Much like eating a Reese’s, there’s really no wrong way to make a picnic.
Nestled under a tree with a good book, a baguette, and a wedge of cheese? That’s a picnic. Bringing a good friend, a bottle of wine, and nothing else to the park? We’ll count it.
But there is one way to picnic that’s a little more satisfying than the rest: by filling your wicker basket with Minnesota-made ingredients. It’s an easy way to support local butcher shops and grocers and small-batch-everything artisans—and, just as importantly, you get to enjoy top-tier food that’s as fresh as it’s ever going to be.
Here are some of our favorite ways to picnic in the Twin Cities this summer.
Every vegan-friendly food in this spread will handily satisfy meat-eaters, too. Drop by the Herbivorous Butcher for sandwiches—both the Italian cold cut and turkey and dill havarti are available every day—and make sure to add a tub of jackfruit chicken to your order. It works on wraps and sandwiches and, in our case, atop a bed of buttery lettuce from Urban Organics in St. Paul. (Pictured here: the (Finally) Spring Mix.) Drizzle it with Salad Girl’s vegan, non-GMO, soy- and cane sugar- and corn syrup-free organic dressing.
When snacking, get stacking. Flackers Crackers makes six flavors of organic flaxseed crackers—think tomato and basil, sea salt, cinnamon and currants—so you can mix and match, then pile them high with Punk Rawk Lab Cheese, Holy Land Hummus, apples with Bee Free Honee, or Topos Ferments. (The black radish, leek, kelp, and lemon from Topos also works as a delicious addition to your Herbivorous Butcher sandwiches.) A jar of Gyst Pickles and a few bags of Barsy’s Almonds make for good munching, too.
For dessert? Puros Pies—all-natural whipped-mousse pies in adorable single-serve cups. Wash it all down with Double Dog Kombucha, our current fave for small-batch ’booch in town. It packs a fizzy, flavorful punch to keep you from melting in the summer sun, but if you like a little heat, get the Pelé—a pleasantly spicy blend of pineapple, ginger, jalapeno, and cilantro.
Grillin’ and Chillin’
What better place to start an afternoon grillapalooza than Lowry Hill Meats? This year’s City Pages Best Delicatessen pick is the place to go for house-made burgers and brats. Slide those beefy wonders between a squishy Kramarczuk’s brioche burger bun, available Friday through Sunday, now through September. And don’t leave the Polish deli without picking up a bottle of their Curry Ketchup, a Berlin-style spread that’s spiced perfection on a sausage—so good, we’ve known it to supplant Heinz in the households of even the proudest Pennsylvania natives.
It’s a fact, after all, that the way you dress up your grill-marked meal is only slightly less essential than cooking it well in the first place. And dress it up you shall. Go smoky and savory with Wee Willy’s Barbecue Sauce; let Lucky’s Honey Mustard supply a sweet tang; or pick up a bottle of Maazah Chutney, made by a pair of Minneapolis sisters who promise it works on everything. They’re not kidding—you might find yourself absentmindedly dipping chips in it. Minnesota’s robust hot sauce scene gives you a bounty of fiery options to choose from, but when grilling, we go with three can’t-miss pepper purveyors: Hellraising Hot Sauce, Cry Baby Craig’s, and Double Take Salsa.
Snack-wise, Old Dutch Potato Chips are a classic, but you should consider adding in the not-so-classic gourmet, small-batch popcorn from Maddy and Maize. (The bourbon barbecue version goes well with grillables.) Some vegetables might not be the worst idea; you can always slice up a Bushel Boy tomato or two and toss a few Famous Dave’s pickle spears on the side. For dessert—assuming you left room for dessert—Rustica Bakery’s bittersweet chocolate cookies always hit the sweet spot. And because of course you brought along your canine pal, who’s been eyeing sizzling meats and whining all day, pick up a few packages of Val’s Brew Treats—handmade from recycled spent grain right here in the Twin Cities.
The ideal romantic afternoon demands the ideal charcuterie plate. First up: Patisserie 46 baguettes. Next, the meats, including Red Table’s Northeast-made speck, and of course, Big Chet’s, that spicy fennel and garlic salami that’s the stuff of cured-meat dreams. We sliced up a few Prairie Pride summer sausages to boot. On the cheese front, Redhead Creamery’s Ridiculously Good Cheese Curds continue to do right by their name, and don’t let the cave-aged garlic cheddar scare you off—it’s garlicky, but not ruin-the-potential-for-romance garlicky.
For spreading, Eichtens Cheese Shop produces an array of gouda spreads: horseradish, hot pepper, herb, olive tapenade. Make a point to pick up some smoky, soft pork liver mousse from St. Paul Meat Shop before strolling down the street to St. Paul Cheese Shop for even more cheese. Add in Serious Jam preserves, too—what is “Blood Orange Whiskey Marmalade” if not the name of a romantic Rolling Stones ballad?—and sweeten the deal further with Beez Kneez Honey.
You’ll also want Isadore Nut Co. seasoned nuts to snack on. “Cayenne Kick” really amps up the heat, but you can soothe your tastebuds with a few sips of Golden Fig Strawberry Limeade. (We recommend adding a splash of bubbly or a little bit of vodka.) When the platter’s finished, peel away the pretty packages of a few Mademoiselle Miel honey bon bons and bars, savoring their sweetness as you stroll hand-in-hand.
Bring the Kids
There’s a good chance the kids are too busy running around, swimming, catching bugs, etc. to think about anything more than quick breaks, which means snackable, packable finger foods are a good bet. We don’t know a youngster who won’t eat chips and salsa; skip the Tostitos and opt instead for Way Better Snacks and Minnesalsa. For a different dipping experience, carrot sticks dunked in Jimmy’s Dressing make an equally quick and easy treat. Hard-boiled eggs are the ultimate fun fuel; these are from Locally Laid Egg Company in Wrenshall.
Something sweeter, you say? Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop fills kids right up between lake swims and isn’t so bad for them, either—even the “dark chocolaty drizzled sea salt kettle corn” has just 120 calories per serving. Or maybe you want something slightly more substantial, like peanut butter sandwiches with Buddy’s Nut Butter and fruit on Baker’s Field table bread. That the loaf is a texturally transcendent, naturally leavened marvel might be lost on the kids, but you deserve something for yourself, too. On that note: Thumbs Cookies. The poppable, tiny sweets are just the right size for little fingers; the flavors (rosemary pecan, peanut butter sea salt, Barb’s cinnamon and sugar) make grownups happy too.
Not one for doing it yourself? Got a wicked wicker allergy? Keep it simple, and let the experts handle your picnic prep.
Lowry Hill Meats
So you want a beautiful meat and cheese platter, but don’t have the time and/or patience and/or knife skills to execute a truly Instagram-worthy one. The solution? A show-stopper from Lowry Hill Meats appropriately called “The Picnic Platter.” Red Table Big Chet’s Salami and speck? Check! Baker’s Field Flour filone? Check! Artisan cheese selection? A beautiful assortment of pickled vegetables and mustard and olives and nuts and crackers? Check! This thing handily serves four to five, and promises at least ten times as many likes on social media. 1934 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-999-4200, lowryhillmeats.com
St. Paul Meat Shop
This St. Paul staple has a pretty tight sandwich menu, but somehow it’s still so hard to choose one. The Chacarero, is, in the words of shop manager Nick Mangigian, “dope,” with thin-sliced pork, chimichurri sauce, comte cheese, and green beans on a Rose Street Patisserie baguette. He says the simple roast beef is—thanks to an assist from house-made horseradish labneh—their sneaky bestseller. But when push comes to shove, we’re going for the Reuben. (Who can pass up a midday raclette?) Round it out with smoky potato salad and a snap pea salad that’s crispy veggie perfection, and—what the hell?—throw in a pair of fabulously fudgy, fresh-baked brownies, with ultra-premium Valrhona Chocolate from France. 1674 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-698-2536, stpaulmeatshop.com
Clancey’s Meats and Fish
We could write odes to Clancey’s sammies and sides, the ideal accompaniment to an afternoon whiled away on Lake Harriet. At least one member of your picnic party must order the practically legendary roast beef, but don’t sleep on the specials: pictured here, a refreshing yet hearty asparagus and brie baguette that’s even vegetarian-friendly. Order a few colorful, refreshing sides—roasted beet salad, pickled ramps, pickled cauliflower—and you’re set for an afternoon in the sun. Oh, and a little tip from Clancey’s owner Kristin Tombers: Save the brine your veggies are swimming in for future use in salad dressings or “the best martini you’ve ever had.”4307 Upton Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-926-0222, clanceysmeats.com
Click here to view a photo slideshow of the ultimate Minnesota picnic