Al Fresco, Refreshed

Twin Cities purveyors make it easy to reinvent the picnic

Several years ago, at the invitation of a friend who lived in a once-swank sky rise, I set out for a picnic in Loring Park. It was late spring and we set up our impromptu lunch near that strange fountain on the east side of the park that looks like a giant dandelion. I went to be sociable; I must admit, picnic fare has sometimes turned me off. Too often it entails prepackaged lunchmeat and vinyl American cheese, or PB&Js with grape jelly bleeding through bruised Wonder Bread like a rejected transplant organ. And there's always the sad parade of mayonnaise-coated deli items. At its best, it's boring and redundant.

Thankfully, my creative friend had stopped by an Indian restaurant in a first-ring suburb and picked up some treats. As we sat eating our samosas and poppadums with mint chutney, a man perhaps best described as mildly crazy but very friendly popped out of some neighboring bushes, where he was presumably living, and asked where we'd ordered from. Apparently, from where he had been spying on us, our meal looked really good.

Encounters with the homeless notwithstanding, the outing was one of several that began to reshape my general attitude toward picnics. There is life beyond the pedestrian--potato salad swimming in questionable pools, hot dogs that have exploded on the grill, "red"-flavored Kool-Aid, and the pretentious--a precious $200 wicker basket laden with expensive wine and cheeses that walk a fine line between dairy and mold.

Richard Fleischman

Location Info


Minnehaha Park and Falls

4801 Minnehaha Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55440

Category: Parks and Outdoors

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)


303 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: University

France 44 Wines & Spirits

4351 France Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55410

Category: Retail

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Depending on what kind of stickler for the calendar you are, there are six or eight weeks left of summer. That means your own opportunities for reinventing the picnic are beginning to wane. No one wants to find herself looking out the window at the frozen tundra come January, asking "what if?" In that spirit, here are several suggestions for more inventive picnic trips, as well as creative places to stock up before you go. Mix and match locations for convenience or adventure, or check out other parks at any of the following websites provided. The bottom line: Go out there and eat!


Minnehaha Park and Falls
4801 Minnehaha Ave. S.; Minneapolis; 612.230.6400

303 E. Hennepin Ave.; Minneapolis; 612.379.3232

For people in Minneapolis looking to commune with nature without venturing outside of the city, Minnehaha Park and Falls is ideal. Located at the intersection of Minnehaha and Hiawatha, it's also more or less a straight shot south from downtown via the lovely road that follows the western bank of the Mississippi. Start with a visit to Surdyk's on East Hennepin, where staffers will not only help you pair your wines with your repast, but will even pack a meal for curbside pickup if you call ahead. This liquor store and gourmet shop is most famous for its cheeses, but other picnic-friendly items include grilled veggies, corn on the cob, and a dozen or more daily salads such as kung pao tofu and basil-parmesan chicken salad. There are also complete dinners, such as salmon skewers, barbecue chicken, and risotto crab cakes. Be sure to check online or call for a complete menu, which is remarkably varied from day to day.

Then cruise south to Minnehaha Park, once a train stop. There are many grassy knolls that are picnic-blanket-friendly, as well as four areas dotted with tables in different sections of the park. After-meal activities include strolls on the path through the thick woods to a 53-foot waterfall (although many of the smaller falls throughout the park offer even prettier waterworks) and two sculptures--one the mask of Chief Little Crow by the major falls, and a bronze sculpture located on an island within the creek depicting characters from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem "Song of Hiawatha."

Families looking to cool down in the heat will be happy to know that there are several spots throughout the creek that are shallow but play-friendly; it's not uncommon to finds hordes of kids splashing about and making friends as if it were a public pool. Parents can watch from a patch of grass while sunning, or stand in the knee-deep water with the rest of the group. Also, for pet owners, there's the off-leash dog park on the south end, but be sure to apply for a permit before visiting (check online or call for more info).

Other activities include the Pergola gardens--a perennial garden loaded with native wildflowers, grasses, and butterflies--and live music performances at the band shell many evenings during the summer months. As for parking, there are several pay lots or metered areas, but it's usually not too difficult to find spaces in the free lots (there's one by the recreation center) or along the parkway. Just be sure to read the signs to avoid a ticket.


Lake Harriet
1300 42nd St. W.; Minneapolis; 612.230.6475

France 44
4351 France Ave. S.; Minneapolis; 612.925.3252

For those picnicking in the lakes district, France 44 offers gourmet box lunches ($9.95) that are far more sophisticated than what you used to tote to school. Made from scratch with fresh and specialty ingredients, sandwiches include gourmet hoagies, BLTs made with peppered bacon and Roma tomatoes, the Minneapolis "T" (mesquite-smoked turkey, spinach, and lemon cream cheese butter), and the Bella Napoli (roasted and grilled veggies with an orange-sage vinaigrette). As is the golden rule with deli sandwiches, lunches come with a pickle spear and potato chips, but the deli salad and dessert (usually a cookie) are bonuses in the deal.

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