Be a spoiled brat. For this year's Fourth of July picnic, sit back and let the food come to you. The corner grocer won't deliver anymore, but Federal Express will.
So take advantage of it; carry your Independence Day celebration to a decadent conclusion. Have the foods shipped. Face it: those hometown specialties just never taste the same when they're made here.
There's something whimsical about the thought of it -- the friendly skies jammed with burgers and buns, the air traffic controller clearing the runway for your picnic spread.
In fact, if you're willing to pay for it, most companies will send food overnight. But be forewarned that no matter how you ship it, the cost of the food may be less than what it takes to get it here. And carriers will not deliver on July 4th, so plan for receipt on the 3rd, or earlier.
So here are some ideas for an overnight or two-day-away picnic, plus instructions on what to expect and how to pull it off snag-free. And stay tuned for a Zap mail dinner. Steaks within two hours may be only a satellite signal away. The Finger-Lickin' Barbecue
"A Memphis Tradition Since 1948" reads the red shipping box from Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous restaurant, a beer-and-rib joint in a downtown Memphis basement that serves about four tons of ribs a week. It's no wonder, for even after their flight, these ribs were all the things that ribs should be: meaty and perfumed with smoke, crunchy on the outside and sprinkled with a peppery sauce to make you appreciate your fingers. These are ribs to savor and gnaw on until the bones go dry.
Last year before Thanksgiving, Vergos says, a friend advised him to get into the mail-order business, to place an ad in the Wall Street Journal since "anybody with money reads it." Plus, Vergos' location was ideal: Memphis is the country's central location for all Federal Express shipments. That means that anything that goes anywhere in the U.S. first goes to Memphis; Vergos' ribs didn't have to make a roundabout route.
The ribs are packed frozen and come in sealed plastic bags, along with a garlicky-peppery spice mix (that contains, among other things, according to the ingredient label, "some of Charlie's favorite spices that he's not tellin' "). A simple barbecue sauce that is a suitably shy accompaniment for the spice mix is enclosed as well. Vergos says the ribs can keep, refrigerated, for about a week. Instructions should be enclosed for reheating.
How to: Order your ribs by 4:30 p.m. the day before and you can have them the next morning. The Rendezvous is closed Sunday and Monday, so deliveries can only be made on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and, for an additional $10, Saturday. The ribs are shipped via Federal Express only. Vergos says you can call the Rendezvous collect at 901-523-2746.
How much: For five orders (about 6 1/2 pounds worth of ribs) with seasoning mix and barbecue sauce, the cost is $85, including shipping. For 10 servings, the cost, with shipping, is $140. Additional increments of five servings cost $70 each. (These are the prices if you ship to one address only.) The restaurant accepts all major credit cards, will bill or accept checks received before the order is shipped. The Philly Picnic
Fred Catona has given everybody a taste of Philadelphia, including patrons in Upper Volta, Africa. Catona, owner of a Taste of Philadelphia, a mail-order company that has shipped the city's legendary hoagies, cheese steaks and soft pretzels to every state in the nation plus 30 foreign countries, is about as committed a Philadelphia food fan as they come.
Catona, who got the idea when his hoagie-sick brothers were attending college on the West Coast, quit his job as a schoolteacher about a year and a half ago to go into the business fulltime. He has also written a book, aptly called "A Taste of Philadelphia," which he calls a "survival manual" on how to compile your own Philadelphia specialties.
Mini course: The secret to a hoagie is: (1) it must start with a great roll, (2) contain fairly expensive Italian meats, and (3) be assembled so that it falls in your lap. The proper order of things is roll, provolone, ham, capicola, genoa salami, then lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and oregano. The cheese should never be next to the vegetables.
The company assembles several combination packages, cleverly packed and good for gifts. We tried the Broad Street Lunch, which consists of a hoagie (authentic, all right, and packed in gold foil with the meat separated from the bread), cheesesteak fixings for four sandwiches (better tasting than it looked, this was thinly-cut decent quality meat topped with a Cheez Whiz-ish cheese) and six soft pretzels (that same Philadelphia dense dough, the coarse salt and mustard packed separately in a Baggie), five Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, a 12-pack of Tastykakes and two Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak sodas (all Philly originals).
How to: Taste of Philadelphia ships orders Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays only. It ships via Airborne, an overnight service, but it must get your order by Monday, July 1, if you want to receive it by the 3rd. The company will ship Federal Express if you have an account number. Call 215-328-5060.
How much: Cost for the Broad Street Lunch is $29, the shipping via Airborne is $24.95, for a total of $53.95. Visa and Master Card are accepted. The company has many other combination packs available, some which come with a copy of the shipping day's Philadelphia Inquirer and which range in price from $12 to $100 for the food, $5 to $31 for the shipping. Particularly appropriate for Independence Day is the Philly Sampler, which comes in a red, white and blue Liberty Bell box and includes a pound of Philadelphia scrapple, a can of Bookbinder's snapper soup, oyster crackers, Goldenberg's peanut chews, a Tastykake oatmeal raisin bar and a copy of Catona's "Taste of Philadelphia" cookbook. Cost is $16.75, including UPS ground travel shipping (there are no perishables in this package), $20.45 for UPS second-day air and $28.90 for UPS overnight air. The Ethnic Spread
"Slice the genoa salami very thin. The Italian tuna should be taken from the can and placed, without breaking, in the center of the plate. Serve the stromboli bread in chunks." These directions are clearer than the ones you get for assembling your vacuum cleaner.
Manganaro's, the classic Italian grocery on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, ships ingredients for an antipasto party platter that even comes with a little hand-drawn diagram of where everything should go on the plate.
Much of the food comes in commercial-pack jars -- caponata, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts in olive oil, black olives, pickled vegetables, anchovies, Italian tuna in olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes -- but there is also a delicious homemade smoked mozzarella cheese, a genoa salami as homegrown as they come, a generous hunk of flavorful provolone and a somewhat leaden homemade stromboli bread, a braided lard bread woven with pieces of prosciutto and sausage.
The assembled platter -- a pretty conglomeration of colors and shapes -- is a heavy load of oil and vinegar that is probably best recommended for hard-core Italian food lovers. Besides the antipasto platter, Manganaro's mails other specialties all over the country, catering parties for anywhere from two to 3,000. And finally, you can ship yourself -- the grocery offers a two-week tour of Italy led by members of the Manganaro family.
How to: Call between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday at 212-563-5331. Manganaro's accepts American Express. Orders must be placed by Monday if they are shipped UPS second-day delivery and expected to arrive here before the 4th. Manganaro's will ship overnight and second-day air, but there is an additional fee.
How much: The antipasto platter, which serves eight generously as an appetizer, costs $55. The cost includes surface mail charges only. The All-American Grill
What could be more American than buffalo? Or hot dogs, for that matter? Wilderness Gourmet, an Ann Arbor, Mich., wholesale company, has combined the two in its buffalo franks, a nitrite-free hot dog that is a combination of bison and pork. These are meaty franks with a hint of smoke and minus that frequently fatty frankfurter taste.
The buffalos roam on a ranch in upstate New York, according to David Miller, vice president of the small midwestern outfit that buys the manufactured franks and wholesales them. Miller, whose partner is his father, says the company got started after his parents returned from a trip to New Zealand in 1976. The senior Miller, J. Douglas, a retired captain in the Navy reserve, had been stationed in New Zealand during World War II, says his son. But when his parents got back to the states after their '76 trip, they were $5,000 poorer and all they had to show for it was "a bunch of slides that nobody wanted to see."
Looking for a tax deduction for his trip, says his son, J. Douglas Miller called the New Zealand consulate and learned that the country was interested in exporting its venison. Miller started importing it as a sideline job. The company has since mushroomed and has moved into wholesaling wild game to restaurants and hotels nationwide.
Venison steaks are also available via mail order (though we didn't try them) and Miller says the company will ship wild boar hams (we didn't try them either, although Miller had one marinating in his refrigerator when we called).
How to: You will have to have more than a day's foresight to order the buffalo franks. Although the company will ship them overnight UPS or Federal Express, Miller says all orders must be placed by Monday for delivery before the 4th. The company accepts all major credit cards and checks in advance. Call 313-663-6987.
How much: For four pounds of buffalo franks, sent UPS overnight, cost is $54.75. For four pounds, sent UPS second-day delivery, cost is $41.75. Eight pounds overnight UPS is $69.75 (second day, $56.75); 12 pounds overnight UPS, $94.75 (second day, $81.75). The Pie in the Sky
Duane Wickersham was the first person to get a patent on a pie, when he traipsed from Indiana to Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s with his sugar cream pie, according to the book "Food Finds," by Allison and Margaret Engel. And so sugar cream pies, sometimes called Indiana Farm Pie, are now the sole propriety of Wick's Pies Inc., a family-run pie operation that went full force in a vacated burial slipper factory. (When funeral fashions changed, and caskets went from full view to half view, the slipper company went kaput, says the book.)
The pie is true to its name, for it tastes of two ingredients: sugar and cream. Indeed, the package label lists 40 percent milk fat cream as the first ingredient and sugar as the second. Be warned that the combined effect is not unlike the library paste you may have eaten in third grade, but it is a fun regional food and a good picnic pie. Plus, Wick's sells the pies to the public at a wholesale price (six pies for $11) -- and combined with shipping charges (at least second day UPS), the tab per pie ends up costing about the same as a local pie (and about half the cost of a Watergate strawberry pie).
How to: The pies are shipped frozen via UPS overnight, second day or ground service. Call the factory in Winchester, Ind., at 317-584-8401. It accepts checks only when received before the order is shipped.
How much: Wick's sells minimum orders of six pies for $11, plus $1 for handling and $28.50 for shipping UPS overnight air (for a total of $40.50). If you can wait another day, Wick's will ship UPS second-day air delivery, for a shipping cost of $18.50 and a total tab of $30.50). Flying Saucers
We didn't have time to sample these -- and neither will you in time for July 4th -- but it's part of the point in mentioning this ultimate in shippable picnic junk food (save it for Labor Day?). Shipping White Castle Hamburgers across the country has become such a big business that the company has installed a toll-free hot line number, employs 10 part-time and full-time employes to answer it and receives around 100 orders per week from people who call it. In fact, the burgers, which are shipped frozen from Columbus, Ohio, (rolls, onions and pickles on the side) and packed with dry ice, take up to 10 days to receive, according to the hot line, taking into account processing, packing and shipping.
How to: The White Castle toll free hot line number is 1-800-WCASTLE. The company will accept Visa, Master Card, certified checks and money orders.
How much: Minimum order is 50 burgers. Cost is $57, which includes shipping via Federal Express. For 100 burgers, cost is $82, including shipping.