Thanksgiving is the last hurrah for the multitude of flavors that come together to spell “autumn” in our little lizard brains. Herbs like sage and rosemary, Brussels sprouts and squash, apples and ginger—soon we’ll say goodbye to all that and it’ll be all Christmas, all the time. Chocolate and peppermint will flavor absolutely everything—hell, they’ve already snuck their way into the Pringles can, once a bastion of salt. Orange and cinnamon will somehow find their way into the very air around you, like surplus oxygen pumped onto the casino floors in Vegas.
Some of this has to do with geographical seasonality—there’s only so much you can grow when there’s been 2 feet of snow on the ground for a month. But much more of it is due to the manufactured seasonality of holidays as consumer events. How are people supposed to go wild shopping for Christmas gifts on Black Friday if they still feel like it’s Thanksgiving, a time for being grateful for what you already have? How can you keep latte consumption running high without introducing a new limited-time-only flavor every three weeks?
Turns out seasonality means less and less these days, both from a meteorologic and a material perspective. Starbucks rolled out its holiday-branded cups weeks ago, along with all the eggnog/gingerbread/peppermint coffee-type beverages that go in them. And with a hurricane, massive snowstorm and mid-60s temperatures all within a week of each other, climate and season have only a passing acquaintance. So check out some of these autumnal flavors after Thanksgiving and assert your independence from the whole charade.
If you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, you’re not alone. If all you’ve ever had are Aunt Gertie’s boiled-while-the-turkey’s-in rendition, there’s really not much to love. Cooked plainly, the little guys’ crucifer heritage comes out loud and clear, packing all the stench of boiled cabbage into a tiny, bite-sized parcel. But roasting opens them up to a world of caramelized sweetness, a slight bitter edge and the delightful contrast of tender interior and crisp exterior. Eat these anywhere, but especially at Mile End Sandwich (53 Bond St., mileenddeli.com), where they’re halved and tossed with shredded radicchio and a bacon vinaigrette that nestles in all the right crevices. It’s just the right thing to cut the richness of their signature Ruth Wilensky sandwich (that’s fried salami for us non- Montréalers).
Sure, there’ll be apple cider till Easter, but that over-spiced, over-sweetened hooch doesn’t do the apple justice. Over the years, New York has been home to some of the most brilliant apple breeders, who created a multitude of varieties that coax bright tartness, honeyed sweetness, floral undertones and more from the fruit. Go straight to the source at the Union Square farmers’ market, which is open all year round (apples keep for months in the right cold storage!), or try some of the seasonal sandwiches at Num Pang (21 E. 12th St. or 140 E. 41st St., numpangnyc.com), the Cambodian sandwich shop whose creations defy borders. Roasted, spiced chicken comes with slices of pickled apple, turkey breast is topped with a very Thanksgiving cranberry-apple chutney, and glazed pork belly is accompanied by Asian pear (OK, not an apple, but just as autumnal!).
For a full-on one-two punch of fall, try Crispo (240 W. 14th St., crisporestaurant.com) and their butternut squash tortelloni with chestnuts and sage. The below-the-radar Northern Italian spot (no mean feat for a restaurant that sits right on 14th Street) serves a variety of soul-warming pastas in a romantically low-lit, brick-lined room, along with plenty of their signature ingredients: prosecco, prosciutto and parmigiano. But the handmade pockets of rich, dense squash sweetened by the street vendor favorite, roasted chestnuts, and made savory with browned butter and fried sage, take the seasonal prize.
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