Splendor in the Grass
Surdyk's Wine & Cheese Shop
303 E. Hennepin Ave. (at University), Mpls.; 379-3232
D'Amico & Sons
978 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 292-0689
YOUR GOLDEN TAN has waned anemic, your warm-weather crush has turned loathsome, your big vacation hopes and plans have fallen flat. If the summer passed you by without anything wonderful happening, well, it's too late to complain now. But there may still be a few glorious days left to grab your friends, a bottle of wine, a sack filled with edibles, and do a bit of outdoor contemplating over what went wrong (apple orchards and public parks are always good places to start; call your local park board if you need suggestions--661-4800 in Minneapolis, 266-6400 in St. Paul).
For picnic-packing, start at Surdyk's; you're bound to find a little of everything. Plenty of bargains can be found along with the added enchantment of fussing and fawning from the chatty counter staff, who almost always come through with free samples. Baguettes (herb, wheat, and plain; $1.35) with fruit and soft cheese are a good, simple meal; you might try a hunk of the creamy, mild Claudel Camembert ($10.99/lb., which comes to about $3 for an ample portion for two).
Along with imported chocolates, cheeses, biscuits, and all sorts of olives and pickled items, Surdyk's features a full deli counter offering entrees, sandwiches, soups, and patés, most prepared on the premises. Chicken Provencal ($2.99/lb.) makes an elegant, portable treat: It's a luscious bird permeated with whole lemons, garlic, onions, rosemary, and herbes de provence. Cold salads also travel well ($3.95 per 1/2 lb.). There's the Santa Fe, a moderately spiced chicken salad tossed with roasted peppers; an English turkey chutney salad, well dressed with curry, almonds, red pepper, currants, and scallions; and the Pommery chicken salad, made with three kinds of mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and parsley.
Sandwiches include a fresh mozzarella job nestled in a baguette with vine-ripened summer tomatoes and fresh basil, with a side of garlic-infused olive oil for dipping. Fresh figs, apples, grapes, and pears are available as an alternative (or supplement) to the vast array of candies, almonds, plush layer cakes, muffins, tarts, bars, and cookies. Should you feel a bit overwhelmed by the options, you can always toss in the towel and order a pre-fab picnic basket ($14.99) with a choice of menus plus silverware, linens, fruit, candy, and other such niceties.
Of course, there are plenty of great wines at the liquor store next door (with many good ones under $10) if you wish to do a little swilling (posh mineral waters and juices are available at the cheese shop for teetotalers). Recommended are the 1994 Chateau Bonnet ($8.99, Entre Deux-Mers), a clean, tart white wine that the store manager claims is "everything a young white wine should be," and the 1994 Hedges Cabernet-Merlot, ($8.79, Washington State), a nice all-purpose red.
The Four Seasons Wine and Cheese shop also makes for a quick and pleasant picnic stop, stocked with hundreds of cheeses, wines, a variety of salted nuts, imported biscuits, cookies, candies, and freshly made baked goods. The menu here features hearty submarine sandwiches ($2.99-$4.09), homemade soups ($1.75), and various salads ($1.99-$2.39 per 1/2 pt.)--including Thai chicken and peanut pasta ; Southwest chipotle, laden with spiced black beans and corn; and Italian ziti salad. The staffers are friendly and help you select wine and a menu to suit your taste and budget.
Over at D'Amico & Sons, the picking are more refined, and lean a bit toward the pricey side. But they deliver the goods. Sandwiches make an economical luxury--our favorite is the tasty grilled vegetable number: grilled eggplant and oven-roasted tomatoes, crusted-over with feta cheese, onions, and sprouts, served on a thick, homemade herb-and-parmesan focaccia ($5.50). Exquisite salads and antipasti ($3.75-5.95) should also give you pause; tomato bruschetta salad (with Kalamata olives and pepperoncini) and chicken-ziti salad (with walnuts, grapes, and honey-mustard dressing) will both give you much to drool over. Desserts here should not be passed over; we were tempted by a petite, heady strawberry-swirl cheesecake sitting on a delicate chocolate crust ($3.25), a sturdy, rich slice of chocolate mascarpone torte ($3.50), and a glistening blueberry tart charged with almond cream ($3.25), not to mention the dozens of freshly baked cookies and muffins.
So turn your pale, sweet face to the sun and head out for a final fond glimpse before winter sallies forth. And if it snows next week--well, there's always next year.
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