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Pack the Perfect Picnic

Tantalizing treats that'll wow any picnic basket.
Monday Jun 01, 2009.     By Kate Rockwood
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

pictured: Goddess and Grocer
/From concerts at Ravinia and Millennium Park to the Outdoor Film Festival in Grant Park, summer in Chicago is full of opportunities for outdoor dining. And while we'd never suggest you race around town hand-picking two dozen items to create the mother of all picnics, mayonnaise salad and Wonder Bread buns simply don't cut it when you have so many awesome options at your fingertips. Trade one or two of your ho-hum plastic tubs for a couple of these tantalizing items and watch your picnic go from blah to wow in no time flat.

Fresh meets fantastic at Goddess and Grocer
Though it'd be easy to snag an entire picnic from the packed deli cases at Goddess and Grocer, stick to the salads to knock your picnic out of the park. The pre-made mozzarella and tomato is simple yet sensational, while the persnickety picnicker can create a salad built to order with the fully stocked salad spread.

Share the (sandwich) love with Trotter's To Go
While many of our wallets can't hack a meal at Trotter's sit-down restaurant, sandwiches from the chef's express shop are more likely to fall within your budget. Go upscale up with artisan, hand-carved classics like the French brie on baguette with green apple and celery remoulade or the Darjeeling tea-cured smoked salmon with English cucumber and creme fraiche.

Love grows on trees at Andy's Fruit Ranch
Strawberries will never go out of style, but a fruit salad tastes even better when you punch it up with a few less-traditional pounds of produce. Hit up Andy's Fruit Ranch with your reusable grocery bag and leave fully loaded with everything from kumquats to monster-size cherries to bitter melons. Your biceps will thank you later.

Eat your veggies with Cooking Fools
Sick of coleslaw for the requisite veggie side dish? Cooking Fools' has you covered. Among the healthy, prepared foods just itching to be eaten in the sun, we prefer the eggplant foldovers, eggplant planks stuffed with spinach, pine nuts and aged gouda. It's the perfect forkless feast.

Rock and roll(s) at Red Hen Bakery
Hit up the Hen for killer rolls. At least two dozen breads, from chewy to crusty to herb-infused—come out of the oven daily for drop-by customers, so you'll have plenty of options to scoop into your picnic basket. And what's a picnic without great bread?

Smile and say cheese at Pastoral
This gourmet cheese and goodies shop stocks more than 80 international and domestic cheeses, mostly from artisanal producers. Even better, the smarty-pants staffers each boast a culinary school degree, and they're eager to make suggestions and pairings.

Score sensational Sicilian snacks at L'Appetito
Arancini derive their name from oranges because at first glance you could mistake the fist-sized, golden skin of these Sicilian snacks for a piece of fruit. One bite of these sinful rice balls, stuffed with peas, meat sauce and mozzarella, tears that healthy façade to shreds. What they are is delicious, with a firm, crunchy exterior and warm, savory interior that's nearly addictive.

End it on a sweet note with a trip to Pasticceria Natalina
Swing by this Sicilian bakery just before hitting the lake. Owner Natalie Zarzour hand-fills the cannoli after they've been ordered, which means the pistachio-crusted sweet ricotta filling doesn't have time to make the pastry shell soggy before it hits your belly. Go on, order a few.


Explore More

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Brand-New Bars

Get divey on Grace; go downstairs at River North's Curio.

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Go Dutch at Vincent and satisfy a familiar sweet tooth at BomBon.

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