Turkey, shmurkey — Thanksgiving is about the sides.
That big ol’ bird is all well and good, even if it’s a bit finicky — the details over which people will agonize is never-ending, with garlic-butter injections, salting under the skin, baking tents, deep fryers, dry and wet brines, whether to stuff the bird or not (hint: don’t), big turkeys, small turkeys, cooking timers and resting methods.
A bit of white meat, dark meat or crispy skin is never going to be unwelcome, but the not-so-subtle secret of the Thanksgiving table is that the sides steal the show. Every. Single. Year.
Mashed potatoes and their buttery, garlicky goodness (both with and without skins), steaming Southern dressing, creamed corn, corn souffle and green beans (both in casserole form and cooked down in an ocean of butter and onions).
This list need not continue further — but it will! Collard or mustard greens and their earthy warmth, cornbread, biscuits, rolls, sweet potato souffle, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, fried okra and maybe just a small pile of roasted, crispy Brussels sprouts.
These are where Thanksgiving memories are made. The ostensible add-ons brought potluck-style by friends and family around the table clearly make the meal.
But while you’re laboring over that bird — did you put enough salt in that brine? Do you have a backup if things go wrong? — there are some country cooking favorites around Gainesville and Hall County who have you covered this year on those all-important side dishes.
In no particular order, here are just a few favorites waiting to complete your Thanksgiving dinner.
Grandmother Wilson’s Chicken Dressing
At Amanda’s Farm to Fork in Lula, Amanda Browning and her family are putting in overtime this November churning out whole Thanksgiving dinners for folks who prefer their home-cooked meals from someone else’s home.
But if we’re sticking to sides — and they’ll stick to our sides later, of course — she’s proud of nothing more than her grandmother Sally Wilson’s chicken dressing recipe. And when she wasn’t whipping up trays of mean dressing, Grandma Wilson was running all the local Burger Kings.
“I just think it’s such a tradition for our family, because it’s just not Thanksgiving if my grandmother didn’t make a big pan of dressing,” Browning said, fresh from delivering a pan of dressing and cinnamon rolls.
A meal all on its own, the dressing is made with cornbread, celery, onions, chicken and breadcrumbs.
“It’s one of the staples at our restaurant,” Browning said. “Every Friday we always have chicken and dressing and sweet potato souffle.”
Amanda’s Farm to Fork began taking Thanksgiving orders at the start of November. Reach out on Facebook or call 770-540-1035 to set up your order.
Sides range in price — the dressing is about $25 — and a full-blown Thanksgiving meal costs $165. If you think that’s pricey, it comes with a 30-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, dressing, gravy, souffle, fresh rolls and a pie, and it feeds 10 to 12 people.
Reid’s Cafe buttermilk biscuits
Leave the cornbread and the rolls on their plates, because the famous biscuits from Murrayville’s classic country diner is all the bread you need this Thanksgiving.
“They’re homemade from scratch fresh every day,” said Sherry Rundles. “They’re big cathead biscuits like Mama used to make.”
Sherry and Eddie Rundles own and run the restaurant with their daughter, Christy Barker, and son, Reid Rundles. Eddie is the man behind the biscuits, and on a slow day he’ll make 500 of the buttery creations — and as many as 1,000 on a busy Saturday morning.
Sherry prefers biscuits with gravy, while Eddie opts for sausage.
“We’ll serve them any way you want ‘em,” Sherry said. “We have any kind of biscuit: bacon, ham, sausage, smoked ham, country ham, tenderloin, hot links, bologna — even a salmon biscuit.”
And each biscuit is a trip down memory lane — the recipe hasn’t really changed for the whole 22 years Reid’s has been scratching out catheads along Thompson Bridge Road north of Gainesville.
If you want to get your order in for Thanksgiving, make sure you give yourself at least a day. The restaurant isn’t open on Thanksgiving but can have an order ready the day before.
Plain biscuits can be had for $1.55 a piece, and you can reach Reid’s at 770-535-7744 or stop by at 5337 Thompson Bridge Road in Murrayville.
Kitchen of Dana macaroni and cheese
It wouldn’t be a Gainesville Thanksgiving without something from Green’s. The purveyor of all-things local manages a busy kitchen beginning in November, but getting an order in early will allow you too to secure some mac and cheese this year.
Green’s sells whole Thanksgiving dinners made fresh by Cory, Josh, Douglas, AJ, Jeff, Ed and the rest of the crew behind the counter at the Riverside Drive staple. Armed with a battery of Big Green Eggs, the store sells whole-cooked briskets, turkey breast and hams.
But if you’ve got that covered at home, opt for a tray of some of the store’s golden-brown macaroni and cheese. Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, the tray comes with five cheeses and costs about $25 a pop.
The dishes come from Cleveland-based Kitchen of Dana and serve between 10 and 12 people.
Green’s started accepting Thanksgiving orders Nov. 1, so get down to the store sooner rather than later to secure your spot on the list.
You can reach Green’s at 770-534-5621 or visit at 971 Riverside Drive in Gainesville. To catch Kitchen of Dana directly, call 706-348-1535 or visit www.kitchenofdana.com.