Helen Baker will spend tomorrow afternoon surrounded by family, tables of Thanksgiving fare and more than 400 strangers.
No, the 61-year-old Taylorsville grandmother and 15 members of her clan aren't inviting the neighborhood over for turkey dinner. They -- like thousandsof families around Carroll -- will be eating out.
"Everyone enjoys it," she said, as she recalled last year's gathering at Friendly Farm in Westminster. "We don't get to see each otherthat often. This gives us the chance to enjoy our togetherness and our food."
And the chance to avoid a week's worth of preparation, amad--- scramble for extra leaves to put in the dining room table or a kitchen full of dishes to dry after that third helping of pumpkin pie.
While the Norman Rockwell-inspired Thanksgiving -- the "over the river and through the woods" version -- is still the gathering of choice among holiday revelers, eating out on Thanksgiving is growing in popularity.
"Thanksgiving is becoming a pretty good day for restaurants," said Kitty Whittington, the director of education and special projects at the Restaurant Association of Maryland, a trade grouprepresenting about a third of the state's 6,000 restaurants. "It's becoming a really heavy day for the industry."
In Carroll, restaurants are offering everything from roast duckling to oyster stew to traditional holiday fare.
The cost, surprisingly, is probably little more than if you cooked a full Thanksgiving feast at home.
Taking a family of five out for turkey day festivities will probably set youback anywhere from $60 to $120.
Friendly Farm -- where Baker and her family will gather at 2 in the afternoon tomorrow -- is offering turkey, fried chicken, grilled ham, stuffing, sauerkraut, soup and salad bar and a host of desserts.
"It's an excellent day for us," said Larry Wilhelm, the restaurant's owner and a former president of the state's restaurant association. "This is perfect for the large family. Maybe grandma and grandpa are getting older and they still want to entertain without the fuss."
Friendly Farm's holiday buffet -- open from noon to 7 p.m. -- costs $9.95 for adults and $3.95 for children.
Another option is Rudy's 2900 on Route 140. The tony restaurant will be offering its regular menu -- entree prices range from $13.95 to $23.95 -- from 1 to 7 p.m. tomorrow. It also will offer a traditional holiday meal for $16.95.
Across the county, Manchester's Bachman Valley Inn also will offer its regular nine-page menu in addition to what it calls Pilgrim's Fare.
"We offer our full menu because, believe it or not, not everyone wants to eat Thanksgiving food," said the restaurant's chef, David Frey. The restaurant is serving fromnoon to 9:30 p.m., and the holiday menu -- including turkey and all the trimmings -- costs $12.95.
On a more formal note, the Westminster Inn on Green Street will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a twist -- roast duck, trout and rib eye steaks also will be offered.
Jackets are required for the $12.95 meal at the 115-seat restaurant.
In Taneytown, the Havilah Inn along Route 140 will be serving Thanksgiving dinner for the 15th straight year for $9.95 a person. The buffet will include a traditional offering of turkey, stuffing and desserts. The dining room is open from noon to 8 p.m.
The county has more than 400 restaurants, but only about half of them are expected to be open for the holiday. Restaurants recommend reservations.