat too much red meat these days, is a fat, juicy steak, which I would tend to get at Davio’s by the King of Prussia Mall or KC Prime in Warrington. We all have our favorite steakhouses, right? But let’s not be ridiculous here. It is, after all, Thanksgiving, so I will opt in on the poultry bandwagon. And yes, it’s low-end. And yes, it’s next to a, um, “adult store.” But the “Broasted(R)” chicken at Speck’s in Collegeville really is the best version of fried chicken in the entire region. I could sit at one of their tables and chow down, but the thing about Speck’s is that it’s perfectly good warmed up at home (never in the microwave!) or even cold or at room temperature, and with this whirlwind of consumption I’ve endured, I think it’s time to go home, sit on the couch, and watch some football like every good American.

But what’s an imaginary Thanksgiving meal without dessert? Shameful as it is to say, I’m not much of a sweets guy, and I actively eschew cookies and cakes. But you don’t have to ask me twice to eat a slice (or two) of pie, and what could be more Thanksgiving than a slice of pie? For pumpkin and custard pies, I look no further than Conshohocken Italian Bakery.

For fruit pies – I know they are out of season, but their peach pies are all that and then some – it’s R. Weinrich German Bakery in Newtown Square. And, this is going to sound sacrilegious, but you have to just trust me on this: The frozen key lime pies from Wild Fork, which sports locations in Ardmore, Willow Grove, and Horsham, are my family’s favorite. You just thaw it out for an hour on the counter and dig in.

Thanks for hanging with me on this imaginary Thanksgiving. Now I just need to find myself an imaginary Peloton.