I think I like planning a picnic as much as the actual picnic itself. Where will it be: beach, park, or backyard? Blanket, picnic benches or bring my own table and chairs? Will it be grand or humble—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or lobster rolls? Will I make the food or get it from a local shop? I have just one rule—no cooking at the picnic site. Then it becomes a BBQ and requires a whole other level of activity. The picnic should be ready to eat when the basket is opened. Beyond that, anything goes.
For a significant birthday, I arranged for a family visit to the Bronx Zoo: children, grandchildren, a sibling and some friends. Knowing how expensive eating there can be, I decided that a picnic was the way to go, sending an email to the participants asking them to make their choices:
1. What kind of bagel—sesame, poppy, everything or plain?
2. What spread—butter, cream cheese, tofu cream cheese, lox spread or scallion spread?
3. What chocolate bar: milk or dark? Beverage was juice boxes and bottled water and each person got an apple. Everyone was told to bring a backpack and they received their brown bag lunch when we arrived at the zoo. Then off to a photographic scavenger hunt and reconvening later at the picnic tables.
I asked Mary Zimmer, co-owner (with her husband Norm) of Culinary Heights in Garden City, where I have gotten delicious sandwiches, salads and pastries for 31 years, to come up with a few picnic combo ideas. Three of her recommendations are grilled chicken breast, quinoa taboule and broccoli pea pod salad; southwestern shrimp salad, cucumber salad, corn bread and cherry and peach tarts; and gazpacho, grilled salmon salad, French potato salad and bread pudding. For vegetarians, she suggested their vegetable frittata that could be substituted for any of the meat entrees. www.culinaryheights.com
At Greenvale’s Grace’s Marketplace, one way to put together your picnic is to visit their catering menu online and see what strikes your fancy. There is a huge assortment of sandwiches and wraps that they will pack in your own cooler with an ice pack. I was intrigued with their tea sandwich offering with items such as smoked salmon with dill cream cheese, coconut curry chicken salad and lobster salad. Or put together your own basket from anything in the store. www.gracesmarketplace.com
Want to go Italian? Iavarone Bros, located in New Hyde Park, Maspeth, Wantagh and Woodbury, has it all, including the picnic basket with plates, cutlery and two champagne glasses. “Smell the bread when you come in,” said Jonathan Iavarone, “and as you walk through the store the basket gets fuller and fuller”…with cured meats, cheeses, olives, and the like. Or get a hero, sold by the foot, such as “The Godfather,” with ham, turkey breast, roast beef, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and olives. www.ibfoods.com
They make their own relishes at Fork & Anchor—apple raisin, tomato onion and rhubarb cardamom—from locally grown fruit and vegetables (much from Deep Roots Farm), which make a great addition to their sandwiches. Fork & Anchor, located east of North Fork wine country in East Marion, offers picnic baskets for two that include two sandwiches, two bottles of Boylan soda, two bags of North Fork potato chips, one large or two small salads and locally baked dessert. www.forkandanchor.com
If having hot food is a must, you can get a ready-to-eat BBQ meal from Townline BBQ, in Sagaponack. For four or more, Townline offers “Sandwich and Sliders Kit” with choices of a smoked meat—pulled pork, pulled chicken or brisket—with buns, coleslaw, pickles, baked beans and potato chips. The “Extravaganza” consists of pork ribs, short ribs, brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken, plus collard greens, baked beans, corn bread and pickles. www.townlinebbq.com
Have fun planning but make sure, when ordering a picnic, to check with these establishments to find out prices and advanced notice required for placing orders.