November 21, 2012

Soup to Nuts: For Maine restaurants, Thanksgiving calls for mass production

On this Thanksgiving Eve, be thankful you're not Eric Flynn, the head chef at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, who will be cooking for a record 900 people today.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Chef Eric Flynn poses with some of the 800 pounds of potatoes he ordered for Thanksgiving dinner at Freeport’s Harraseeket Inn.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Chef Steve Corry finally decided to open Five Fifty-Five on Thanksgiving this year after a steady increase in inquiries about a holiday dinner in recent years.

Press Herald file/Jack Milton

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"We were able to really visit, really be with each other (at the buffet), in a way that we never were when I had to get up at the crack of dawn, do the turkey, time it all out and all the rest of it," Northrup said. "Even if you have six, seven, eight people at the table (at home), the actual eating time is not very much for all the prep that goes into it. And if you're like most families, you've got the group that's off watching football."

Last year, one of Northrup's daughters asked if they could stay home and make dinner themselves, succumbing after several years of dining out to the annual onslaught of Thanksgiving propaganda.

"I said fine," Northrup recalled. "You know, it's like childbirth. You forget."

So the family had Thanksgiving at home, with friends from New York, and the fancy dessert torn from the pages of a gourmet food magazine took two days to make.

This year, when Northrup asked the same daughter where she wanted to spend Thanksgiving, "she said, 'Are you kidding? We're going to the Harraseeket Inn.' "

Northrup was lucky to get reservations when she called in September. The buffet has three seatings in the main dining room and three seatings in the ballroom, and all of them were sold out by mid-October. Diners on the waiting list can only hope that a party cancels or becomes four instead of eight to make room for them.

Flynn says more than half his Thanksgiving diners are locals. There are lots of return visitors - some people have been coming since they were children, and are now bringing their own children -- but Flynn says he's noticed a lot of new names on the guest list this year.



At the other end of the spectrum is Five Fifty-Five in Portland, which is opening on Thanksgiving for the first time this year.

Chef/owner Steve Corry noticed the steady increase in phone inquiries about the holiday year after year, and decided there is plenty of demand for a "full service, white tablecloth experience" in Portland.

"Our philosophy on running a restaurant in this day and age is that the more full service you can be, the better off you're going to be because your customers are going to be happy," Corry said.

"We'll probably see some new customers this Thanksgiving which hopefully will turn into repeat customers and regulars. The competition is fierce now. There are a lot of restaurants in this town in a down economy, and Thanksgiving is in a pretty slow month. It just seemed like a no-brainer."

Corry said he has to consider staff morale when opening on a family-oriented holiday like Thanksgiving, but his staff has to work Wednesday and Friday that week anyway, which makes it difficult to travel anywhere.

Corry will be working the day as well. His wife and business partner, Michelle, will bring their two sons in for Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant and Corry will try to take a quick break to pop out and say hello.

But he and the rest of his staff won't have time to linger with guests. As of last week, the restaurant had already sold 120 of 150 seats.

Corry will be offering some dishes that are a little different, but the menu will definitely reflect traditional holiday food.

Every year around this time, for example, Corry adds turducken to the menu, and "it's become kind of a little cult favorite."

"We didn't take a whole turkey and stuff it with a whole chicken and stuff it with a whole duck," he said. "It's a play. We take a turkey breast and butterfly and pound it out, and then we layer duck confit, then we have a chicken sausage and we roll the whole thing up together to wrap it.

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Additional Photos

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Chef Steve Corry will be cooking Thursday at his Five Fifty-Five in Portland.

Press Herald file/Jack Milton


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