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A critical appreciation of Thanksgiving Day menus in Baltimore

The Wine Library dining area at Charleston Restaurant in Harbor East.
The Wine Library dining area at Charleston Restaurant in Harbor East. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

A few years back, when I first started writing about Thanksgiving dining options in restaurants, I'd hear from the occasional indignant reader. Thanksgiving wasn't really Thanksgiving, they'd say, unless it took effort.

My argument in favor of dining out on Thanksgiving is, basically, knock yourself out. If you want to, and can afford it, do it.

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I'm lucky enough to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving in Baltimore with my extended family. But every year, as I start sifting through the mouth-watering Thanksgiving dining options around town, I start thinking seriously about finding a way to add an extra dinner to my day.

These are the Thanksgiving dinner offerings that got my attention this year.

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I'm always tempted by the Low Country menu Cindy Wolf prepares for Thanksgiving Day at Charleston. The menu includes some favorite regular items, like the she-crab soup, and a few down-home Southern specialties that rarely show up on Charleston's regular menu. I'm talking about collard greens in ham-hock broth and hoppin john, a dish of black-eyed peas that Wolf flavors with salt pork.

"Thanksgiving is the one time I really step back to Southern cooking," Wolf said.

The undisputed star of the Thanksgiving meal at Charleston is the turkey course, which includes both breast meat and a turkey leg confit. To keep the white meat juicy, Wolf slow-roasts her turkeys before removing the breasts, which are grilled and sliced to order. But it's the confit, a days-long method that involves the immersion and slow cooking of meat in butter, turkey fat and seasonings, that makes people crazy.

"It's so tasty," Wolf said. "I have people who love the confit so much they now do it this way themselves."

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Thanksgiving dinner at Charleston (1000 Lancaster St. , Harbor East, 410-332-7373, charlestonrestaurant.com) is served from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The cost for the three-course menu, the dessert portion of which is still being finalized, is $79 per person.

For another take on regional cuisine, I'd want to stop in at Langermann's in Canton, which is opening on Thanksgiving for the first time. For the occasion, chef Neal Langermann is preparing Southern-style main-course options such as pineapple-glazed ham served with candied yams and pineapple butter sauce, and Southern fried turkey with cornbread stuffing and turkey gravy.

The dessert offerings really got my attention. In addition to traditional pumpkin pie, Langermann's is serving sweet potato cheesecake with caramel-pecan topping and Smith Island pumpkin layer cake.

Thanksgiving dinner at Langermann's (2400 Boston St., 410-534-3287, langermanns.com) is served from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. The cost for the special three-course Thanksgiving menu is $35 for adults and $18 for children.

I was thrilled with Zack Mills' cooking on my last visit to Wit & Wisdom, the anchor restaurant at the Four Seasons Baltimore. At the time, the Maryland native was serving a spicy tomato crab stew that blew me away, and he did brilliant work with grilled meats.

His Thanksgiving menu includes seafood preparations like oysters a la poulette, a rich, stew-like dish better known in New Orleans than in Baltimore, and a jumbo lump crab cake served with a blood-orange gastrique and "boardwalk" fries.

But the Thanksgiving showpiece is Mills' turkey plate, complete with roasted turkey breast and a "turducken" roulade — an original variation on the "turducken," a culinary version of the nesting matryoshka doll involving a turkey stuffed with a duck that was stuffed with a chicken. Mills' roulade version is a slice of turkey stuffed with liver mousse and duck confit, delicately rolled, poached and seared. It's served with cranberry sauce, stuffing and gravy.

Dessert is from the talented pastry chef Dyan Ng, whose simply named dishes defy easy descriptions. For Thanksgiving, Ng is offering the "maple napoleon," which involves maple cream, praline ice cream and caramelized puff pastry, and "black forest," a rethinking of the classic Black Forest cake using sour-cherry confit ice cream.

Thanksgiving dinner at Wit & Wisdom (200 International Drive, Harbor East, 410-223-1456, witandwisdombaltimore.com) is served from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cost for the three-course menu is $74 per adult and $35 for children.

If someone was looking for all of the classic dishes and trimmings served in a traditional setting, I'd point them toward the Milton Inn.

Just about every restaurant we could think of that has the word "inn" in its name is open for Thanksgiving, and this stalwart Sparks restaurant, which operates out of a 247-year-old fieldstone building, is no exception.

In addition to a prix fixe Thanksgiving menu, the Milton Inn is offering diners a limited a la carte menu with fancy fare like venison short ribs, roasted duck and blackened catfish etouffee. But most diners will content themselves with the Thanksgiving feast menu, which includes hand-carved white- and dark-meat turkey, accompanied by homemade gravy, sauerkraut and sausage, Parker House rolls and Jack Tarr mashed potatoes, a variation of the beloved twice-baked and stuffed potato featured on the restaurant's regular menu. For dessert, the options are pumpkin pie, linzertorte and macadamia torte.

Thanksgiving dinner at the Milton Inn (14833 York Road, Sparks, 410-771-4366, miltoninn.com) is served from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cost for the special three-course Thanksgiving menu is $52 per adult and $26 for children 12 and under.

One of these years, I really am going to throw caution to the wind and take myself to Thanksgiving dinner at the Prime Rib. I love the idea of sitting at my own table and putting down a rye Manhattan, oysters on the half shell and prime rib at 1 o'clock before I head off to dinner with the family.

The classic steakhouse is serving its regular a la carte menu on Thanksgiving Day, along with a special three-course holiday menu. The menu's centerpiece is roasted turkey with stuffing, gravy, potato puree and, God bless it, the Prime Rib's intensely rich creamed spinach. The homemade desserts are simply this — pumpkin pie, Key lime pie and pecan pie.

Thanksgiving dinner at the Prime Rib (1101 N. Calvert St., Mid-Town Belvedere, 410-539-1804, theprimerib.com) is served from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cost for the special three-course menu Thanksgiving menu is $45.95 per adult and $24.95 for children under 12.

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