By Don Corrigan
The classic All-American Thanksgiving Dinner is getting a makeover. The roast bird, surrounded by hot plates of fixings, is being edged out by a new wave of holiday turkey dinner pizzas.
If you’re a doubting Tom Turkey, you need to get a load of the holiday concoctions being proposed for the 2021 table: barbecue turkey pizza, artichoke turkey pizza, turkey bacon flatbread pizza and turkey supreme pizza bake.
And now comes Happy Joe’s with a pizza featuring turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce – all layered and piled high – on Joe’s pan-style crust. The happy man contends this culinary caper will make for special holiday memories.
After all, who will ever forget such a novel holiday pastry – a pie that combines everyone’s favorite Turkey Day flavors – stacked in a one-of-a-kind creation?
Suzanne Corbett, a St. Louis food historian and culinary critic, is an outspoken doubting Thomasina. She intends to pound the table in favor of tradition. She thinks the traditional bird is going nowhere.
“To me, this idea of a layered turkey pizza holiday dinner is just wrong,” said Corbett. “Thanksgiving is about tradition. Turkey pizza isn’t for me. It reminds me of the turkey-and-gravy soda that came out and a few years ago. It fizzled.
“Admittedly, the world is changing,” said Corbett. “And there may be a few Gen Z’s who will bite on a turkey pizza. But I think even the millennials are going to be wise to this.”
Holiday Gathering Pizza
Critics aside, Happy Joe’s is doubling down. The restaurant on Watson Road at the border of Webster Groves and Marlborough, as well as its St. Charles location, are adding a pumpkin cheesecake dessert pizza as the finale for the holiday fare.
“Baked to perfection and served on Joe’s pan-style crust with swirls of delicious cream cheese, cinnamon and pumpkin, this decadent dessert is the perfect complement to any holiday gathering,” reads a release from Happy Joe’s corporate headquarters.
Suzanne Corbett doubles down on her skepticism. She wonders if pumpkin will even be present in the “decadent dessert.” Perhaps it will be a secret faux pumpkin formula concocted of nothing more than clove, cinnamon and nutmeg flavorings.
Happy Joe’s is not the only Thanksgiving kitchen that will be experimenting with turkey-laden pizzas. Recipe artists this year are touting a special turkey cake with layers of ground turkey, sweet potato, mashed potato and cranberry sauce with a marshmallow topping.
The inventor of the turkey cake remains anonymous, and probably for good reason. Rumor has it that the cake maker just got tired of messing with side dishes.
Queen of Cuisine Relents
Susanne Corbett, whose many dining books tout such local eateries as Big Sky Café, Highway 61 Roadhouse, Spencer’s Grill and Sunset 44, said she does not want to come off as a Scrooge for Thanksgiving.
In other words, she said it is okay to experiment in a home or restaurant kitchen with your Butterball, your orange orb, or your White Castle stuffing recipe.
“Roast turkey and all the fixings is what I am planning to fill my table with,” said Corbett. “And I can’t see myself replacing the bird for some kind of turkey flatbread.
“However, it doesn’t matter what recipe you want to use and how the turkey arrives at the table,” noted Corbett. “Thanksgiving isn’t defined by the bird or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Just as long as I have food to eat and to share with family friends, I’ll count myself lucky. And I’ll give thanks.”
A culinary historian, Corbett emphasized that the first fall feast for those Pilgrims near Plymouth Rock was devoid of turkey. The Pilgrims munched on mussels, clams, oysters and eel.
Corbett stressed that the first big feast for the Pilgrims settling North America was not even an official Thanksgiving.
“George Washington can claim the first Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, but it wasn’t until Lincoln that it became an official national holiday in 1863,” Corbett explained. “Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as the official day.”
Thanksgiving as a national holiday was championed by Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies Book Magazine, according to Corbett. Hale launched her campaign in 1827. For the next 36 years she published articles and editorials advocating for Thanksgiving to be a national holiday,
“Needless to say, she was thrilled her efforts succeeded thanks to Abraham Lincoln,” said Corbett. “A wary nation, struggling through the Civil War, was probably pleased that Sarah Hale prevailed.”
President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in 1939 in an effort to help boost Christmas retail sales, according to Corbett. That proved to be a huge mistake because people liked it just the way it was.
“It became a public relations nightmare for FDR whose opponents dubbed the change date as ‘Franks-giving,’ so in1941 FDR signed a bill changing it back,” said Corbett. “Thanksgiving Day went back to the fourth Thursday.”
Hmmm – “Franks-giving.” How about some minced Ballpark Hot Dog on top of that turkey pizza? FDR would be proud.