Capital Region

Capital Region restaurants prepare diverse range of menus for Christmas dinners to go

Innovo Kitchen chef John LaPosta prepares scones at the Latham restaurant. Innovo is offering boxed meals for Christmas this year, with available delivery.
Innovo Kitchen chef John LaPosta prepares scones at the Latham restaurant. Innovo is offering boxed meals for Christmas this year, with available delivery.

For some, the joy of the 2020 holiday season is tempered by thoughts of those we’ve lost this year. Others may think wistfully of all the community and family events they can’t or shouldn’t attend amid a pandemic.

None of this, however, precludes marking the holiday with a good dinner.

Numerous Capital Region restaurants are preparing special takeout offerings for Christmas dinner — some of them for the first time, others as a modified version of what they always have done in late December.

The menus span a wide range in cost, complexity and cuisine, from ziti to chateaubriand, herbed salmon to the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

There’s precooked and uncooked, pickup and delivery.

Many of these restaurants now preparing for a big rush of boxed meals to go out their doors on Christmas Eve embarked on a similar kitchen blitz right before Thanksgiving, as COVID-19 kept people from their normal holiday meal destinations and they opted for takeout rather than cooking a meal themselves.

In early December, several restaurateurs told The Daily Gazette about their plans. Each said they were finding a ready market for their takeout, but with one glaring difference from years past: People are ordering smaller meals because they’ll have fewer guests at the table.

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“We used to have a two-tenderloin option. We’ve eliminated that one,” said Sean Willcoxon, vice president of catering at Mazzone Hospitality.

For other places, such as The Desmond Hotel, Christmas takeout is a new experience.

“We’ve never done Christmas takeout. We used to do a breakfast with Santa years ago, but we’ve never had a Christmas to-go before,” said Beth Desmond.

The Desmond sold more than four times as many Thanksgiving meals to-go last month as in a normal year, she said, and started getting requests the next day for Christmas dinner. It was an easy decision for the hotel/event venue to commit to this second round of holiday meals.

Here’s a sampling of what area restaurants have to offer.

Bull’s Head Inn

Bull’s Head doesn’t have a special Christmas menu — everything on the normal menu at the downtown Cobleskill landmark is available for takeout.

Pickups run up to 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and sit-down dining also is available by reservation that day, with the last seating also at 4 p.m.

Carney’s Tavern
Ballston Lake

Carney’s has been a community gathering place since its days as a hotel in the 1800s. “Community gathering” is a phrase that carries baggage this year, but it’s still possible to get a good meal at Carney’s.

Owner Matthew Finnigan is offering a Christmas takeout menu of items not currently featured on the day-to-day menu but sharing some of the same ingredients: oven-roasted sliced sirloin beef with Guinness beef gravy, potatoes, vegetable and pie, or a lasagna bolognese with homemade sausage and prodigious amounts of five cheeses.

Orders are being taken through Dec. 21 and pickup is Dec. 23 or 24.

Desmond Hotel

The Desmond Hotel relies heavily on large group events and has suffered accordingly through the COVID pandemic, with the limitations and outright bans imposed on gatherings. Thanksgiving was a perfect example.

“Normally we have our really large buffet that we do, and that brings in 1,200 to 1,400 people,” Beth Desmond said.

On a normal Thanksgiving they’d also sell about 100 takeout dinners. This year was not normal — the buffet was canceled and takeout volume was up more than 400 percent.

Planning for the Christmas takeout dinner began shortly after.

The menu is a spiral glazed ham with stuffing, carrots, potatoes and rolls, plus gingerbread cookies, bread pudding and custard for dessert.

Pickup is Dec. 23. Items are fully cooked, but will need to be reheated.

Dinosaur Bar-b-que

Remember the little boy who just wanted a BB gun for Christmas in the classic movie “A Christmas Story”?

Dinosaur is the place to go for the little family of four to six who just want a plate of barbecue for Christmas.

The special menu is dubbed … “A Christmas Pork Story.”

It’s a ham-brined pork shoulder, house-cured and then smoked for 12 hours, with rolls, choice of three sides and pie.

Other meats are available a la carte.

Innovo Kitchen

Innovo is offering boxed meals for Christmas this year, with delivery available via the restaurant’s own vehicles.

Chef John LaPosta says Innovo sold 162 meal packages for Thanksgiving. In the past it has focused on meals for four people, but this year found that meals for just two were the most popular. That was a sign of the times.

“So many people were so thankful we offered the meal for two at Thanksgiving, as many people are simply staying home and not visiting family,” he said.

Innovo offers the following options from lower to higher calorie count and price tag: Kids Box for two (chicken tenders and sides), Brunch Box for four to six, Snack Box for four to six (charcuterie board, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, etc.) and a Dinner Box (choice of entree salad, soup, potatoes, chocolate cake). Dinner Boxes come sized for two or sized for four to six at roughly twice the price.

Pickup is Dec. 23 and 24. Delivery is free Dec. 23 and $25 on Dec. 24.

Marcella’s Restaurant

The family Italian restaurant on Route 50 has a large everyday menu that goes well beyond Italian, and its special Christmas dinner to-go is no different: honey ham, baked ziti, chicken marsala, potatoes, broccoli and rolls, plus pie or cannoli.

It’s sized for three to five people, or six to nine, or 10 to 15, and will be ready for pickup on Christmas Eve.

Christmas takeout is an annual tradition at Marcella’s, said co-owner Patre Kuziak, different this year only in that people are ordering smaller packages because they’ll have fewer guests.

Everything is cooked before it leaves the restaurant. Instructions are provided for reheating, which should take about two hours.

Mazzone Hospitality
Clifton Park

Sean Willcoxon said Thanksgiving dinner has always been the big takeout event for Mazzone, far more than Christmas — the classic turkey and trimmings are the defining piece of the November holiday, and there’s no single equivalent at Christmastime.

Mazzone saw the trend away from big dinner parties even before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on private gatherings of more than 10 people, Willcoxon said. In prior years, Mazzone would see a heavy interest in its dinners sized for 18 guests; this year, customers were looking for enough food for eight to 10.

The Christmas menu is a choice of beef tenderloin, prime rib, roast turkey or pork loin roast, with potato and vegetable sides and dessert.

Unlike many of the other restaurants offering takeout dinners, Mazzone sends the meat portion of its Christmas dinners out the door only partly cooked. In fact, it’s almost raw inside, just seasoned and seared on the outside.

Customers get full instructions for finishing the meat to their preferred level of doneness, and are provided a temperature probe to eliminate guesswork.

“You’ve got to have it fresh,” Willcoxon explained.

Order deadline is Dec. 19. Pickup at Mazzone’s Clifton Park headquarters is Dec. 23 and 24.

More Perreca’s Italian Kitchen

The restaurant in Schenectady’s Little Italy neighborhood suspended sit-down dining as a precautionary measure back in October, replacing it with a drive-thru pickup system that has become smooth and efficient through repetition.

Owner Maria Papa said the drive-thru arrangement and the precooked food are good ways to avoid or reduce stress.

Meal packages include the classic Feast of the Seven Fishes beloved by generations of Italian-Americans on Christmas Eve, porchetta, Christmas ham and Italian-herbed chicken. Prices vary by number of servings, and each meal comes with a loaf of the famous Italian bread baked in Perreca’s coal-fired brick oven next door.

Trays and half-trays of other Italian classics are available a la carte.

Pickup is Christmas Eve.

Turf Tavern

Co-owner Tom Gallant said Turf Tavern got a great reception for its Thanksgiving takeout dinner, selling out a couple of weeks before the holiday, and expects a good response on Christmas takeouts as well.

That’s probably due to a combination of the longtime restaurant’s fan base and its recent emphasis on takeout food during the COVID crisis, when restaurants statewide were limited in operation or shut down altogether.

“We’ve had a lot of success with the takeout program in general,” Gallant said. “The biggest challenge is we have no banquets.”

The banquet space is usually busy in the holiday season, but not this year.

Mouzon House
Saratoga Springs

The farm-to-table restaurant in a converted brick Victorian House will offer not just Christmas dinner but a holiday breakfast as well.

“We believe that now, more than ever, slowing down to spend time with loved ones is so important and we hope to help facilitate that by taking care of the meal preparation,” said garde manger Rebecca Pedinotti. “We’re even preparing Christmas morning breakfast! Our breakfast package is also designed to make a great gift.”

The Christmas morning package includes cheese galettes, ham and cinnamon buns. Dinner menus start with beet galette, stuffed clams or antipasti; end with chocolate salami or tiramisu; and feature a main course of lamb, chateaubriand, salmon or haddock.

Orders must be placed online before Dec. 19.

Waters Edge Lighthouse

Takeout is a new thing for Waters Edge.

Normally, thanks to its perch on a bank overlooking the Mohawk River, Waters Edge does a brisk business in the summer, then slows down for the winter.

This summer, business was even more brisk — the expansive waterfront patio was very popular with people who wanted to get out of their house but were leery of sitting indoors.

“The patio was awesome,” general manager Joe Popolizio said. “This year it paid dividends because people are just so much more comfortable eating outside.”

Patio notwithstanding, Waters Edge has had a drop-off in business, just as the rest of the industry has during the pandemic.

It began offering takeout meals for the first time ever this year, with featured Easter, Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving dinners.

The Christmas takeout dinner has two options: Slow-roasted prime rib or herb-crusted salmon, sized to serve one person or four to six people, with assorted sides and optional appetizers and desserts.

Deadline for orders is Dec. 20; pickup is Dec. 24.

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