These restaurants serve Thanksgiving meals influenced by global cuisine, from Italy to the Philippines

Amanda Yeager | Baltimore Sun

The Thanksgiving table of Luke Ilardo’s childhood overflowed with all the hallmarks of a Sicilian holiday feast.

There were “40-pound” lasagnas and casseroles of pasta al forno “the size of three small children.” There were mountains of fried shrimp, fried veal cutlets and “trays of rice pudding that you could go swimming in,” Ilardo remembers.

And then there was “so much bread.”

Like the traditional American Thanksgiving, his family’s Sicilian-style meal was a “big, celebratory feast,” said Ilardo, the co-owner of Doppio Pasticceria, an Italian bakery stationed in R. House food hall in North Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood.

He’s among the many Americans who incorporate food from cultures around the world on their Thanksgiving plates. A recent survey from food company Campbell’s found that 63% of respondents enjoy serving Thanksgiving dishes that are reflective of their culture. Some of the countries most represented at the Thanksgiving table include China, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, France and Germany, the survey found.

In the Baltimore region, a growing number of restaurants and caterers are serving up Thanksgiving packages and preorders with food that goes beyond the standard turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing. We took a look at what’s on the plate throughout the region.

‘This is the Puerto Rican holiday meal’

For Jayleen Fonseca, Thanksgiving tastes like pernil and arroz con gandules.

The hearty, slow-cooked pork roast and rice with pigeon peas are a staple on the table for Acción de Gracias, as Puerto Ricans call the Thanksgiving holiday.

Jesse Ramirez, executive chef, and his wife, Jayleen Fonseca, CEO, owners of JesseJay’s Latin Inspired Kitchen in Anne Arundel County. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun )

But the star of the show, for her family, are pasteles, pockets of masa dough stuffed with meat, raisins, olives and peppers. The dish is similar in concept to Mexican tamales, though Fonseca said Puerto Ricans typically make their masa out of yucca, green bananas, potatoes and pumpkins, rather than corn.

Assembling pasteles is a labor-intensive task, so Fonseca, who owns JesseJay’s Latin Inspired Kitchen in Churchton with her husband, Jesse Ramirez, has started offering them to customers who don’t want to make their own for the holidays.

“They’re very difficult to make: There’s a lot of different steps, and especially working with these root vegetables, it takes time to cook them down and to get the masa right,” Fonseca said. “We sell out of pasteles every year because it’s something so unique and it’s not super easy to find, especially here in Maryland. We have Puerto Ricans coming from Baltimore and D.C. seeking out these foods.”

She and Ramirez recruit their family members to help with making big batches of pasteles in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Fonseca’s parents come in from out of town and “we’ll spend the whole day, it will be like 10 of us, working and making pasteles,” she said.

The family uses a recipe from Fonseca’s grandmother, which has been passed down through generations. JesseJay’s customers have responded eagerly to the offer of premade pasteles, ordering hundreds each holiday season for a taste of home or childhood.

“Whatever we make, we will sell — whether it’s 40 dozen, 50 dozen,” Fonseca said. “Each year, we try to prepare at the restaurant so we can make more.”

JesseJay’s sells platters of pernil and arroz con gandules big enough to feed four to six people for $60. Pasteles are priced at $40 for a dozen.

The special orders aren’t just for Thanksgiving, either. Fonseca and Ramirez plan to make another batch of pasteles to sell at Christmastime, as well.

“This is the Puerto Rican holiday meal,” Fonseca said.

“It’s something that we love to provide, especially for those Puerto Ricans looking for a little bit of home here in Maryland.”

Catering to Filipinos ‘far away’ from home

When Rianna Stavrides’ mother moved to the U.S. from the Philippines, Stavrides wanted to find ways to make her feel more at home.

“I came here working as a culinary intern,” said Stavrides, who herself moved to the Baltimore region 13 years ago, “and I realized that for immigrants, it’s sometimes hard to feel comfortable immersing ourselves in certain situations. I always wondered: What can I do to make my mom feel comfortable?”

The answer, she found, was through cooking.

Stavrides runs Frisco Filipino Baltimore, a Baltimore County-based catering business specializing in Filipino cuisine. The business’ tagline, “Lutong Bahay,” means “home cooked” — because Stavrides wants customers to feel at home when they eat her food.

Joining her in the kitchen are her mom and brother. Her husband helps with food deliveries.

“We look forward to catering events together,” Stavrides said. “We’re not just going to the mall as a family, we’re actually doing things together.”

For Thanksgiving, she and her family prepare Filipino comfort foods: pork and shrimp lumpia, baked sushi, Filipino spaghetti with a Bolognese sauce sweetened by brown sugar and banana ketchup and topped with sliced hot dogs. Though Filipinos do not traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving, many of the dishes in Frisco Filipino’s catering package are served at Christmas, a major holiday on the island.

“Pork belly is definitely one dish that Filipinos look forward to eating,” Stavrides said, “and sweet, sticky stuff,” like leche flan and laing, a spicy-sweet blend of taro leaves, coconut milk, lemon grass, ginger and garlic.

Cooking all these dishes starts three days before Thanksgiving, and the family rents kitchen space at a nearby church to have enough room for the preparations.

Frisco, named after the area in the Philippines where Stavrides grew up, started selling Thanksgiving packages four years ago. Originally, she tried offering American Thanksgiving staples, but customers told her they already had those bases covered. Instead, they wanted some Filipino classics to add to the table.

Over the years, the demand has multiplied: from five orders the first year, to 10, to 20.

Most of her customers are Filipino, and many work in health care, with work shifts on Thanksgiving Day.

“That’s why they love the packages,” Stavrides said, “because they know they can get it delivered and have it ready for their family.”

Even her non-Filipino customers are usually related to someone of Filipino heritage and want to include Filipino staples at the Thanksgiving table. Her own holiday meal features American classics, Filipino comfort food and Greek dishes, as well — a nod to her husband’s heritage.

“I appreciate that,” Stavrides said of customers who are looking to make their guests feel more at home. “It’s nice to see people make an effort to make somebody comfortable through food.”

Leave the drumstick, take the cannoli

Luke Ilardo holds a cannoli dusted with pistachio crumbs, one of the Italian specialities offered at Doppio Pasticceria for Thanksgiving. Doppio Pasticceria, a Sicilian bakery, is also making lasagna, focaccia, muffaletta platters and mixed cookie boxes for the holiday.

Luke Ilardo’s Thanksgiving meals have always had a Sicilian flair.

Though he grew up in a family with both Italian and German roots, Thanksgiving dinners were spent with the Sicilian side, where relatives dined on mounds of lasagna and fried shrimp. Over the years, as relatives aged and younger generations took over, more American traditions started to make their way to the table.

“At some point, turkey started popping up, and stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce,” Ilardo remembers. “I think like most immigrant families, when you get a generation removed and some of that influence starts to wane a little bit, you get a little further away from that tradition.”

But he still makes it a point to include some Italian staples at the table. He makes fresh focaccia, while his brother makes carbonara and cousins bring the fried shrimp.

And “there’s still a charcuterie board that takes up an entire table,” he said.

Ilardo owns Doppio Pasticceria with Megan Cowman, who also has Sicilian heritage. This Thanksgiving, they’re offering preorders of lasagna, focaccia, cannoli, biscotti, rice pudding and more for diners who also want to add a taste of Italy to their holiday meal.

The Thanksgiving menu is “a balance of what I would ideally be offering and what people who may have grown up with a very traditional American Thanksgiving spread would be interested in,” Ilardo said. In addition to the pasta and pastry, there’s farro salad, sweet potato brioche and olive oil spelt cake with brown sugar apples.

Many of the dishes, like the 12-serving lasagna, were chosen to cater to customers who need to feed large groups of people. But Ilardo and Cowman are also weaving in family traditions. Doppio Pasticceria’s rice pudding, for instance, is inspired by the dessert made by Zia Assunta, his great-aunt.

Megan Cowman and Luke Ilardo, co-owners of Doppio Pasticceria at R. House, show a cookie plate that includes some of the pastries offered in a mixed cookie box for Thanksgiving.

The mixed cookie assortment “is something that I’m always looking for at a Thanksgiving gathering,” he said. Unlike his grandmothers and aunts, however, he will not be sprinkling rainbow nonpareils over each and every cookie.

“There’s pragmatism involved,” Ilardo said, “and then there’s the romance of this is what I grew up eating and what I would love to see on a Thanksgiving table.”

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