One of the best parts of summer is ditching dining indoors and dining al fresco; either at an outdoor concert, a park, a beach, or maybe just as part of an imagined getaway on the rooftop of your pre-war walkup.
Luckily, what the city lacks in rolling green spaces, it makes up in prime spots to pack a killer basket of eclectic goodies — whether your taste runs to Sheep’s Milk Cheese and local Honey from Murray’s in the West Village, Hummus and Baklava from Pera in Midtown, or sloppy sandwiches and Cheerwine from Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn. Here are a few other top, New York spots specializing in gourmet grab-and-go fare!
Murray’s Cheese Shop
Since amazing cheese is pretty much a picnic basket must-have, you might as well get it at New York’s oldest and largest cheese store. Don’t know your Dunbarton Blue from your Vendeen Bichonne or a smooth Brillat Savarin Triple Crème? Ask the stable of educated cheesemongers to sneak you a taste (or three) to help inform your decisions. Or if you’d rather just leave yourself entirely in their hands, pick up a reasonably priced basket like Murray’s Summer Chiller, which includes Vermont Cheddar, Old Chatham Camembert, Cranberry Nut Mix, Peanut Bacon Brittle, Cracked Pepper Sticks and a box of Oat Crackers, all packed in a reusable picnic cooler.
Italian food stores abound in New York City, which makes it relatively easy to get your hands on a knob of milky Mozzarella or jar of freshly ground Pesto. But when the mood for authentic Spanish fare strikes, even the city’s best chefs head straight to Despaña. This impressive SoHo shop carries over 400 quality imported products, like hand-packed Piquillo Peppers, smooth Manzanilla Olives, pickled Boquerones (white anchovy fillets), and the pride of house — homemade Chorizo and Asturian-style Morcilla. And don’t forget to order a few tasty to-go nibbles from the attached tapas bar, like the traditional potato and onion Tortilla and refreshing (and totally authentic) Tomato Gazpacho.
Eataly isn’t the only Mario Batali-owned venture to offer awesome picnic fare. So if you don’t feel like navigating the aisles of his massive Italian emporium, head straight to Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, his laid-back trattoria in the West Village. While you can certainly enjoy a leisurely sit-down meal here, the to-go menu is every bit as extensive — as well as surprisingly affordable — and much better for enjoying the great outdoors. A selection of vegetables are $5 each, including Summer Corn & Fregola, Eggplant Caponata, and crunchy Radishes with Bagna Cauda. There’s plenty of charcuterie and cheeses, pastas and pizzas to choose from as well — the Goat Cheese Agnolotti with lemon zest and the Raw Fennel and Bottarga-topped pie are pure, summery perfection. Otto even has you covered on dessert… order a pint of Olive Oil Gelato or Lime Basil Sorbetto, accompanied by wedges of crunchy homemade Biscotti.Read More
The packaged picnics from Epicerie Boulud on the Upper West Side are an exercise in simple elegance, right down to the reusable Tiffany-blue bags. $22 buys a bottle of water, housemade chips and cookies, and your choice of a salad or sandwich. And being that this is a Daniel Boulud joint, don’t expect ho-hum Ham and Cheese (unless you’re thinking house-cured Parisian Jambon with Gruyere), or pedestrian Peanut Butter and Jelly. We’d go for the classic Pain Bagnat (which translates to wet bread), made with oil-poached tuna, olives, tomato, avocado and hard boiled egg on focaccia, or the Rotisserie Chicken Cobb Salad, a colorful assortment of Amish chicken, bacon, blue cheese, red onion and tarragon-buttermilk dressing.Read More
Pera Mediterranean Brasserie
Mediterranean food is perfectly suited to picnics… it’s summery, healthful, and delicious at just about any temperature. But you can do so much better than a bag of baby carrots and a tub of Sahara hummus. For only $21 a person, Pera will provide an entire spread, including a Meze Sampler of Whipped Eggplant, Hummus, and Tomato and Onion Salad, served with housemade Lavash Chips, a choice of Chicken Brochette, Lamb “Adana” Rolls or a Vegetarian Eggplant Sandwich, and diamonds of honeyed Pistachio Baklava. And the best part is each feast comes individually packaged in adorable woven baskets for you to keep!
This Greenpoint gourmet shop boasts over 100 different selections of beer (plus six on tap for growler fills), and a slamming sandwich menu. We love particularly love the Shelburne Farms Cheddar with School House Kitchen Bardshar Chutney, and the La Quercia Prosciutto with Salvatore Bklyn Fresh Ricotta, accompanied by a bag of Route 11 Potato Chips and a Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade. Although you can always leave the picking and choosing up to the pros — $50 buys an Eastern District tote, stuffed with ½ pound of New York State cheese, Z crackers, Anarchy in a Jar jam, Brooklyn Brine pickles, Tumbador chocolates, and Ovenly spiced nuts. Don’t you wish you could eat outside everyday?
This Carroll Gardens store carries the usual, picnic-friendly fare (farmstead cheese, cured meat and the like), but why bother when they make such fun and funky ready-to-eat sandwiches? Try the “Reuben Brocc,” piled with Roast Broccoli, Swiss, Sauerkraut, and “Come-Back” Sauce on Orwasher’s Wine Bread, or the “Macho Man or Woman” with Heritage Pork Shoulder, Cabot Cheddar, Coleslaw, Pickled Jalapeños and CSG Duck Sauce on Garlic Bread. Oh, and forget about rounding out your meal with a sleeve of Pringles and six-pack of Diet Coke — the shelves here are stocked with quirky groceries and seldom seen hyper-regional brands. Cane-sugar sodas are a particularly great find. Look for cans of Vernors Ginger Ale, bottles of Bubble Up, and cases of cherry-flavored soda from North Carolina, dubbed Cheerwine.Read More
Cherry Hill Gourmet Market
Located in the old Lundy’s building on Emmons Avenue, this Sheepshead Bay superstore is an Eastern European Wonderland. Stock up on chewy Pumpernickel Bread, tangy Farmer’s Cheese and terrific Smoked Sturgeon, along with a few composed dishes (Barley with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions, and a Caucasian Salad with Cilantro, Tomato and Roasted Eggplant), and a variety of astringent veggies from the well-stocked pickle bar. There are Cucumbers, yes, but also Pickled Beets, Carrots, Tomatoes and even entire slices of Watermelon… an unexpected play on a summer picnic favorite.