MIDTOWN — Traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and stuffing were served up with a side of hockey and washed down with pints of Moosehead Monday night as Canucks across the city celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving.
The holiday, which takes place more than a month before American Thanksgiving, on a day Americans celebrate Columbus Day instead, is little-known to most Americans, who typically greet the concept with amused confusion.
“Most people say, ‘Really? The Pilgrims were up there?'” laughed Upper East Sider Camille Kurtz, 52, who grew up in Ottawa, Ontario and has been living in the city for the past 30 years.
“What I say is the harvest comes earlier in Canada,” said Kurtz, who was among several dozen expats who descended on Midtown’s Canadian-themed Windfall Bar on West 39th Street Monday evening for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.
“I think we’re the only place in New York that does Canadian Thanksgiving,” said Widfall's chef, David Cioppa, who grew up in Vancouver's province of British Columbia and was inspired to transform the Irish pub into a Canadian-themed bar once a week after the last winter Olympics, when thousands of Canadians poured into bars across the city to cheer on their team.
Every Saturday night, the bar now becomes "Canada Club," complete with hockey games fed from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a menu serving traditional Canadian cuisine, like the gravy and cheese curd-smothered Poutine French fries, and a wide selection of Canadian beers, including the hard-to-find Alexander Keith's.
“If they work here, a lot of people just can’t get home for a quick weekend,” explained Cioppa of the idea behind the dinner, which just happens to coincide with the start of the NHL season. “We just decided there were enough Canadians that it’s worth it.”
And so far, he appears to be right. This year, he estimated he'd cooked about 300 dinners through the long weekend, nearly finishing off a dozen 25-pound turkeys — which are much easier to find ahead of the U.S. peak season.
His menu included classic white and dark meat, served with mashed potatoes, yams and green beans. But instead of cranberries, he used kumquats and figs and, in an ode to Canada, served maple pecan pie for dessert, instead of the traditional pumpkin.
The menu also included Canadian favorites like Poutine and the hand-stretched fried dough pastry beaver tails.
“It’s about the taste of home and the feeling of home,” Cioppa explained.
For those stuck miles from home on the holiday, the efforts were appreciated.
“It’s nice to have a place where you can feel a bit more Canadian,” said Valerie Foulkes, 25, from Toronto, who traveled from her apartment in Battery Park to the Windfall Bar for the comfort of a traditional meal.
“I don’t get home that much, but for some reason, on Thanksgiving, I feel it,” said Foulkes, who has lived in New York about a year and a half and began her meal with a Moosehead beer.
She dined with her roommate and fellow Canadian Nicole Petrowski, 27, who is originally from Winnipeg and who said being away for Thanksgiving was "tough."
Chelsea Storteboom, 22, who is originally from Vancouver and now lives in West Harlem, works at Windfall Saturday nights, but stopped by Monday to introduce a friend to the Canadian tradition — which even Canadians dispute the origins of.
“I’m kind of jealous because my mom’s doing Thanksgiving at home,” she said, but was at least glad to enjoy the home-cooked meal.
“I don’t even know what Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates. I just like the turkey," she said.
For Kurtz, the dinner was also an opportunity to introduce her co-workers to some classic Canadian delicacies.
“I’m having fun just by reading the menu,” said Kurtz, who discovered the bar online.
For Kathy Gillroy Oberle, 66, an American visiting from North Carolina, the meal may not have had the same sentimental value, but also had some perks over her family’s traditional American Thanksgiving feast.
“You don’t have to have your relatives over and you don’t have to cook it,” she said.