It can be downright painful to stay indoors on a pleasant summer day in the Twin Cities. The reverse cabin fever that afflicts so many of us insists that we get outside and bask in the weather—now, before it's too late! As you try to cram in all the seasonal fun your sun-drunk brain can handle, don't forget to slow down once in a while. Take the time to enjoy a meal in a wide-open setting—an activity that's especially relaxing if you don't do the cooking yourself. Here's a rundown of a few great takeout spots that offer tasty (and portable) food along with proximity to some of our best urban picnic spots.
Emily's Lebanese Deli, 641 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis, 612.379.4069; www.emilyslebanesedeli.com. It may not be traditional American picnic fare, but the tabouli, flatbreads, meat and spinach pies, stuffed grape leaves, and more at this Nordeast favorite are lovingly made and easily enjoyed out-of-doors. Pick up some rich but flaky baklava for dessert and head to nearby Boom Island Park on the Mississippi, which offers covered picnic pavilions in case the weather disagrees with your plans.
Be'wiched Deli, 800 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612.767.4330; www.bewicheddeli.com. On the other side of the river is Be'wiched, which has basically pioneered chef-driven deli food in the Twin Cities. Run by fine-dining veterans, the restaurant makes its own pastrami, offers boldly flavored salads, and has won our Best Delicatessen award both years of its existence. Again, Boom Island is close, but for a quick workday picnic, hit up the park area just off Plymouth Avenue at West River Parkway and grab a seat on a bench along the water.
Cheeky Monkey Deli, 525 Selby Ave. W., St. Paul, 651.225.0819; www.cheekymonkeydeli.com. The new Cheeky Monkey in St. Paul is giving Be'wiched a run for its money in the "best deli" competition. Co-owner and chef Matt McArthur is practicing thoughtful sourcing and producing house-cured meats and scratch-made foods. The muffaletta sandwich makes ideal take-along fare, as does the flavorful salad with shrimp, chickpeas, cucumbers, greens, tarragon, and citrus vinaigrette. Nearby (a bit tricky to get to but well worth the effort) is the stately, historic Irvine Park, with its mature trees, lush foliage, and dominant centerpiece fountain—an idyllic spot for a quiet picnic.
Obento-Ya, 1510 Como Ave. SE, Minneapolis, 612.331.1432; www.obento-ya.com. Think outside the picnic basket: Bento boxes are perfectly portable picnic food, and the folks at Obento-Ya make excellent versions. The classic bentos, with white rice, Japanese potato salad, spring greens, and miso soup, are the best deals, and options include tempuras, grilled salmon, and pork in ginger sauce. If you're pressed for time (or really hungry), walk your takeout right across the street to Van Cleve Park, where there's a pine-shaded picnic area astride the athletic fields. But a better idea is to travel east for a mile or so to Tower Hill Park. This little oasis, home to the "Witch's Hat" water tower, sits on one of the highest points in the city and hence offers an amazing view.
Cap's Grille, 5000 Hiawatha Ave., Minneapolis, 612-722-2277; www.capsgrille.com. Cap's is a favorite spot for weekend breakfasts and award-winning barbecue; the latter (marinated, slow-smoked pork ribs are excellent) can be easily carried across the street to the large park that holds Minneapolis's most beloved natural attraction, Minnehaha Falls. Find a shady spot at the upper part of the park where you can hear the rushing water, or head down below the falls to the deer pen area for more open space.
Nelson Cheese and Deli, 1562 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651.647.1288; www.nelsoncheese.net. This St. Paul deli, currently run by the fifth generation of a cheese-making family, boasts a wealth of picnic classics—traditionally made potato salad and coleslaw, pasta salads, and delicious sandwiches like the Como club, with chicken, bacon, cucumber, and chive Havarti; plus extras like dark chocolate bars, pretty much any flavor of potato chips, crackers and of course cheese, and fun sodas. Take your meal a couple of blocks to wonderful Como Park, which offers myriad scenic picnic areas (not to mention the zoo, conservatory, Japanese garden, etc.).
D'Amico and Sons, 2210 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.374.1858; www.damicoandsons.com. Among the many places to get good takeout in Uptown, this is one of the most reliable for quality and top-notch ingredients. The popular pasta salad with turkey, dried cherries, almonds, celery, onion, and poppyseed dressing is always appealing, or choose any of the well-designed cold sandwiches or other salads. Take this picnic a short hop west to the Chain of Lakes: Start with mansion-ogling at Lake of the Isles and move south to Calhoun if you're craving eye candy of the human variety.
Thai Grocery and Deli Food/Restaurant, 1377 Arcade St., St. Paul, 651.771.8201. The place may not look like much, but since March, when the store's new management opened its restaurant operations, there's been good reason to visit. Co-owner Mai Yang (with her husband, Thai) recommends their house-made beef jerky, seasoned with garlic and ginger, as an ideal picnic option, along with spring rolls and popular salads like beef or seafood tossed with tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, and onions with spiced lime dressing. Just across Arcade Street is lovely Lake Phalen, which offers many of the amenities boasted by Minneapolis's Chain of Lakes (beach, bike trails to other lakes, sand volleyball court, canoe rentals) but without the crowds.
Bryn Mawr Pizza and Deli, 404 S. Cedar Lake Rd., Minneapolis, 612.377.5501. Who says pizza doesn't make good picnic food? Some of the best old-fashioned pies in the city are made here, behind the Fast Freddies sign in picturesque Bryn Mawr, and there are new-fangled toppings like goat cheese and walnuts for non-purists. A wide assortment of tasty hoagies, plus Greek, spinach, and Caesar salads, round out the options. And the establishment is surrounded by parkland. Head north to the huge Theodore Wirth Park and tour the wildflower garden or quaking bog after you eat, or south to Cedar Lake to cool off with a secluded swim.
Salsa a la Salsa, 1420 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, 612.813.1970; www.salsaalasalsa.com. We can't leave Loring Park out of an urban-picnic roundup—it's right on the edge of downtown Minneapolis and features a pond, horseshoe games, and a big fountain that looks like a dandelion. Salsa a la Salsa, a short walk from the park, offers individual tacos, tamales, tostadas, and enchiladas, so you can pick and choose flavors; a fresh-tasting jicama salad; pupusas served with a crunchy, tangy coleslaw; and much more, plus free chips and salsa even with takeout.