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Holiday Shopping Is In The Cards

Macaroni Grill’s Chicken Under a Brick is a simple, classic Tuscan-inspired dish | Jo McGarry photos

Macaroni Grill’s Chicken Under a Brick is a simple, classic Tuscan-inspired
dish | Jo McGarry photos

While the turkey carcass has barely been made into soup stock, it’s time to get the cookies and milk out for Santa.

Weren’t the holidays a little more relaxing years ago?

I blame Martha Stewart for starting the stress. I never thought it was fair that Martha went to jail for her alleged insider trader knowledge, but I’ve always thought she should have been given a stiff sentence for creating unattainable standards of homemaking between Halloween and Christmas. Even the most creative crafters are dwarfed by Martha’s grand schemes for the holidays. Without Martha, I doubt we would feel compelled to create miniature ice skating scenes from spun sugar or bake boxes of coconut-pistachio biscotti for our co-workers.

But I believe there is a simple answer to the stress of shopping and gift-giving, and it comes in the shape of a little plastic card.

Restaurant gift certificates are almost the perfect gift. They can be bought in increments of $10, there is a restaurant to suit almost every style and shape, they are ready-wrapped, and this year, almost every gift card at major restaurants comes with a “thank you” for the gift-giver.

At Macaroni Grill, for example, you receive a $5 gift card for every $25 you spend purchasing gift cards, and at Ruth’s Chris Steak House there’s $20 coming back to the gift-giver with every $100 purchase.

Spend $25 on gift cards at Macaroni Grill and get a $5 gift card for yourself. Dessert, anyone?

Spend $25 on gift cards at Macaroni Grill and get a $5 gift card for yourself.
Dessert, anyone?

Emi Espinda, director of sales and marketing for Macaroni Grill and Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses statewide, believes the holiday giveaway is one where everybody wins.

“We love to be able to thank our guests for their support,” says Espinda, “and during the holiday season there’s no easier way to do that than to give a gift to them when they’re buying for someone else.”

There’s a lot to love about Macaroni Grill this holiday season, including a number of new appetizers and happy hour specials – but one of my favorite dishes there continues to be the excellent Chicken Under a Brick. With hints of lemon, sage and roasted garlic and served over fingerling potatoes, this is a rustic preparation that shows a simple, classic Tuscan-inspired dish at its very best.

And if you want to avoid the holiday rush or just get out of traffic for a while, Macaroni Grill also offers one of the all-time best happy hours in town, with $4 beers and $6 pizza offered from 3 to 5 p.m. daily.

But here’s what I really love about the idea of buying restaurant gift cards for the holidays: Not only is your holiday shopping all wrapped up in minutes, but you’re supporting some of our best local businesses. And the idea is becoming so popular, you’ll find some restaurants have a gift card station already in place to cut your shopping time down even further. At Le Bistro in Niu Valley, for example, gift card holiday buying has grown to the point where there was a permanently staffed table set up last year to cope with demand.

Here’s how I see the options: Drive to mall. Sit in car waiting for parking space.

Get frustrated. Fight crowds at mall. Buy gift you know will be returned Dec. 26. Wait in line for gift wrapping. Forget where you left your car. Get mad at people sitting in their car glaring at you to leave. Get home. Realize you still have 10 more presents to buy … Or go to a favorite restaurant. Have dinner. Buy gift certificates. Support local business. Done.

Happy eating!