A Case for (Picnic) Baskets In NYC

by CLAIRE WILLETT · May 7, 2008

    Picnic, NYC parksYesterday, we told you to get back to the garden; today we'd like to add "and eat." When we were eight and visiting our grandparents' cattle farm, our favorite thing to do was pack a lunch in a bandana, tie it to a stick, and take our feast to the fields, the way we imagined shepherdesses of yore would do. We're not sure whether it was the backstory or the location, but we've yet to crunch a better Dorito. Below, our recommendations for picnicking, and where to fill your basket along the way.

    Battery Square Park

    Barbarini Alimentari, 225 Front St, NY

    Once you've worked up an appetite laughing at the poor pretzel-munching suckers in line for the ferry, stroll along to Barbarini Alimentari for some authentic Italian take-out. You could eat your fava-and-pecorino salad, a bresola, parmigiano, and argula on ciabatta, and saffron risotto arancini (rice balls) where you bought 'em, but jealous looks of sweat-shirted strangers are the best seasoning.

    Bryant Park

    Cafe Zaiya, 18 E 41st St.

    If you're bored with "Wichcraft, try Cafe Zaiya. This casual Japanese eatery has excellent bento boxes, exotic nibbles like onigiri (balls of rice, seaweed, and seafood, wrapped in more seaweed) and octopus patties, funky sandwiches, and a whole slew of Japanese deserts (yakimochi, Mont Blancs, yomogo pan, plus Beard Papa), all of it incredibly cheap (bento boxes are between $4 and $5).

    Central Park

    Balducci's (55 W.66th St) and Agata&Valentina's (1505 1st Ave)

    More Italian? Ma si; it's so conducive to picnics par-excellence. You could, and most likely already have, hit up Balducci's for an interesting pasta salad, a salami or four, and some olive bread to slice it on. Or, you could stray a bit further over to Agata & Valentina if speck and Tuma Persa on in-house foccacia's more your thing.

    Madison Square Garden

    Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Ave

    Do not let the cornocopia of imported goods distract you; instead, head for the prepared food section and pick up some moujaddara (lentils, rice, and onions --we swear it tastes more complex than it sounds), bulgar pilaf, chubby samosas, baklavas that manage to be tasty without coating your hands and surroundings in honey.

    Minetta Triangle and Winston Churchill Square

    Murray's Cheese, 254 Bleeker St.

    Tis the place to go crazy with the cheeze whiz (over 250 varieties!). The charcuterie, salads, and panini (we're fond of the goatcheese and watercress version) ain't bad either.

    Stuyvesant Park

    Amai Tea and Bake House, 171 3rd Ave

    If (iced) tea and cake are what you're after, swing by Amai Tea and Bake House. Depending on your tea tastes (Darjeeling, Ceylong Black, Oolong), the staff will recommend complimenting pastries (Lemongrass and ginger cookies, green tea cupcakes, cherry blossom brownies) that are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

    Tompkins Square Park

    Hummus Place, 109 St. Marks Place

    It's not that the Hummus Place's offerings are different from the 8 other Middle Eastern joints in the area, but simply that they're better. Fresh-baked pitas, thick and creamy hummus, tangy health salad, finger-sucking kunafa...HP nails it on every front we've tried, and we've tried almost all of them.

    Washington Square Park

    Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, 14 Bedford St

    In addition to blue ribbon-worthy baked goods, this place serves up fantastic and creative "toasts" (tartines). If the prospect of pickled tongue, smoked trout, or pork rillettes over their eponymous bread doesn't get your mouth watering, perhaps their Mexican honey over yogurt corn bread will.