Leave the white bread and make your picnic a gourmet experience


Filling your picnic basket for summer fun in Fairfield County

Greasy fried chicken served cold, bologna sandwiches, a bag of potato chips and a box of cheap wine make an outdoor summer picnic less than it could be, especially in scenic Fairfield County where picnics should be an epic event. Whether it’s in your own back yard or along a walking trail at Greenwich Point Park, you have an opportunity to redefine what a picnic really is. Food is not incidental to the picnic, it is the picnic.

A picnic basket full of the best Greenwich has to offer will make an ordinary picnic something special, and when it comes down to it, that’s what summer in New England is all about – enjoying something out of the ordinary in some of the most scenic settings in the country.

Picnics don’t start in the kitchen

Vacations are always an opportunity to avoid kitchen duty, enjoy some of the best foods your destination has to offer and try something new and different. A picnic is a mini-vacation, and should afford those preparing for it the same opportunities. It shouldn’t have to involve hours of kitchen preparation that end up with sad collections of soggy fried chicken and egg salad that has been left out too long.

Sandwiches are perfect picnic food, but only if they’re done right. White bread, mayonnaise and store-bought lunch meat will make for an unremarkable summer outing, but a sandwich on the right kind of bread, with freshly-sliced meat and just the right add-ons is nothing short of transformative. Bread in particular is what makes the sandwich. Bread shouldn’t just be something to hold the meat in place. Give a pass to the mass-produced white bread offerings that get too soggy when you put on your toppings, and shrink down to the size of a piece of paper when you pick it up to take a bite, and opt for something with a little more substance to make your sandwiches. Or better yet, let someone else make it for you.

If you’ve ever been to Portugal, you know how important bread is there. You won’t find mass-produced white bread in colorful plastic wrappers – instead, people there buy fresh bread every day from local bakers. Fortunately you won’t have to go all the way to Lisbon to enjoy it. At Something Natural, located at 189 Greenwich Avenue, their oversized sandwiches are made with their own delicious house-baked Portuguese bread. Drop by and fill up your picnic basket with a few of these! With a choice of everything from roast beef and smoked ham, to veggie options like sprouts, vegetables and hummus, they’re made with care, and with absolutely the best bread you’ll ever find in Greenwich.

Also right off Greenwich Avenue is Gaerlick & Herbs, with a good selection of food to go, and the best dips in town. Forget about the supermarket cans of sour cream and onion dip – drop by here and pick up a curry spread, buffalo chicken dip, or a sun-dried tomato pesto dip. They also have plastic wine glasses and other items you’ll need for your picnic day!

Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Senior Editor Layla Schlack is the go-to expert about where to go in Fairfield County, saying, “This is an interesting area food-wise, because restaurants have to attract so many affluent people who live in Fairfield County but work in the city and could eat there. At the same time though, restaurants are tremendously respectful of, and unwilling to stray from, tradition and local foods.”

A good barbeque makes for a great picnic, but let’s face it, it’s time-consuming and messy to prepare, and to do it right, it’s an all-day process that has to start early in the morning. Getting some of Fairfield County’s best ‘cue to go is really the way to go. “There’s really a bit of everything in Fairfield County,” said Schlack. “There’s that ethos of finding your favorite spot for individual items, just like in the city. Walrus and Carpenter in Bridgeport has legit barbecue, with that pan-Southern Yankee sensibility,” she says.

Generic soda and a box of wine? Never!

Picnics are too important to involve bad wine. Just because you’re eating outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t put a good bottle of Bordeaux in that wicker basket. In fact, bring a couple bottles – one for the main dish, and something sweeter for later. A good muscat wine will make for a nice, light treat, but a delectable Hungarian Tokaji is legendary. To explain the delights of Tokaji, imagine going to the grocery store and buying a candy bar. It’s a nice treat, but after you’ve eaten it, it’s quite forgettable. Now imagine going to Switzerland and visiting a little sweet shop on a cobblestone street where they make everything by hand, from the finest ingredients in the world. You’ve taken the grand tour of Europe, you’ve climbed the alps, and you’ve visited all of those bucket list destinations – but when you come back home, the thing you remember most is the chocolate. You never knew chocolate could be such an experience. That’s what Tokaji is like.

The best picnic spots

The best picnic spot may be your own back yard, but if you’ve been lazy and haven’t mowed your lawn in the past three weeks and don’t want your friends to see, Fairfield County has no shortage of good picnic destinations.

In Westport, a historic town on Long Island Sound, you’ll find Sherwood Island State Park, with 234 acres of waterfront perfect for beachcombing, biking, swimming, and of course, picnicking! After your picnic, the Westport Country Playhouse is a wonderful destination for live theater, with a robust season from April through November. The playhouse’s former artistic director is Joanne Woodward, and she, along with James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer and Jake Robards, serves on the Board of Trustees. And if that’s not enough, the Levitt Pavilion hosts plenty of outdoor concerts by the waterfront. If you’ve never taken the time to stroll through Westport, you’ll find the downtown area quite charming, with plenty of great shops and restaurants, and if you want to stay the light, the Westport Inn is the perfect place to enjoy an added dose of local color.

You can combine your picnic with the area’s biggest end-of-season event. The Greenwich Wine + Food Festival on September 21 is a full day of food, drinks and music, celebrating Fairfield and Westchester County’s amazing foodie scene. You won’t have to pack a picnic basket at all, just visit the Culinary Village to sample the goods from over 150 local food, wine, and spirits experts, with other tents celebrating burgers, barbecue, tacos and more. And to top it off, there will be sommelier, mixologist, and brewmaster presentations, and of course, the 7th Annual Burger Battle and the 4th Annual Top Bartender Showdown.

Outdoor picnics are a great excuse to put together something truly out of the ordinary. Make it a gourmet experience with the best bread, wonderful ingredients and spectacular wine. Invite your friends, and you’ll be the talk of the town.