The picnic has evolved: Long gone are the days of lukewarm egg salad on stale bread and soggy diced fruit from stained old Tupperware containers. There are as many options for gourmet blanket-dining fare as there are spots in Chicago to enjoy your meal, and what better holiday to exercise your freedom of flavor than the 4th of July?
Check out 10 of our favorite picnic-making picks — in no particular order — and let us know if we missed any in your ‘hood!
1. Old Town Social. This North Avenue spot made a name for itself with its gorgeous handmade charcuterie. Just in time for summer, they started offering “Beach & Boat Baskets” with everything from marinated olives and housemade pickles to local cheese and that signature charcuterie.
455 W. North Ave. | 312-266-2277
2. Pastoral. Meats, cheeses, sandwiches…the basics. Our favorite: the Blue Pig ‘n’ Fig sandwich, packed with Serrano ham, blue cheese, local fig and black tea preserves. There are locations in Lakeview and the Loop. (Bonus: They can also put together the perfect wine pairing for whatever you’re eating.)
53 E. Lake Street | 312-658-1250
3. Goddess and Grocer. This Bucktown spot, also a stop on our 3-1-Chew Neighborhood Food Experience (Bucktown & Wicker Park Food Tour), is a lot of flavor packed into a tiny storefront. Sip a fresh-squeezed strawberry lemonade while you wait for your sandwich or wrap to be prepared, or grab a premade salad and run.
1646 N. Damen Ave. | 773-342-3200
4. J.P. Graziano. This West Loop grocer and sub shop offers ridiculously flavorful 9-inch sandwiches, made to order, wrapped in heavy butcher paper for a quick getaway. Don’t forget to add their truffle mustard balsamic vinaigrette to whatever you order. Trust us. And grab us some burrata to go.
901 W. Randolph St. | 312-666-4587
5. Gene’s Sausage Shop. If you’ll be helming the grill this year at the beach or in the backyard, stop by Gene’s Lincoln Square emporium for some sausages. They make more than 40 varieties in house…and they’ve been doing it since 1972! (And there’s a crazy selection upstairs of imported beers in cans and bottles…just sayin’.)
4750 N. Lincoln Ave. | 773-728-7243
6. Bleeding Heart Bakery. Two words: CAKE BALLS. Handheld desserts that are moist on the inside, rolled in crumbs or sprinkles for a fun post-picnic sugar rush. Get thee to West Town.
1916 W. Chicago Ave. | 773-904-1414
7. Sultan’s Market. If you’ve got a taste for the international this year, pile up a few containers from Sultan’s awe-inspiring salad bar. Nothing says Independence Day like stuffed grape leaves and tabbouleh…right? (This is a stop on our 3-1-Chew Neighborhood Food Experience — we wrote about Sultan’s Market once.)
2057 W. North Ave. | 773-235-3072
8. Salted Caramel. This once-online-only sweets shop now has a stall at the Andersonville Galleria for easy pickup and plenty of other spots around town that stock its wares. Snag some crowd-pleasing Bacon Bourbon Caramel Corn, Pretzel Grahams or Salted Bourbon caramel candies.
5247 N. Clark St. (Galleria) | 312-SALTY-2
9. Ashkenaz Deli. Whether you’re grabbing full sandwiches to go or buying meats, cheeses and salads by the pound, this Gold Coast standby will have your (This is also a stop on Chicago Food Planet’s Second City Classic Tour!)
12 E. Cedar St. | 312-944-5006
10. Fox & Obel. Select meats, cheeses and all the accoutrements you need from this gorgeous lakeside market, or snag a premade picnic basket if you suffer from choice paralysis. It’s the perfect place to put together an amazing pre-pyrotechnics meal if you’re walking east to Navy Pier or south to the Museum Campus for fireworks.
401 E. Illinois St. | 312-410-7301
Photo: Steven Depolo