Local eateries that will pack your picnic
It's getting to be that time of year: the few languid weeks where it's too hot to bother with a boiling pot or a 375-degree oven, but you're tired of the backyard brat-and-breast grilling rut you seem to have fallen into. Remembering how fleeting this time is makes you want to soak up as much of the summer as you can and dine al fresco whenever possible, but effortlessness is key, and even a sidewalk patio feels too formal for the kind of experience you're seeking. What you need is a picnic. But your focus should be on getting the best spot on the lawn (a little shade, mostly sun, and far enough away from everyone that it's quiet enough to nap when you're done eating), not on prepping and packing dinner. So slap on some sunscreen and find a blanket you don't mind dirtying, because we found a few local restaurants that are happy to wrap up a thoughtful, tasty meal and paired them with some of the best nearby spots to take a picnic. All you have to do is BYOB — that is, bring your own basket.
Lulu's Market & Deli
Before heading out to spend the day at Hidden Falls on the St. Paul side of the Mississippi, pick up a fabulous, inexpensive, and vegetarian-friendly Mediterranean spread at Lulu's Market & Deli in Merriam Park. Finger foods are particularly good for a day of group grazing, so be sure to order lots of them from Lulu's appetizer menu. There's flaky spinach pie with feta; smoky baba ghanoush with pita chips; rice-stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki; crunchy parsley-flecked falafels that still taste great at room temperature; and excellent saffron-dusted fries to eat on the short drive down to the river. Get a few orders of cool tabbouleh salad made with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh herbs to round out your lunch. If you can muster an extra stop, swing by Trotter's on Cleveland for one of their famous massive lemon bars, because it's not a real picnic without some buttery, sunshine-y dessert.
1626 Selby Ave., St. Paul;651.645.2160, mylulus.com
The Lynn on Bryant
Call and place your order at least 24 hours ahead and the Lynn will create and pack you a picnic (hand-woven basket and all) fit for a special occasion. Menus are guided by the seasons and thus subject to change, but a recent picnic dinner for two included a beautifully burnished brown half-chicken with local ramps, asparagus, and mushroom fricassee; German potato salad with capers; housemade sour cherry soda; and mini rhubarb frangipane tarts. If you have an anniversary looming, I suggest checking out the Lynn's takeaway menu immediately. A portable feast this sophisticated requires a romantic setting. Walk tweely with your basket straight down Bryant until you hit Minnehaha Parkway and find a secluded spot along the creek. The sight and sound of rushing water will make that gruyere twice-baked potato even more enjoyable.
5003 Bryant Ave., Minneapolis;612.767.7797, thelynnonbryant.com
Nelson Cheese & Deli
From the conservatory lawn to the newly redone swimming pool to the pavilion and the old-time carousel, the whole area around Como Lake is rife with good places to stop for a nosh. Before taking a trip to the zoo or botanical gardens, stop by Nelson's Cheese & Deli to stock up on containers of various pasta salads (usually with hard salami and cherry tomatoes), sweet coleslaw, mustard-y potato salad, fresh fruit, and cold sandwiches. We love the towering St. Paul Special, made with roast beef, spicy pastrami, and hot pepper cheese on thick pumpernickel bread, and if you're saving room for an ice cream novelty at Como Town, you can always ask for any sandwich as a half instead of a whole.
1562 Como Ave., St. Paul;651.647.1288, nelsoncheese.net
A rack of pit-smoked spare ribs or chewy Texas beef ribs may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about picnic fare, but after you've experienced the meat from Market Barbeque and realize how close the restaurant is to the urban oasis that is Loring Park, you'll think of little else. You can order online to make the whole pickup process a little faster, but this food is worth the wait. Be sure to order a bag of cinnamon-sugar mini doughnuts to have after you devour your baked beans, crispy Southern fried chicken (even better cold), and barbecued brisket. Wipe your hands on your pants and work off a few calories by playing a round of horseshoes in the park, or just fall asleep near the pond as the post-ribs-itis sets in.
1414 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis;612.872.1111, marketbbq.com
Clancy's Meat and Fish
If you've only ever stopped by Clancy's Meat & Fish in Linden Hills to pick up smoked scallops, coarse-ground burger patties, head cheese, and containers of rich homemade stock, you have yet to experience one of its very best products. The butcher shop's loaded sandwiches start with a crusty Rustica baguette and whatever looks good that day, whether it be rosy medium-rare roast beef, thinly shaved smoked turkey, or tender and briny corned beef. If you get yours with "everything" (you must), one of Clancy's helpful, genuine (and may I say, frequently cute) employees will pile on creamy horseradish, whole grain mustard, hot housemade giardiniera, a few thin slices of onion, and farmers' market lettuce and tomato. There's usually a little scallion potato salad in the deli case, and if you get a small piece of the beautifully cured gravlax to eat with it, you'll need no other sides at your picnic save for one of Clancy's artisan ginger ales or root beers. Take your winnings down to a bench or waterfront knoll at nearby Lake Harriet. Everyone who jogs by will seethe with jealousy.
4307 Upton Ave. S., Minneapolis;612.926.0222, clanceysmeats.com
Good Earth Edina
Give them about 20 minutes, and Good Earth in the Galleria can put together individual bag lunches for however many people you have in your picnic group. Get your choice of almond tuna salad, smoked or roasted turkey breast, cashew chicken salad, or vegetarian sandwich; whole fruit like an orange or apple; chips; and one of their signature baked goods such as carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Then head to Centennial Lakes Park, just about a mile west of the Galleria, rent a paddleboat (only $8 per half-hour), and spend an afternoon lazily floating your way through the beautifully manicured park. When you've seen enough to stake out a good spot, perhaps by the Oval Gardens at the north end, take a break and dig into your hearty, healthy lunch. That way you'll have extra energy should you decide to fit in some croquet at the lawn games area afterward.
3460 W. 70th St., Edina;952.925.1001, goodearthmn.com
Get some Russian rye and a chocolate babka from the bakery, a bottle of curry ketchup and a jar of cherry preserves from the grocery area, some slices of Krakowska (just like the kielbasa sausage but in lunchmeat form) from the deli, and an order of pyrohy (a.k.a. pierogi) with horseradish sour cream from the restaurant side, and you'll have the sort of DIY pick-and-pack meal that would make your Polish grandmother proud. Walk your bags, boxes, and waxed paper bundles down to St. Anthony Main, just a few blocks from Kramarczuk's. There are a few tables and a covered area farther down by the Father Hennepin Bluffs, but it's just as easy to rip off a hunk of rye or slice up sausage under the shade of a tree along the riverbank near St. Anthony Falls. The important thing is that you're eating.
215 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis;612.379.3018, kramarczuks.comThe roast beef sandwich with "everything" at Clancey'sAlma Guzman
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