Holidays are a little weird at our house. Both our families live down east, and being childfree, there’s usually less incentive to get into the decorating and feasting than if we had spawned. Because it’s just the two of us, we seldom end up doing anything huge for occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas. And while we’re mostly good with not having to get on a plane to go eat some turkey (and not dealing with the potential squabbling about who “gets us” and for how long), the various holidays often seem to be missing a sense of celebration.
I always cook the traditional dinner, but it ends up being like any other evening meal, only with more dishes to wash. So this year, we decided to do something different.
We found out that the Palais Royale was serving a Thanksgiving brunch. It was over $40 per person, and we waffled for a bit over the price, but threw caution to the wind and went anyway.
Wow. Seriously wow. And thus begins a new holiday tradition of getting dressed up and going somewhere fancy on the various holidays, because that was the best idea ever.
The Palais Royale has a long history; it started off as a boat shop in 1922, and spent the last couple of decades or so in a state of disrepair. But from the late 20s up to the mid-50s it was a nightclub venue, part of the Sunnyside Amusement park that was torn down in 1955 to make way for the Gardiner Expressway. All of the big names of the big band era played the Palais Royale, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and the Dorsey Brothers. In recent years, it played host to the Rolling Stones, Gary Numan, Echo and the Bunnymen and other touring bands, but the building was in rough shape. The back terrace was falling apart, the basement level flooded regularly, and a small fire threatened the place one Christmas.
It was taken over in 2005 by the Pegasus Group who renovated the whole building. Some controversy occurred because the renovations were not authentic to the building, and were a mishmash of art deco styles, but having seen the renovations firsthand, I personally think the space is breath-taking. Maybe it’s not completely true to the way to was in the 30s, but most people who are not historians aren’t going to notice.
The brunch prepared by Chef Steffan Howard was also pretty breath-taking, offering all the standard brunch items such as pancakes, waffles, eggs benedict, eggs florentine, sausages, bacon, smoked salmon, etc., as well as a full formal Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to candied yams, scalloped potatoes, a variety of salads, rice and bread, there was roast turkey, stuffing, ham, roast beef and a baked salmon.
The dessert table was a vision of loveliness with trays of small sweets, tarts and chocolate truffles as well as pumpkin pie, pear cake, apple strudel, trifle and a tower of croque-em-bouche. At first we though the croque-em-bouche was just for show, and the carmelized sugar made the thing difficult to break apart, but I managed to do so without sending the thing flying across the room, and was rewarded with a cream puff covered in crunchy caramel.
Beverages included coffee, tea, hot apple cider, juice or soda with wine and beer available for a separate charge.
A jazz trio took to the stage at one point to play while we dined.
The best part of the event was that people actually dressed up. Not super-fancy like at a wedding (which is the bulk of the functions at the Palais now), but we saw almost no one in jeans; no baseball caps, no t-shirts with slogans on them. Everyone had made an effort to look nice for this very nice meal in this lovely space and that was fabulous to see.
I’m not sure if the Palais will be doing a Christmas dinner event, but if not, we’ve decided that we’ll go to one of the swank hotels like the Royal York or the King Eddie and have Christmas Day dinner there. Holidays are all about traditions, after all, and when you live in a city with few relatives nearby, you get to recreate your holiday traditions to suit yourself. So a fancy meal out somewhere on the holidays, instead of sitting at home eating chicken and wishing there was something decent on TV, sounds like a really wonderful tradition to start.