With its long days, ideal beach weather and abundant local produce, July is the perfect time to enjoy a meal outdoors (it isn’t National Picnic Month for nothing). But there’s more to a great picnic than simply the right time and place. You’ll also need unfussy, flavorful food that travels well and a few cold drinks — hungry friends are optional but highly recommended. Here are some suggestions for top-notch treats to fill your picnic basket.
Add a Bucket to Your Basket
Skip the drive-through: Michel Richard’s Central offers its own spin on fried chicken buckets. The meal — available in two-piece ($20), four-piece ($30) and six-piece orders ($35) — includes Dijon dipping sauce, mashed potatoes and chicken nuggets. Central’s chicken stands out because of its unconventional preparation, says executive chef Jason Maddens. The chicken is poached, covered in a mousse and breaded. Then, it descends into the deep fryer (but only for about 30 seconds). “It comes out extremely crispy — in my opinion, crispier than the chicken at KFC and healthier,” Maddens says.
This is the meal for beer drinkers: “Anything cold and carbonated goes well with this,” Maddens says.
» 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-626-0015, Centralmichelrichard.com. (Federal Triangle)
Ease Into Eating Mode
Can’t think beyond breakfast? Palena Market can supply you with the makings of an alfresco brunch. The cafe next to Frank Ruta’s fine-dining fixture sells curated snacks and beverages, including jars of Palena’s house-made pickles ($5) and Lurisia Italian sodas ($2.50-$3). But the treats behind the bakery case are the market’s true stars. Try the crusty sourdough and pumpernickel loaves ($6-$8), which Ruta recommends topping with fruit mostarda (an Italian spread that’s also sold at the shop). On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, doughnuts in lemon-glazed ($2) and chocolate-frosted ($2.50) flavors “fly off the shelves,” Ruta says. Other standouts are fried risotto balls ($1.50 each) and fruit tartlettes ($3).
For the freshest doughnuts, stop by as soon as the market opens, Ruta says. “On Fridays, we usually sell out by noon, and on Saturdays and Sundays, they’re gone by about 1 p.m.”
» 3529 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-537-9250, Palenarestaurant.com. (Cleveland Park)
When it comes to lunchtime, sandwiches are key. Find subs at Italian mecca A. Litteri ($4.50-$8.95). The Classic Italian sub showcases the deli’s freshly sliced capicola, Genoa salami, mortadella and prosciuttini (cured and peppered ham) on bread from Catania Bakery (1404 North Capital St. NW). For made-to-order combos, choose from toppings such as mozzarella and smoked turkey, but heed owner Mike DeFrancisci’s warning:
“More is not always better. I like to stick with two meats and two cheeses.” Ask for oil and vinegar on the side to reduce sogginess.
Don’t leave Litteri’s without picking up a few chocolate-covered mini-cannoli, which are filled in-house ($1 each).
» 517-519 Morse St. NE; 202-544-0184, Litteris.com. (New York Avenue)
Big, Bold Bites
You’ll find tasty subs and panini at Adams Morgan’s A.M. Wine Shoppe, which also sells gourmet antipasti such as marinated artichokes ($11 per pound). The creative sandwich menu includes the Admorghese sub, featuring finochino (a fennel seed-dappled salami), mortadella, cooked prosciutto and provolone, topped with a spicy blend of shredded pickles and carrots ($7.50). Another option is the A.M. Cubano panini, made with pork confit, cooked prosciutto and comte Gruyere cheese ($7.50). General manager Andrew Akre recommends pairing sandwiches with a rose such as the
A l’Ombre des Fontaines ($14.50). “This particular rose has a very light body, but it’s not wimpy or boring; it’s very crowd-pleasing,” Akre says.
» 2122 18th St. NW; 202-506-2248, Amwineshoppe.com. (Dupont Circle)
Get a Little on the Side
Fill holes in your spread at Cork Market. The shop — which also makes its own buttermilk fried chicken, Peruvian grilled chicken and sandwiches as part of its specialty picnic baskets ($25-$40) — sells prepared salads, soups and baked goods in addition to meats and cheeses. Try the garlicky ratatouille made with eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes ($6), or the zesty tuna Nicoise salad ($8). For a cheese plate, owner Khalid Pitts recommends picking up a wedge of Mahon (a Spanish cow’s milk cheese) or cheddar, hard cheeses that travel better than gooey slices. Then again, “people really have a hankering for soft goat cheeses, which are great for dipping crackers in,” Pitts says.
» 1805 14th St. NW; 202-265-2674; Corkdc.com. (U St.-Cardozo)
Photo by Marge Ely for Express