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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Area restaurants turn Thanksgiving feast into fun handhelds ahead of holiday

Churkeychanga season has arrived in Wilmington via Flaming Amy’s special Thanksgiving chimichanga. (Courtesy photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Turkey Day is only a few weeks away. But for folks who don’t want to wait for the spread of traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy with cranberry sauce, area restaurants are getting creative with menu items to celebrate the feasting holiday.

While the Thanksgiving sandwich has become as ubiquitous in serving leftovers as the spread itself, many local eateries are moving it beyond two slices of bread. There is Thanksgiving served with Mexican flair, as offered in both chimichangas and empanadas, and even an Italian take served in a stromboli.

Of course, the typical handheld is also available locally, in quite a few eateries this holiday season. According to Paula Marcoux, a food historian in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the earliest recipes for the Thanksgiving sandwich were found in 1950 after World War II, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Seventy years later, its tastiness has not lost its luster.

Port City Daily took a look at a handful of restaurants that are leaning into the Thanksgiving flavors before the Nov. 23 holiday. Here’s a taste…


Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, 4002 Oleander Drive

Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn owner Jay Muxworthy is hazy on when Churkeychanga season officially became a thing in Wilmington. 

“Maybe 12 years ago,” he said.

What wasn’t forecast when it began was the popularity it would gain thereafter. Muxworthy said every 30 seconds in November, staff churn out one of Flaming Amy’s famed, rolled-and-fried versions of Thanksgiving. The churkeychanga comes stuffed with turkey, cornbread dressing, and garlic mash. Then the burrito is rolled tight in a flour tortilla and fried, smothered in jalapeño gravy and served with a side of seasonal cranberry salsa.

“Annually, I think we will max out, but every year we sell more than the previous year,” Muxworthy said.

The limited offer is part of its appeal, as it’s only available in November for a handful of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. This year churkeychangas take their final bow on Nov. 22. 

The offer has Muxworthy working overnight shifts to keep up with the daily preparation. It’s one reason the churkeychanga is only offered once a year.

“Imagine cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 300 people a day for a month,” Muxworthy said. “It’s insanity.”

Block Taco’s Thanksgiving empanadas come in a turkey-chile version and a sweet-potato-brown-butter version and retail for $6.50. (Courtesy photo)

Thanksgiving Empanada

Block Taco, 120 Greenfield St. #B

Tucked away in Satellite Bar and Lounge on Greenfield Street is Block Taco — well-known for its street tacos and loaded nachos piled high with various goodies. But for the month of November, the restaurant gets into the Thanksgiving game by way of empanadas.

“This will be our third Thanksgiving season doing the empanadas,” Shannon Ricks Dunne, director of operations for both Satellite and Block Taco, said. “They’ve been a huge hit for us each time and we have repeat customers requesting them on our regular menu.”

The fried pockets of pastry are offered in two varieties: traditional turkey smothered in a chile sauce for carnivores or sweet potatoes and brown butter for omnivores. The empanadas are then filled with cornbread stuffing, roasted corn and poblanos, cheese (without for vegans) and fresh herbs.

“Each region in Mexico does their own version of the empanada, so this was a fun way for us to do that, too,” Dunne said. “The spicy cranberry citrus dipping sauce is off-the-chain good!”

Block Taco churns out roughly 250 of the $6 empanadas every Saturday and Sunday, as the items are only available weekends through Thanksgiving. They’re made from scratch and labor-intensive when compared to the walk-up window’s small kitchen. 

“We’re thinking of offering a December version for our special since they’re so popular,” Dunne said.

Pine Valley Market’s The Gobbler retails for $16. (Courtesy photo)

The Gobbler

Pine Valley Market, 3520 College Road

Pine Valley Market has become known for its Thanksgiving offerings for people who want to avoid cooking each holiday season; tons of homemade sides, desserts and whole turkeys can be ordered now.

However, for those that want a handheld filled to the gills with the goodies PVM prepares each season — well, there is The Gobbler. It’s actually why the market began making the sandwich around eight years ago, according to owner Christi Ferretti.

“We wanted to promote our Thanksgiving menu for pre-order and thought that if we created a sandwich with some of the ingredients, it would allow us to offer samples during November,” she said.

But what she found is: It also makes for a “yummy sandwich” and one that’s quite popular every holiday season.

“Everyone loves Thanksgiving leftovers and one of the most common concoctions you hear about is some kind of turkey sandwich with different sides piled on,” Ferretti said. “We took some of the best of what we make and layered it up until we got it right.”

A hoagie — from Neomonde bakery in North Carolina — comes stuffed with house-roasted turkey breast, fresh prepared collards, scratch-made gravy, dressing, cranberry relish, and a spread of roasted garlic aioli.

It’s $16 and runs through the Saturday before Thanksgiving while supplies last.

Courtesy photo

Turkey Stromboli

Italian Bistro, 8211 Market St., Unit HH

Turkey isn’t only for chimichangas and sandwiches. It’s also for strombolis.

Italian Bistro has its turkey stromboli on special at its Porters Neck location only for a limited time (the location expanded to a second spot earlier this year in the Hampstead and Surf City area). Owner Jason James and co-owner and chef Jason Raynor started the stromboli a few years back.

“It was such a hit the first year we tried it, we knew it would be an annual thing going forward,” James said. “I’m not sure how many we sold that first year, but it was way more than we thought.”

Raynor cooks a whole turkey and makes enough stuffing and gravy to complement it. He then stuffs the items into pizza dough, adds mozzarella cheese, and serves it with a side of homemade gravy and cranberry sauce.

“When we sell out of all the turkey and stuffing, we end the special,” James said, adding, however, that customers continued requesting it after Thanksgiving.

“So this year we are starting earlier than year’s past, and depending on how quickly we sell out of the turkey and stuffing, we could possibly do a second round — we shall see,” he added.

The stromboli is $13.95 for a small and $22.75 for a large.

Mess Hall’s Smashgiving burger is made with house-ground turkey and stuffing patties grilled and then topped with fried cheddar-garlic mashed potatoes, herb gravy, collards and a special cranberry sauce made with Panacea Brewing’s Triple Berry Ginger Kombucha. (Courtesy photo)

Smashgiving Burger

Mess Hall, 2136 Wrightsville Ave.

Sam Steger, Mess Hall owner, has brought a good bit of creativity to the burger scene. Remember that time he put Britts Donuts between a smashburger? Or what about piling high flaming hot Cheetos with mac ‘n’ cheese and a flamin’ hot Mountain Dew sauce?

Now, Steger’s taking on Thanksgiving. 

“We had a little cooking competition with some of the kitchen staff and then brought the best elements from everybody’s to create the Smashgiving burger,” Steger said. 

Mess Hall’s November special features a house-ground turkey and stuffing patties, grilled, then topped with fried cheddar-garlic mashed potatoes, herb gravy, collards and a special cranberry sauce made with Panacea Brewing’s Triple Berry Ginger Kombucha. The burger is served on a potato roll and with tots for $15.

As for a vegetarian option, well, it’s impossible in this special. “Every part of this has meat in it,” Steger said. 

However, Mess Hall does offer vegetarian smashburgers for those with dietary restrictions.

Courtesy photo

The Margaret

The Half, 510 1/2 Red Cross St.

Vegans or carnivores alike can order up The Margaret at this neighborhood sandwich shop tucked away on the Northside of downtown Wilmington.

The Half took over the former Detour Deli spot in 2022 and last year had a hit with its Thanksgiving sandwich. They sold roughly 400 sandwiches, according to co-owner Andrew Dennison.

The sandwich features either turkey or tofu, topped with cranberry sauce, dressing, green bean casserole, and gravy mayo on toasted white bread. It retails for $12.50.

“We believe it is a staple of the fall season,” Dennison said, also adding it’s really about nostalgia. “Some say that the day-after sandwich made with leftovers is even better than the meal itself.”

The Margaret will be offered only from Nov. 18 through the 22 at the deli.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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