Saturday, November 26, 2011

A turkey Hajj (or "pilgrimage to Mecca").

Open-faced hot turkey sandwich. © Ryan Schierling
I'm totally with you, internets! We don't need 400 new recipes to create from Thanksgiving leftovers. We know that the best way to eat them is just to eat them. Sometimes, it's only a matter of reconfiguring them on the plate. This particular arrangement happens to be my favorite.

My story begins in a wonderfully gritty little dive bar/café – Mecca Cafe. It is this establishment that I have to thank for my sincere appreciation of turkey. Located in the heart of Seattle's Lower Queen Anne neighborhood, it is a stone's throw from the Space Needle and was walking distance from our old place. It is every bit as unpretentious and personable as its motto, which reads, "Alcoholics serving alcoholics since 1929." Split into two separate spaces, they serve stiff drinks on one side and offer rock-solid comfort food on the other, in true old-diner style.

And I know I am not the only one to have found delicious respite in their particular style of open-faced hot turkey sandwich.
"On a bad day, one of their good greasy breakfasts or the hot open-faced turkey sandwich might just save your life." - The Stranger, Dec 13, 2007
Most Thanksgivings I have had the opportunity to eat turkey, but most of those years I took a pass on the bird. My general opinion was that eating turkey just wasted stomach space for the really yummy things on the holiday menu, like mashed potatoes with dressing and gravy. And pie.

But one fateful day nine years ago, months away from any gratitude-based festivities, I made the acquaintance of the open-faced hot turkey sandwich at Mecca. I was smitten. Thick slices of egg bread, 1/8" cuts of turkey breast that pulled apart easily with a fork, and a fluffy heap of mashed potatoes all generously drenched in warm delicious gravy… sigh a revelation.

I don't recall if someone recommended it to me that day, or if I ordered it on a whim. I'm not even sure if I was alone or with a friend. All I remember is that it was a turning-point. I was eating the most amazing turkey plate I had ever eaten in my life and realizing that this was what a holiday meal involving turkey aspired to be. Oh, the gratitude!

There's nothing fancy at all about a hot turkey sandwich. It's a straightforward layering of sliced turkey over bread, snugged up to a pile of mashed potatoes, then all topped with turkey gravy and served with a big spoonful of cranberry sauce. But each element is important; flimsy honey-wheat bread, dried out Butterball®, rehydrated Idaho® Spuds™ and generic gravy from a jar are NOT going to give you the same sandwich. Also, the cranberry sauce had better be fresh because the gelatinous kind from a can will never deliver that wonderful sweet-tart sensation of a whole cranberry bursting between your teeth.

This year we planned for having adequate leftovers. All the extra home-cooked goodies for this meal were waiting in the refrigerator: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes with butter and cream, and cranberry sauce made with fruity cabernet. Bread was the only additional item we had to buy to make this – which actually worked out perfectly for us since we'd already gobbled down the sourdough dressing. Now that we're living in Texas, we decided to try it with a loaf of Texas Toast instead of egg bread. Because of its similarly-thick slices and light texture, it was a satisfying facsimile of the real deal. 

There are a thousand ways to dress up, dress down, and devour those Thanksgiving leftovers, but few more simple than this – unless you're eating things cold right out of the fridge. It is also the most turkey this quasi-vegetarian will probably ever eat off of one plate at a meal. Spicy pumpkin and smoked turkey risotto be damned. This weekend I'm going to have to insist on a hot turkey sandwich.

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