Photo by Rasy Ran

Beef tenderloin with a tomato and mozzarella prosciutto salad: Photo by Rasy Ran

A roast turkey, served with dressing and a side of cranberry sauce, is the centerpiece of the standard Thanksgiving dinner, and any variation on that is a tough sell. The next two months, however, are likely full of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and multiple family gatherings, providing plenty of opportunities to mix it up or simply refine the traditional fare. These offerings are not far from our doorstep — good news for those who did not inherit the family gene for World’s Best Cook. We toured some of Preston Hollow’s artisan food shops and picked the purveyors’ brains for more creative ideas to bring from the shelf to the table.

Beyond takeout

Denise Paul Shavandy, chef of Eatzi’s Market & Bakery: Photo by Rasy Ran

Denise Paul Shavandy, chef of Eatzi’s Market & Bakery: Photo by Rasy Ran

Denise Paul Shavandy spent much of her culinary career in the kitchens of upscale, white-tablecloth restaurants. About a year ago, though, she became the executive chef of Eatzi’s Market & Bakery on Lovers Lane. Now, instead of seeing diners enjoy her dishes at a table in the next room, she watches them browse the cases of prepared food, order from the counter and walk out the door.

But it’s just as gratifying, if not more so, she says.

“I actually get more interaction with customers here than in a restaurant,” she says. “They see the person who is preparing their food.”

The Hockaday grad grew up in Preston Hollow, so she’s no stranger to Eatzi’s neighborhood following: busy families with no time to cook and limited energy to cart the kids to a restaurant.

It’s a lasting trend that the company’s founders realized when they established Eatzi’s 17 years ago.

“We saw that people were taking out more,” CEO Adam Romo says. And at the time, over-processed fast food was the only option.

Shavandy and her team of chefs make everything from scratch at Eatzi’s — from the daily specials at the open grill to the packaged pita bread displayed in the aisle.

The market thrives during the holidays, offering special menus. This year, you’ll find a few less traditional items, along with some tried-and-true year-round dishes.

What to look for

Queso chorizo: Eatzi’s has always offered its house-made queso, but on a whim Shavandy recently added a new twist: chunks of chorizo. It’s been flying off the shelf ever since. The dip is great for a holiday appetizer and for watch parties throughout football season.

Rotisserie chicken salad: Using chopped rotisserie chicken, instead of the usual roasted breast, brings a more intense flavor to this comforting but typically boring dish.

The “non-traditional” dressing: New to the holiday menu this year is a type of dressing that includes jalapenos, pecans and dried fruit. Weird, right? Only to those born in the south. “There are people here [from the north] who say ‘Wow, I haven’t had that since I was a kid,’ ” Romo says.

Pesto couscous: If you’re headed to a classy dinner party, grab a few servings of this pretty green couscous from the display case to use as a base for beef tenderloin from the open grill, paired with a tomato and mozzarella prosciutto salad (pictured above).

Sweet apple cake: It’s flat, round and dark brown in color — not exactly the prettiest cake in the dessert case. But it might be one of the best, made with honey and apples, and topped with a sweet glaze. “It tastes a lot better than it looks,” Romo says.

Pesto couscous from Eatzi's: Photo by Rasy Ran

Pesto couscous: Photo by Rasy Ran

Breaking bread

Empire Baking Company: Photo by Rasy Ran

Empire Baking Company: Photo by Rasy Ran

Twenty years ago, the average Dallas grocery shopper paid little attention to food labels, especially when it came to a commodity like bread. So when Preston Hollow resident Meaders Ozarow quit her job in high-end furniture sales to launch Empire Baking Company, it was an uphill struggle — at first.

“There was no challenge when people tasted it,” Ozarow says.

The typical industrialized loaf contains a dizzying number of chemical ingredients. Empire’s recipes have four: King Arthur flour, filtered water, starter (or a small amount of yeast) and salt.

The difference in flavor is significant, and it’s why wholesale makes up 80 percent of the business. Empire bread is used in recipes and adorns the tables of some of the best restaurants in town. At the factory, located on University just east of Central, bakers — many of whom have worked for Empire 10-15 years — spend all day baking 30 recipes delivered in the wee hours of the following morning.

The retail shop on Lovers Lane is a popular place to grab breakfast muffins, midday sandwiches or an entire loaf to slice and keep at home for meals throughout the week.

Empire changed the way people thought about bread, but even as food trends have come and gone (from the low-carb craze to gluten-free diets), nothing has changed about Empire.

“We’re making bread the same way we did 20 years ago,” Ozarow says.

What to look for

Empire Baking Company selection: Photo by Rasy Ran

Empire Baking Company: Photo by Rasy Ran

Cranberry cinnamon walnut: For a party appetizer, slice and pair this holiday loaf with a complementary cheese such as brie. Ozarow says she likes to make a turkey sandwich with it; it’s a good bread to have around for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Cranberry paisano: Special during Thanksgiving, bakers add cranberries to the dough of one of Empire’s standard offerings, paisano, an Italian white bread. Sure, you could simply spread cranberry sauce on top of the regular paisano, but this method ups the flavor intensity.

Toasted sesame: Ozarow just rolled out this loaf last month, and the Empire employees (aka taste-testers) gobbled it up and have been raving about it ever since. With a crispy crust, soft center and bold sesame taste, it’s a perfect table bread to serve all on its own.

Pumpernickel: Empire’s version of this traditional sweet rye bread can take finger sandwiches to a new level (try using Eatzi’s rotisserie chicken salad). Or, use it in a dressing recipe for a twist on the Thanksgiving staple.

Empire pies: If you think the breads impress, try the piecrusts, available with holiday fillings just once a year: Texas pecan, pumpkin and apple-cranberry pie. The fresh apples are cored, peeled and sliced by hand.

Celebrate good times

Celebration Market: Photo by Rasy Ran

Celebration Market: Photo by Rasy Ran

On the day before Thanksgiving, the scene at Celebration Market resembles a controlled chaos. The larger-than-usual staff includes runners who dash across the parking lot transporting prepared dishes from the restaurant kitchen to the market — about 300 orders by the day’s end.

“It’s like we’ve taken a whole month of food and sell it in one day,” says market manager Leah Ferraro.

Celebration, both the restaurant and the market, is known for house-made traditional fare such as casseroles and pot roasts; it’s a reprieve from the trendy foodie scenes engulfing our neighborhood. That’s why Celebration is so busy during the holidays, when tradition reigns.

“Our food is the kind of food that you would cook if you had the time to cook,” Ferraro says.

The restaurant has been open for more than 40 years, making it a hub for regulars. The market, however, which opened in 2001, sometimes still goes unnoticed. Ferraro says some diners assume it offers the same menu, but with everything being cold.

“There’s so much more to it than that,” she says. “I consider us a cross between the restaurant and catering.”

In fact, the market carries several items you won’t find on the restaurant’s menu, all freshly prepared from scratch by chef Ofelio Soto, whom Ferraro credits with much of the market’s success.

Once you’ve checked turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce off your menu, take a closer look at the other goodies available in the market.

What to look for

Raspberry chipotle torta: Photo by Rasy Ran

Raspberry chipotle torta: Photo by Rasy Ran

In a Pickle jams: This local food purveyor from Fort Worth sells its homemade jams in the market with some creative and seasonal varieties, such as apple-bourbon-cinnamon, and sweet-and-spicy tomato. The pickle chips work well in tuna salads.

Creamy cucumber dressing: Served in the restaurant, this is one of Celebration’s most popular house-made dressings, and diners often stop to buy it in the market before leaving. Just toss it into some plain salad greens for an easy side dish and to avoid extra vegetable chopping.

Cajun-fried bone-in turkey: If your taste buds tire of the roast turkey, try substituting this Louisiana-inspired take on the turkey dinner, perhaps the only nontraditional item you’ll find on Celebration Market’s holiday menu.

Texas crunch: During the holidays, this packaged snack flies off the shelf by the hundreds. It mixes pretzels, Chex cereal, pecans, marshmallows, chocolate and other tidbits. The 20-ounce bags make a great hostess gift, or you can grab an armful to take to the kids’ class parties.

Raspberry chipotle torta: “I have to bring this to every party I go to,” Ferraro says. The cold appetizer, served with crackers, features raspberry cream cheese layered with chipotle sauce and topped with roasted peppers and raspberry chipotle sauce.

Coastal comforts

Spicy tuna tartar at Rex’s Seafood Market: Photo by Rasy Ran

Spicy tuna tartar: Photo by Rasy Ran

Tired of the corporate world, Rex Bellomy quit his job in commercial real estate to open his own business, which became one of the best fish markets in town. But he didn’t start out as an expert.

“I have a love for cooking and a passion for seafood,” he says. “I learned as I went along.”

The neighborhood resident opened Rex’s Seafood Market in January 2006 at Lovers and Inwood, followed by the restaurant a year later. Bellomy says that when it comes to fresh seafood, being landlocked in Dallas actually helps. He brings in fish from both the east and west coasts six days a week.

“In Dallas, we have the best of both worlds,” he says.

Specifically, the fish seen in the case at Rex’s is caught from the coasts of Alaska, Canada, Hawaii, Boston and the Gulf.

Seafood isn’t exactly a staple dish at the holiday dinner table, but that doesn’t mean our fish markets go into hibernation this time year.

What to look for

Rex's Seafood: Photo by Rasy Ran

Rex’s Seafood: Photo by Rasy Ran

Shrimp cocktail: Made with Gulf shrimp — not the pre-frozen kind found in most grocery store chains — Rex’s shrimp cocktail is a classic appetizer for seafood lovers.

Crab cakes: These are by far the most popular item in the display case year-round, Bellomy says, and it’s all crabmeat, no filler.

Spicy tuna tartar: One of the market’s most popular appetizers, featuring diced sashimi, AAA grade ahi tuna blended with Sriracha and coated in sesame oil.

Gumbo: For some Cajun flare, pick up a quart or two of Rex’s seafood gumbo, one of the market’s most-loved soups, along with the lobster bisque.

Red snapper: Salmon season ends in October, but the red snapper is at its best right now. Bellomy suggests keeping it simple by sautéing the filets with some salt, pepper and lemon juice. Your pescatarian friends will thank you.