classic holiday bird with a twist

Put a Bird on It!

While a classic holiday bird with all the trimmings may look lovely in a Norman Rockwell painting, three local couples prefer to do things a little differently.

Lizbeth Scordo Restaurants

classic holiday bird with a twist
Rory Snyder and Kari Hendler at Rory’s Palm Springs home cooked up this “aloha bird” with rum glaze.

Andie and Mike Hubka

Cork & Fork and Heirloom Craft Kitchen

La Quinta

Andie Hubka doesn’t do traditional. At Cork & Fork, the La Quinta restaurant she and husband Mike opened in 2013, she laces deviled eggs with pickled jalapeños, tops nachos with tuna poke, and stuffs her grilled cheese with short ribs. So it’s fitting the main event at her family’s Christmas dinner — grilled Cornish game hens with citrus-cilantro vinaigrette — looks nothing like the usual holiday bird.

“They’re basically like little tiny chickens but have a little more of a turkeylike flavor,” she says. “They’re beautiful and really nice for a holiday since everyone gets their own individual one. And since they’re small you can put them on the grill, unlike a big giant bird.”

The Hubkas, high school sweethearts who are now parents to daughters Lily, 7, and Riley, 5, first began inventing out-of-the-box holiday dinner ideas as a way to feed a crowd. “Being in the restaurant industry you can end up with extra people at your holiday gathering because a lot of people don’t have family here,” Andie explains. “We just think it’s fun to do inclusive dinners that feel different than your traditional mom’s dinner.” Over the years, they’ve prepared Cuban-themed feasts, served turkey tacos at Thanksgiving, and thrown Chardonnay-and-crab Christmas Eve parties.

A perk of this year’s hens is that they cook in under an hour, a fraction of the time required to properly finish a turkey. And time is an important factor these days for the couple, who recently added Heirloom Craft Kitchen, a counter-service farm-to-table café, to their portfolio.


Andie Hubka takes a healthy swig of pink champagne, the adult beverage of choice at her household. Zesting lemon for the hen marinade.

The Hubkas tag-team most everything in their lives, including Christmas dinner. Andie preps the birds and the marinade — whisking the zest and juice of limes, lemons, and clementines picked from backyard trees together with garlic, white wine, olive oil, and honey before letting the hens soak it all up for an hour or so on the counter. It’s not difficult to figure out that Andie is a teacher at heart. She staffs her kitchen with students from La Quinta High School’s culinary program and runs the recreational cooking school Cooking With Class. She practically can’t help but spew tips and tricks at every turn, pointing out that most people mistakenly hold a zester upside down; you can save the birds’ backbones for an easy stock; and that marinating in the fridge slows the process down.

Mike — who has a background in the wine industry and is a front-of-house manager for the two restaurants — has taken to cooking more at home in recent years, using his wife as a culinary resource.


Zesting lemon for the hen marinade.


After the hens are decorated with some nice grill marks, they roast in the oven until finished.


The plated masterpiece — grilled Cornish game hens, kale and roasted butternut squash, date and shallot Hawaiian bread dressing, and balsamic pearl onions with pomegranate jewels.


Mike Hubka and his daughters, Lily and Riley, eagerly await their plates.

“She’s quicker than Google,” he jokes. As for grilling the hens, “I get the heat really high to get a little char and some of those nice grill marks,” he explains, before rotating them a few times over the next 35 minutes to ensure even cooking. Inside, Andie reduces the marinade down to a sauce on the stove before joining Mike and the girls at the barbecue with a coupe of pink bubbly in hand. “We are big champagne drinkers so that’s always part of every meal,” she says.

When the birds are done, they get doused with the citrus sauce, topped with cilantro, and served alongside a gaggle of Andie’s whimsical side dishes, from balsamic pearl onions spiked with pomegranate seeds to kale and butternut squash salad tossed with a bacon dressing.

“To me this whole menu is inspired by Southern California and the kinds of ingredients and flavors you find here,” Andie says. “It’s exactly how we like to cook.”

rory snyder and kari snyder

the reef

Palm Springs

There’s no doubt that Rory Snyder and Kari Hendler are a match made in heaven — assuming heaven is a tropical paradise filled with rattan furniture, hand-carved tiki totems, and intricately garnished rum drinks where everyone is having a ridiculous amount of fun.

Hendler, a television script supervisor and photographer, had previously worked as a writer and editor for niche publication Tiki Magazine. Snyder, a longtime bartender and founder of Palm Springs’ annual Tiki Caliente spring festival, was familiar with her work when the two met at a tiki event a few years back. “I soaked up a lot of what she wrote about and became even more educated on the subject of tiki,” he explains.


Rory Snyder and Kari Hendler at Rory’s Palm Springs home.


Spam is added to Kari Hendler’s stuffing.

They hit it off. Earlier this year, when Snyder opened The Reef, a bar and restaurant inside Palm Springs’ Caliente Tropics Resort, he decked the place out with an eclectic mix of furniture, art, and memorabilia from his personal collection, with plenty of input from Hendler. The result is a tiki-meets-mod-meets-nautical gathering spot he’s dubbed a “tropical libation sanctuary.”

It’s not a surprise that the couple’s Christmas celebration at Snyder’s Palm Springs home — decorated with retro Witco art, a rattan living room set, and tons of Hawaiiana collectibles (pay dirt from his more than 200 annual thrifting outings a year) — doesn’t exactly feel like dinner at Grandma’s house. Hendler’s signature “aloha bird” is the main event: a 14-pound rum-glazed turkey stuffed with a combination of torn Filipino ube bread derived from purple yams, old-fashioned cornbread, King’s Hawaiian bread, and that beloved Aloha State staple, Spam.

“Hawaiian and tiki go hand in hand and Hawaiian culture is a wonderful melting pot of lots of other cultures — Japanese, traditional South Pacific, Philippine, and Portuguese,” explains Hendler. “And the food represents that.”

“Hawaiian and Tiki go hand in hand and Hawaiian culture is a wonderful melting pot of lots of other cultures — Japanese, traditional South Pacific, Philippine, and Portuguese. And the food represents that."Kari Hendler

Her homemade glaze — a bubbling mixture of Jamaican dark rum, orange juice, butter, and brown sugar that she uses to baste the bird — is what amps up the tiki twist even further. “The great thing about rums is that they’re each so different. You could make this Christmas turkey with one this year and change the rum next year and it’ll taste totally different,” says Snyder, who concocts his own spiced rum especially for holiday drinks, adding aromatics like clove, allspice, and a bit of vanilla. “It’s the flavor of Christmas.”

When the bird’s done Hendler gives it a final clever garnish, spelling A-L-O-H-A out of sage leaves and serving the glossy turkey alongside a smattering of South Pacific–inspired sides. There’s a bowl of puddlinglike poi and a starchy mix of diced taro, white-fleshed Japanese sweet potatoes, and Okinawan sweet potatoes (a darling of the super-food set these days) all perfectly steamed in emerald-green banana leaves plucked from the plant she grows at her home in Malibu.


Rory Snyder pouring his Kona Christmas cocktail into a vintage glass.

Celebrating a tiki-fied Christmas smack in the middle of a midcentury mecca like Palm Springs feels pretty perfect, says Hendler, the daughter of the well-known late L.A. architect Frank Hendler. “Tiki is midcentury’s wild cousin,” she says with a laugh. “You had all this austere design and clean lines and then tiki came along at the same time and everybody went crazy for it because it was like, ‘Oh we can let our hair down.’ ”

And that’s pretty much what the two like to do after dinner, sitting around the 1950s aluminum Christmas tree with those little paper drink umbrellas serving as ornaments, listening to Don Ho crooning “Mele Kalikimaka” on vinyl, and sipping Snyder’s icy Kona Christmas cocktails out of red-and-green glassware that once lived inside a Trader Vic’s. “I’m a Midwest boy but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a truly traditional holiday dinner,” says Chicago native Snyder. “To me, I like things to be unique and exciting and about escapism. This is just more fun.”

patrick service and anida isakovic service

las casuelas terraza

Palm Springs

Patrick Service has spent a lot of time inside the kitchen of his family’s Mexican restaurant over the years. “Eighth grade summer my parents put me to work there. I was part-time dishwasher and part-time food prep,” says Service. And while his position has evolved over the years — he now oversees operations — he still finds himself in the restaurant’s kitchen. When it is closed on Christmas Day, he lets himself in with a 15-pound turkey in hand and makes a beeline for the deep fryer.

“I show up, watch football while the fryer heats up, and drink a beer,” says Service, whose suds of choice these days is an IPA called Tio Pepe, named for the scarlet macaw parrot who greeted the restaurant’s guests back in the ’80s


Patrick Service deep-frying the turkey in the Las Casuelas Terraza kitchen.


The naked truth.

Service preps his bird with kosher salt and mild white pepper. “A dry brine pulls all the water out ahead of time,” he explains. “And there’s a bit of Latin flavor because we fry it in lard. Because it cooks so quickly, the skin gets super crispy and the juices get sealed in and infuse the meat. It turns out delicious.”

He flips the turkey a few times to make sure every inch gets crisped, finally pulling it out with a pair of tongs after about 45 minutes, part of a three-minute-per-pound rule of thumb. “It’s not very scientific,” admits Service, who spent several years working front of house for star restaurateur Danny Meyer in New York City. “It’s pretty simple.”

Simple cooking is also how he’d describe the cuisine at Las Casuelas Terraza, originally opened (along with several other locations around the valley now owned by extended family members) by his grandparents. “My great-grandmother created a lot of these recipes in a boardinghouse for copper miners near Jerome, Arizona, to fill bellies of people who had these dangerous jobs. It was a meal they could look forward to,” he says. “The [recipes] have been slightly adapted, but not all that much.”


Anida Isakovic Service and Patrick Service at mom Patricia Delgado Service’s home.


Anida Isakovic Service places tamales on the turkey platter.


Patrick Service carves the turkey on the dining table at his mother’s house.

Many of those dishes are the same ones that Service grew up eating at his grandparents’ house every holiday. “No matter what else we had, tamales were always the feature. About the time the holidays hit is when they start harvesting all the sweet corn in Coachella so that’s the flavor that always stands out.”

He makes sure to grab a batch of them from the restaurant before shuttling everything back to mom Patricia Delgado Service’s house. The family feast is traditionally a group effort with aunts, uncles, and cousins all contributing and Patricia often making “six pies too many.” Service’s wife of five years, Anida Isakovic Service, says she fits right in. “Growing up in Bosnia everyone has a garden and everybody grows things themselves. I’ve appreciated good food my whole life.”


Ranchero sauce being poured on tamales.

“About the time the holidays hit is when they start harvesting all the sweet corn in Coachella so that’s the flavor that always stands out.”Patrick Service

The turkey’s on the dining table at Patricia Delgado Service’s house.

Service lets the bird rest before arranging it alongside the steaming tamales, ramekins filled with smoky ranchero sauce, and a chunky guacamole sprinkled with ruby-red pomegranate seeds, a winter fruit staple for the Services. Thanks to the extra-crispy skin and tender meat, he skips the electric knife and goes at it the old-fashioned way with a thin carving knife.

Though Service has admittedly toyed with the idea of doing up a flashy avant-garde bird at one of these family Christmases, he doubts he’ll ever pull the trigger. “My family likes to see the same turkey and the same dishes we’ve always had,” he says. “It brings us together.”