Meals ready to go

By CARLIE KOLLATH / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – This Thanksgiving, some Northeast Mississippi families are going to bypass the kitchen craziness but still eat at home.
It’s a good trend for restaurants and caterers who are willing to help – for a price, of course. And even though Thanksgiving is more than two weeks away, the non-cooks have started planning their meals.
At Ms. Ruth’s Express inside Gloster Creek Village in Tupelo, the orders already are coming in. The No. 1 ordered item, according to manager Johnette Bramlett, is chicken and dressing.
“It’s the most time-consuming,” Bramlett said. “Moms work out of the home these days. They don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen at the holidays.”
Amber Beane, manager at Bar-B-Q by Jim, said time is the driving factor with her restaurant’s orders as well.
“It’s convenient to be able to go in and grab what you want and be able to spend more time with their family,” she said.
The restaurant usually cooks at least 100 turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. Orders started coming in a week ago, Beane said, but most orders will be placed this week and next.
And there’s always the last-minute order.
“People call and say they were planning to smoke a turkey, but ‘I always burn it’ or there’s a family crisis and they need help and we always do,” Beane said.
Some people like to be a little more covert about the fact that they got cooking help.
“One lady last year brought me her Corningware glass dish that she always makes dressing in and asked if we could do the dressing in her pan so her family wouldn’t know she didn’t make it,” said Bramlett at Ms. Ruth’s. “I know she’s a good cook. She just didn’t want to mess with it.”
Other people will ask Bramlett to leave the restaurant’s label off the container so they’ll be able to pass it off as their own.
Most often, customers pick up the dressing when it is frozen or refrigerated and cook it at home, helping further the idea that they made it themselves.
Most of Bramlett’s holiday customers don’t mention anything about keeping it a secret, except the older ones who are more traditional and have always done the cooking, she said.
The customers at HoneyBaked Ham in Tupelo don’t usually worry about keeping their purchases a secret. Owner Chauncey Godwin said this will be the franchise’s 15th holiday season and the biggest draw continues to be the company’s spiral-sliced ham that is glazed by hand in the store.
Over the years, the company has expanded its to-go holiday items.
“We want to be a one-stop shop,” Godwin said. “If they come in here, we can get them a meat, their vegetables and their bread.”
Todd’s Big Star aims for that, too.
“Some get the whole shooting match here,” said Randy Boyd, deli manager at Todd’s Big Star. “Some get the turkey or the dressing and do the rest themselves.”
So far, Boyd said, many of the orders have been for the whole meal – turkey, ham, dressing and sides.
“We’ve already got a bunch of orders and they’re coming in every day,” Boyd said.
Orders are due by Nov. 22, and Boyd said he can guarantee people will call him after the deadline, petitioning him for some food.
So far, he said orders are about the same as they were last year. Beane at Bar-B-Q by Jim said orders were down last year from 2008, but she’s seeing good numbers this year.
“It does seem that this year has picked up a little bit,” she said.
At HoneyBaked Ham, Godwin said it’s too early to tell, but he’s optimistic.
“2008 was the worst year for orders, with the height of the recession,” he said. “It was up last year and we hope it’s up this year.”
And while Bramlett is cooking up a storm for everyone else’s Thanksgiving, she won’t be eating chicken and dressing for her holiday meal.
“We do cook, but we don’t do traditional because we do chicken and dressing every Friday” in the restaurant, she said. “We’ve done seafood and steak before. I think we even did pizza one year. Just as long as we’re together, we don’t really care.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.