You really need only two things for a picnic: a tasty, portable snack and a place to eat it. But with myriad summery selections in local markets, picnickers may find themselves overwhelmed by choices. Allow Danielle Vogel, owner of the new Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont Circle, to pare it down:
“You cannot go wrong with smoked meats, cheese and a baguette,” she says.
Pick out that trio yourself or get a local restaurant or shop to prepare a picnic basket — whether it’s charcuterie and cheese or other classics such as fried chicken, shareable salad or sandwiches. Wine can be a delicious addition, but be mindful of open container laws in public parks. There, stick to Italian soda or sparkling water.
As with tableside dining, there are picnic trends: “Folks have really tended to gravitate toward pickles lately, because they can eat them easily out of the jar,” Vogel says.
Whether you go the DIY route or prefer to have a chef do the work, here’s a taste of the most portable menus for all of your summer celebrations — starting this week with the Fourth of July — and where you should spread out your blanket.
Glen’s Garden Market
This newcomer might become picnic headquarters for those who live in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan. With the market’s grocery, deli and wine selection, it’s too easy to put together a locally sourced portable meal that pleases. Glen’s can be on the pricey side, but for a special-occasion picnic, it’s worth the splurge. The sandwich counter (all $10) offers a veggie banh mi that won’t make you miss the meat, and the summery Tony Wood sandwich, with house-smoked turkey and roast beef, is made special by the addition of local Gordy’s Pickles and Bigg Riggs spicy mustard. And, as Vogel advises, there’s always the old standby of baguette, smoked meats (like the house-cured salami) and cheese from local artisans. What makes Glen’s truly convenient, though, is its case of prepared salads that can be mixed and matched. Grab containers of deviled egg salad, the gluten-free pasta salad, beets and goat cheese, and vacuum-sealed bags of spicy pickled carrots or radishes. For dessert, there are brownies and blondies and individually wrapped, handmade caramels.
2001 S St. NW. 202-588-5698.
Where to eat it: Buy a Glen’s grocery tote for your picnic basket and take your haul to Dupont Circle with a big blanket. Or hop on the Circulator and take your spread to the Georgetown Waterfront Park and watch the paddleboarders glide by.
Art and Soul
The Southern restaurant from Art Smith, Oprah’s former personal chef, is known for its fried chicken, so it’s no surprise that the dish is a feature of one of the restaurant’s three picnic basket offerings ($35 for the chicken, which comes with potato salad). Other choices include a $30 basket of cheese, baguette, charcuterie and pickles or a $32 sandwich basket with smoked turkey and avocado on foccaccia with potato chips. Each basket comes with cookies, a Mason jar filled with cocktail mixer, and fruit. Art and Soul provides a sturdy, reusable tote for the picnics, which serve two.
415 New Jersey Ave. NW. 202-393-7777. www.artandsouldc.com.
Where to eat it: Art and Soul is near the Capitol, so the picnics pair well with summer attractions. Take your meal to the Mall between Seventh and 12th streets for Screen on the Green, which begins July 22 with “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” (Be sure to pick up some Reese’s Pieces for dessert.) You also could get a basket for the Friday Jazz in the Garden concerts at the National Gallery, and sip sangria with your meat and cheese.
Who says picnics have to involve savories? A dessert picnic is a special treat, especially when the baked goods come from Palena Market, part of the restaurant owned by former White House chef Frank Ruta. There’s a rotating array of seasonal desserts in the glass display; on our visit, strawberries were a featured ingredient in cakes, cupcakes and a salty-sweet crumble bar. Kids will love the cookies — peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal with golden raisins — and adults will like the subtly sweet coconut lime pound cake. The lemon bars, while delicious, didn’t travel well. If you need something savory, though, pick up a loaf of bread from the market and head one block south to Vace Italian Delicatessen for cheese, olives, salami and Italian sodas.
3529 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-537-9250. www.palenarestaurant.com/
Where to eat it: The hill near the Great Cats exhibit at the nearby National Zoo is a good place to nosh and people-watch (all of Palena’s offerings are a better alternative to the zoo’s cotton candy and ice cream). Or pick up the Melvin Hazen Trail near the Cleveland Park Metro station and follow it all the way down to a grassy knoll with your picnic and a Frisbee.
There are dozens of choices to fill your picnic basket at Cork Market — from the wine and cheese and charcuterie to the pre-packaged soba noodles or chicken salad — but why not let the chef do the choosing? The market offshoot of the popular 14th Street restaurant offers two types of pre-packaged picnics for two. Choose from six sandwiches, such as the BLTA(vocado) or the grilled vegetables with goat cheese, and you’ll also get chips, a honey-mint fruit salad and housemade chocolate chunk and lemon-ricotta cookies ($25, $35 with wine). A $40 chicken basket provides a generous portion of fried or Peruvian-marinated chicken — ours came with four huge pieces — and a choice of two sides, such as salads of cous cous or corn and tomato. We picked the farro mushroom salad and the rapini to trick ourselves into thinking that the fried chicken picnic could be healthy. If you want to add a bottle of wine, the chicken picnic is $55.
1805 14th St. NW. 202-265-2674. www.corkdc.com/mkthome.html.
Where to eat it: The shaded oasis of Meridian Hill Park is only a few blocks northwest of Cork Market. Bonus: Your picnic is likely to come with free entertainment in the form of slackliners, yogis, drummers and dogs.
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken
Pledge your allegiance to one of the most American foods around — fried chicken — with Astro’s Fourth of July weekend picnic baskets that feed up to four people. You’ll get the best of both of the store’s offerings: eight pieces of buttermilk fried chicken and six special patriotic doughnuts ($35). Three birthday cake doughnuts, with rainbow sprinkles, will help you celebrate the birth of our nation, while the cinnamon-dusted firecracker doughnuts will get you revved up for the evening’s biggest attraction. You’ll also get potato salad and Asian cole slaw. Place your order at least 24 hours in advance; baskets can be picked up July 4-6.
1308 G St. NW. 202-809-5565.
Where to eat it: Under the Washington Monument — when you arrive early to stake out a spot for the big fireworks show.
You’ll have no problem putting together a smorgasbord of a picnic from the more than a dozen vendors at Union Market. Baguette? Lyon Bakery has that and more. Charcuterie? Pick it up from Red Apron Butchery. Cheese? Righteous Cheese has dozens of varieties. Grab a bottle of wine from Cordial (or a Blenheim’s ginger ale from DC Empanadas) and you’re done. But you also can take your picnic beyond the basics, adding salads and special offerings from other vendors. A sweet pea salad with mint was perfectly picnic-packaged at Border Springs Farm, and shrimp salad and whitefish salad were among the offerings at Neopol Savory Smokery, which also does sandwiches. Tabbouleh and dolma from DC Mediterranean Corner can be packaged, and such desserts as baklava and Turkish Delight are prepackaged for grab-and-go ease. You can even buy a picnic basket, plates and a blanket from Salt & Sundry, the carefully curated home-goods store that anchors the market.
1309 Fifth St. NE.
Where to eat it: The National Arboretum, just a short drive from the market, makes for a handsomely scenic picnic spot. Two tips: It’s open only Friday through Monday because of sequestration, and picnics are permitted only in the National Grove of State Trees area.
The Butcher’s Block
This might be one of the most well-packaged of the picnics: It comes in a box with a handle, and the sandwiches within are nestled in gingham tissue paper. Alexandria’s Butcher’s Block, attached to the Lorien Hotel, is another market that makes picnic-picking easy: two sandwiches (turkey, chicken, salami, roast beef, pork or prosciutto); a rotating array of sides; chips; and two drinks, such as Italian limonata ($35). You can upgrade to a bottle of wine or Antigoon Belgian Ale for $45. The only bummer? The meal doesn’t come with dessert.
1600 King St., Alexandria. 703-894-5253.
Where to eat it: Take your picnic all the way down King Street and park yourself in front of the water for harborside views and greenery. And for those headed out on the Mount Vernon Trail, the picnic is small enough to fit in a bike basket.