Getting a Leg Up

Calorie counters can ask to hold the breadcrumbs and Parmesan on Bayou Bakery's blackened turkey meatballs.

There’s a lot of fowl play going on these days. That’s because local chefs have discovered that turkey — so often relegated to the Thanksgiving table or between slices of bread — can up the innovation and nutrition content of their menus. “It’s lean, high in protein and has more flavor than chicken,” says Bourbon Steak’s executive chef, Adam Sobel, who has created a Pilgrim-friendly burger. Here’s how they’re flipping the bird every day.

Bayou Bakery (1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington; 703-243-2410)

Chef-owner David Guas’ wife doesn’t eat red meat or pork, but he didn’t want to strike meatballs from his home kitchen. So, he created a turkey alternative with enough Southern sass that he decided to also serve them at his NOLA-inspired eatery ($6 for four). “It’s a tender, moist meatball with great flavor,” Guas says. “And it’s heart-healthy.” Freshly ground gobbler, pureed Vidalia onions, bell peppers and garlic get balled up, coated in Creole spices and blackened in the oven before coming out to be served in a pool of roasted tomato sauce. You can cut back on the calorie content by asking that the Parmesan and breadcrumbs that normally top it be held.

Figs Fine Food Café (4828 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 202-333-7773)

The menu at this Palisades neighborhood café and carryout features Moroccan, Mediterranean and Lebanese influences. But no matter what culinary tradition she’s emphasizing in a dish, chef Khadija Banouas loves using turkey as her prime protein. “It’s healthier than pork or beef,” she explains. “Our customers want food that tastes good and is good for them.” They can’t go wrong ordering the turkey lasagna ($12). The meat is sautéed without oil; there’s plenty of zucchini and eggplant in the mix to make sure you eat your veggies; the light béchamel sauce that covers the top layer of noodles has “just a little touch” of butter; and Banouas leaves cheese out of the equation entirely.

Bourbon Steak (2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-944-2026)

Just because you’re dining at a steak house doesn’t mean you have to get your moo on. Rather than rely on any old bird for his burger ($15), Sobel uses heritage turkey — an original breed with more flavorful meat than the typical modern turkey. He perks up the patty with sage, poultry spice, ground apricot and stuffing, and then grills it over a mesquite and oak fire. The burger’s served on a toasted whole-wheat roll smeared with garlic mashed potatoes and crowned with a spoonful of homemade cranberry sauce. “It’s like Thanksgiving on a bun,” Sobel says.

Red Apron (At various farmers markets; 703-746-9972)

Butcher Nathan Anda’s known for his pork. “But I’m a sucker for turkey,” he says. Anda was inspired to create his homemade rillette ($8 for 4 ounces) when he was brining turkeys for sandwich meat and wanted to do something with the legs. He cured the dark meat with orange zest, thyme, long pepper and brown sugar, and turned it into a smooth spread that’s healthier than you might think. “The majority of the fat in dark meat is unsaturated,” says Anda, who recommends eating his creation at room temperature on a warm whole-wheat loaf with sharp mustard.

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