Ever caught one of those reality shows where couples head out on a knock-your-socks-off date? If so, you’ve surely asked yourself: Why do they always involve helicopters? Helicopters notwithstanding, there are a half-dozen meals readily available in and around the Twin Cities which are cinematically gorgeous, spectacularly prepared, and all-around soul restoring. So grab someone you love, someone you hope to love, or the whole family, and head out for a picnic worthy of a reality show—no helicopters required.
Beach Blanket Bingo
Minnesota native Kevin Kathman worked at California’s French Laundry for years before returning to take over the kitchen at Barbette. Now, he’s also in charge of the food at the new spot on Minneapolis’s Lake Harriet, Bread and Pickle (as well as the south Minneapolis gastropub Pat’s Tap, which may or may not have opened by the time you read this, and the coffee shop-slash-locavore-takeout-joint Humble Pie, slated to take over Gigi’s Café in late August). What does Kathman at Bread and Pickle mean for the average citizen? Great things. Pre-order a picnic basket filled with local cheese and charcuterie, ever-changing sandwiches, seasonal salads (such as tomato panzanella), and local Sonny’s ice cream, then carry it a block due east to eat on the swimming beach while waves lap at your toes. Or, if you’re more privacy-minded, enjoy your meal on a paddle boat or canoe rented from Wheel Fun (wheelfunrentals.com). Just think: four-star, chef-made picnic foods on a canoe. The only way your meal could get more picturesque would be to carry it over to the Rose Garden—and arrange for a strolling violinist.
Be sure to pack: a beach blanket and your smart phone, so you can check the music-and-movie schedule at the Lake Harriet bandshell (mplsmusicandmovies.com). Remember, alcohol isn’t permitted in Minneapolis parks, though it’s rumored that authorities have looked the other way a time or two for people who are discreet.
Bread and Pickle
4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls.; 612-767-9009, breadandpickle.com
Yum with a Cherry on Top
Chef Derrick Moran of Nick and Eddie is probably the Twin Cities’ best-but-unheralded young chef, terrifically talented at transforming local ingredients like Au Bon Canard duck and foie gras into accessible delectables like duck-and-waffles, a tasty play on the southern classic. However, did you know you can get a to-go basket of Moran’s food, ready to be marched over the footbridge and eaten in the Walker’s famed sculpture garden? It’s true! The restaurant posts Moran’s rotating weekly menu online, which offers, in the words of owner Doug Anderson, “regular American picnic food” like fried chicken, potato salad, sandwiches, breads, and desserts by Jessica Anderson, the renowned local pastry chef. (Note: orders must be made 24 hours in advance and picnic baskets are included in the price.) What goes better with a spoon-and-cherry sculpture than a crème fraîche, fresh-berry brioche tart? Possibly nothing. Of course, you can also take the picnic home for an impressive night in, but then you won’t get fun souvenir pictures.
Be sure to pack: a camera. “Look, Ma, this is the Minneapolis equivalent of dining on top of the Eiffel Tower!”
Nick and Eddie
1612 Harmon Pl., Mpls.; 612-486-5800; nickandeddie.com
Fishing. It seems fun, and yet it’s so fraught with risk: you have to buy a pole, tackle, and a fishing license; know the local terrain; and even then you might not catch anything! And if you do catch something, you have to know how to clean the fish. Thankfully, none of this applies at Star Prairie Trout Farm, where every fish is a sure thing and cleaned to order. Here’s how it works: first, pilot your car north of Hudson, Wisconsin, to our region’s oldest, natural-spring-fed trout farm. As you hop out of your car, take a moment to contemplate the green, grassy grounds; the thin, winding stream stocked with rainbow trout; the bubbling river on the other side of a secure fence. Then, toddle up to the shack staffed with friendly workers, pick out a fishing rod, and buy some worms. If you have little kids, they will get to pick out their own rods. Now it’s time to fish! You, your kids, and everyone you see will catch plenty, either from the trophy pond (for $8 a pound) or from the regular pond (for $6 a pound). For $2 a fish, the nice workers will clean your catch; for $3, they’ll fillet it; and for $7, they’ll hand you a charcoal-filled grill. The last step is the one you’ve been waiting for: light your grill and settle back to a picnic of fabulously fresh fish. Oh, and if your child snarls their reel, just trade it in for a new one. You know what fishing pros call that? Bliss.
Be sure to pack: everything you need for a perfect trout-centered meal—wine, beer, bread, cheese, salad, and herb-butter to grill the fish.
Star Prairie Farm
400 Hill Ave., Star Prairie, Wisconsin; 715-248-3633; starprairietrout.com
Known far and wide as the “Pizza Farm,” A to Z Produce in Stockholm, Wisconsin, is more than just a farm: it’s a farm with a pizza oven, which they fire up for the general public every Tuesday. It’s also incredibly charming and memorable, and should be a part of every Minnesotan’s summer experience. Find it by tracing County Road J up from Stockholm; look first for the church, then the crowds. Once you get there, park and set up your base camp. (People pack full tables, chairs, linens, vases of flowers, and even fine French Champagne and ice buckets. Really.) Next, head to the chalkboard that lists the pizzas of the day. Some possible options: green olive and farm-made sausage or farm-grown tomato and farm-grown basil. That’s local! The nice man taking your order will give you a number and a time estimate for your pie—perhaps 10 minutes, perhaps an hour. (And perhaps never: they do sell out of pizzas sometimes, so go early; they open at 4:30.) As you wait, while away the time by enjoying a glass of wine in the prettiest place in the world, complete with tubs of pansies surrounding the modern, open-roofed pizza oven; picturesque little barns arranged like Martha Stewart props; cows and chickens in the distance; and fireflies, meadow scents, and chirping birds all soaking into your pores, filling you with the sustaining joy of nature. After your pizza emerges from the wood-fired oven and you’ve paid (cash only, around $24 to $27 per pizza), settle into your blanket and savor the crispy, wood-smoked crust and strikingly fresh vegetables. Soak in the scene for as long as you like before gathering your things and driving home (about two hours to most of the metro Twin Cities), filled with memories that will keep you happy and whole all winter long.
Be sure to pack: everything but the pizza. Bug spray, candles, a Frisbee, perhaps even a vase of roses? Just remember to repack all you brought, as this is a private farm, not a park. And so delightful because of it.
A to Z Produce and Bakery
N2956 Anker Ln., Stockholm, Wisconsin; 715-448-4802; atozproduceandbakery.com
Of course, the easiest place to picnic is in your own backyard. But who has time to run around town sourcing restaurant-quality ingredients? You do—if you take advantage of Corner Table’s new take on Community Supported Agriculture, deemed a Community Supported Kitchen by chef Scott Pampuch. For $95, you get enough of the top-quality food they cook in the restaurant to heartily feed a party of four. For instance, you might get a section of terrine, a whole marinated chicken, sausages, greens, pickles, cheese, and bread, plus extra goodies for your refrigerator, such as bacon, eggs, and ground beef. Simply bring home the box, open some wine, light the grill, and let the praise pour in.
4257 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.; 612-823-0011; cornertablerestaurant.com
The Perfect Drink
Screw-top wine: Are you for it or against it? Most producers of wines meant to be drunk young are wild about screw-caps, because they can’t impart any of the flaws that corks can. Randall Grahm’s robust and earthy Contra is a great chillable red, perfect with all the picnics listed here, and easy to reseal to keep out curious ants. Find it at St. Paul’s Thomas Liquors for around $15. 1941 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-699-1860; thomasliquor.com