With the weather warm and vaccinated people getting comfortable eating in public, again, without masks, there may be no better time to dine outdoors in Chicago. We have many beautiful parks and other potential picnic areas in the city. Restaurants and delis have never been so prepared to offer take-out service for menu items that are so very suitable for dining au plein air. Many places in the Chicagoland area are offering picnic specials, anticipating the increased number of people who would like nothing more than to spread out a blanket, swat some mosquitos, and enjoy a bite and a sip in any one of Chicagoland’s green spaces.
Here are some Chicago area businesses that are going the extra mile to make it easy for you to pack the perfect picnic and enjoy the summer by going out to eat… outdoors.
In Logan Square, local favorite Daisies had done the pandemic pivot by offering a full menu at their sit-down restaurant as well as a mind-blowing array of picnic possibilities at their on-site market. For outdoor (or at-home) dining, Chef Joe Frillman presents gourmet sandwiches, an array of conservas, and produce from his brother’s farm; he tells us “Having an unbelievable resource [i.e., the farm]] that we get to use all season long drives us to better utilize his product in creative and delicious ways.” There are also beautiful bottles of wine selected by sommelier Katherine Strugill. Have them deliver a picnic directly to your door or pick it up at the store. If you’re in a rush to chow down, it’s a four-minute walk to Logan Square Park. (2523 N. Milwaukee)
Delis are the perfect place to shop for al fresco dining, and Tempesta Market makes it easy for you. Appetizers, charcuterie, salads, and sandwiches are ready-to-go in your picnic basket (or cooler) and there’s an immense number of creative possibilities for you to consider. The Wagyu Roast Beef Salad is a summer-perfect selection of greenery and some of the world’s finest beef; The Potato-Nator is an innovative combination of Tempesta maple bacon, cheese, and hash browns (?!) on brioche; and ‘Nduja Arancini is the spreadable salami encased in the traditional fried rice ball, magnificent. (1372 W. Grand)
One of the newer additions to Chicago’s growing number of craft delicatessens is Rye Deli & Drink. “I wanted to take bagels and pastrami to a new level,” says chef Billy Caruso, who opened his new wave Chicago deli in November 2020. “There’s a New York bagel and a Montreal bagel, but I wanted to make a Chicago bagel.” Bagels are a perfect picnic food; add salmon, corned beef, or pastrami, dressed up with some of Caruso’s awesome schmears (labneh with melted leeks, strawberries and honey, or lemon with burnt eggplant and pomegranate), and you have yourself a wonderful picnic basket. For additional merriment, add one of his large format cocktails. (25 S. Halsted)
From Travelle at the Langham hotel, you can pick up some of the tastiest picnic foods ever. Gourmet sandwiches, well-curated spreads, dips, and sweets can be paired with many wines and sodas. Vegetables and meat are sourced from several well-regarded local farms including Nichols, Mick Klug, and Mint Creek. Everything is packed up for you in eco-friendly containers (seems right for dining in nature, right?), or, if you prefer, you can rent a traditional wicker basket to take away your food and drink. They even have blankets for you to complete the classic picnic experience. You’ll have to supply your own ants. (330 N. Wabash)
With locations in Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, and Lake Forest, Foodstuffs has an impressive array of picnic-ready food options. Pates, cheeses, and pastries are so right for a picnic basket, as are high-quality prepared foods, including soups, salads, and sandwiches. Each prepared meal comes with flatware and napkins, for easy pick-up-and-go. Foodstuffs offers a range of options for big family picnics or an intimate picnic for two (2106 Central, Evanston, and other locations).
Seemingly designed specifically for oenophile picknickers, the to-go offerings from Verve Wine and Provisions include a spectacular selection of wines (no surprise there) but also many, many wine-friendly accompanying nibbles. Bottles are arranged on the menu in categories to help you pair beverages with whatever you’re eating, chicken, seafood, beef, your call. Particularly appropriate for the picnickers are house-cured olives, jamon iberico and sourdough bread with cultured butter (upgrade with white bean hummus or sundried tomato romesco). Open until 9pm Monday through Saturday, Verve Wine and Provisions is a short walk to Oz Park. (2349 N. Lincoln)
The Pendry Chicago hotel, housed in the 1929 Carbide & Carbon Building, an Art Deco masterpiece, has opened a French-inspired rooftop oasis and a carry out service for guests who want to enjoy a specially prepared picnic basket, for dine in (on the roof) and take out. This deluxe basket is complete with spiked kombucha (or a non-alcoholic alternative), artisanal cheese and charcuterie, with an optional Osetra caviar add-on. Call the hotel (312-777-9000) 24 hours in advance to reserve your to-go order. (230 N. Michigan Avenue).
“When we started Hannah’s Bretzel sixteen years ago,” says managing partner-founder and CEO Florian Pfahler, “we didn’t want to compete just on price and size, like all the others. We wanted to elevate the sandwich.” With locations around the downtown area of Chicago, Hannah’s Bretzel delivers their elevated sandwiches on a pretzel bun with innovative, picnic-perfect options like Organic Green Eggs and French Ham, and Italian Bresaola with Avocado and Truffled Goat Cheese. (400 N. Lasalle Dr., and other locations).
Sandwiches and pizza – Sicilian and New York style pizzas – whole pies or slices – and sandwiches are just some of the go-to options for a picnic lunch or dinner. The sandwiches are inventive and festive, and we recommend the cold options, like the Pacino (with salami and other meats and cheeses, caper berries and artichokes) and the Portabella (with avocado, buffalo mozzarella, basil aioli and Chicago’s favorite ‘shroom). Add a few dollars more for chips and a drink, and you have an instant picnic. (925 W. Randolph)
In Pilsen, Paulette’s lays out a smorgasbord of “chef-driven food and made-to-order deli sandwiches,” along with a sizeable collection of fancy packaged foods, baked goods, composed salads, charcuterie boards and cold drinks you can add on for an infinitely expandable picnic basket. Sandwiches include the classic New Orleans-style Muffuletta, a collection of meats and cheeses on a round sesame bun, and a Mex-Tex Veggie, with avocado, pickled cilantro, and taco-seasoned squash on salted focaccia. (1221 W. 18th)
Whether you want to select the raw materials for a picnic lunch or grab-and-go with prepared foods, the Glenview Farmer’s Market at Wagner Farm opens every summer Saturday to give you what you need to munch magnificently. There are, of course, many vendors of farm=fresh vegetables, cheese, and other picnic standards, and you can also get pasture-raised meat from Finn’s Ranch for grilling, along with freshly baked bread from Brian Severson Farms and out-of-sight cookies from Luciana’s Kitchen. (1510 Wagner Road)
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David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded LTHForum.com, the 15,000 member food chat site; for several years he wrote weekly “Food Detective” columns in the Chicago Sun-Times; he writes weekly food columns for Wednesday Journal. He has written extensively about the culinary traditions of Mexico and Southeast Asia and contributed several chapters to “Street Food Around the World.”
David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca.