SW picnicking 101: What to get and where to bring it

As the weather warms and the grass rebounds from dry and brown to lush and green, what is more relaxing and picturesque than a picnic in the park? On any budget, picnicking in Southwest on a warm, sunny day can turn a blah lunch hour into a rejuvenating break and a mediocre date into a romantic evening, if done correctly.

There are many caveats in picnicking, however, such as finding the right place for your meal. For instance, avoiding picnic areas by a playground (unless of course your child’s there) would minimize the chances of a band of screaming children or stray ball crashing through your picnic. Choosing food that won’t be too complicated to carry around and prepare on a blanket is also important. A meal that requires a lot of silverware, such as spaghetti, might not be the best choice.

Types of picnic food in Southwest

Quick and around $5:

If you are in a hurry but still want to enjoy the outdoors, whether it be for lunch or dinner, there are many picnic food options. SuperAmerica, 4000 Lyndale Ave. S., has all the necessary lunch fixings at a price that can only be beaten if it’s free. There you can get two hot dogs for 99 cents, a bag of Combo pretzel snacks for 59 cents and a juice or soda for around $1. Using the money you found in your couch, you could keep this gas station-style picnic to less than three dollars. This type of lunch is perfect for anyplace you can find a patch of grass.

To keep the price under $5, Big Mike’s Super Subs, 3813 44th Ave. S., has six subs available in eight-inch lengths at $3.65, with skinny versions of the same sandwiches without vegetables or sauces for $2.65 and roll-ups for $3.65. Add on to your sandwich a bag of Frito Lays chips and a 16-ounce soda for 75 cents each and you’ve barely exceeded $5.

Healthy and economical:

The best cheap and healthy lunch place for picnic-ready food however can be found in the Whittier neighborhood Jasmine Deli, 2532 Nicollet Ave. At the Jasmine Deli, there is an assortment of Vietnamese sandwiches or Bahn Mi, in beef, pork, chicken and veggie. The sandwiches run $2.50 apiece and are garnished with cut-up carrots, cucumbers, peppers and cilantro on a French-style baguette. A delightful match to your wonderful sandwich is the spring rolls, two for $2.95, that come with a container of peanut sauce.

Co-owner Nhung Truong said customers can call ahead to have their picnic lunch ready for them or they can just come in to order, as the wait is never long. "We can do whatever you want," she said.

Another place to get a healthy lunch is at the French Meadow Bakery and Caf, 2610 Lyndale Ave. S. They have great salads in hefty portions and full flavor that run from $4.95 to $9.50, including a side of bread. If you can’t resist the temptation, you could spend another couple dollars on a brownie or cookie.

Spectator picnic:

Nothing could be better for watching a baseball game at Martin Luther King Park, 4055 Nicollet Ave. S., than a 12-piece bag of chicken wings with buffalo sauce from Shorty & Wags, 3753 Nicollet Ave. S. A six-piece bag of wings costs $6.60 and is best eaten with a small side of fried potato slices called Ho-Jos for $1.35. The wait for your food is never too long, so no need to call ahead; just make sure to bring some napkins and your beverage of choice.

Romantic, pricier picnic:

For a fancier, romantic picnic, The Grand Bakery, 3804 Grand Ave. S., has everything you need for a French-style picnic. Co-owner Jessica Anderson said she bought the various tapenades spreads for bread with a picnic in mind. She said the spreads, available in honey and olive varieties, run for about $7 a jar and are great with a $2 baguette or a roll.

In addition, Anderson said their sandwiches, which cost about $5, can be made to-go, as are many of their desserts. Their personal-size cheesecakes would be easy to manage on a picnic and sell for $3.50. For a beverage, they occasionally carry sparkling apple cider, but another co-owner, Doug Anderson, said their elderflower water is good, too.

The vegetarian picnic:

Little Tel-Aviv Vegetarian Restaurant, 3238 W. Lake St., serves both kosher and dairy-free food to go without any preservatives. Nami Harris, the manager, said they have food for vegetarians and vegans alike. Harris said besides sandwiches, their pasta salads are packaged in to-go containers and would be perfect for a picnic, ranging from $1.99 to $4.29. To go with the pasta, she said the Burekas, filled with cheese, potato and spinach, are a nice match. But when you go, make sure to pick up an Israeli candy bar.

Theresa Lien, co-owner of Anodyne Coffeehouse, 4301 Nicollet Ave. S., said they often have requests from customers for picnic gift baskets or certificates. "You would be amazed how many people we get going to the lakes," she said. Lien said their sandwiches and salads are great to take, and in some cases they’ve loaned picnic baskets for their picnicking clientele.

Anodyne sandwiches range from $3 to $5 and are served with chips. In addition to their vegetarian selection of sandwiches, soups and salads, they also have food available for vegans.

Lien said her favorite place to picnic is the rose garden on the north end of Lake Harriet. Traveling around the city, I found many other places to go, too.