Spring has sprung, and in Chicago we love to soak up every minute of the warm weather with a little al fresco dining. Picnics are an ideal option to spend time with family and friends outdoors- here are a few ideas on how to upgrade your picnic this summer season! Whether you are a DIY, pack it yourself type or prefer to cater every bite, there is always some way to add a little special touch to your outdoor adventure. Thank you to WGN Chicago for having me on to chat about some of my favorite ways to upgrade your picnic today!
Upcycled DIY Picnic Basket
You can DIY a picnic basket from a vintage suitcase! Grab one from your local thrift store and line it with a favorite fabric by using a hot glue gun. Add a selection of thrifted plates, silverware and glassware. Want something that won’t break? I just received these Odeme What A Pair silicone wine glasses in my FabFitFun box this season. I think their box is the best value of any subscription box, and I was especially pleased with the summer picks- these glasses are totally a way to upgrade your picnic.
Pick Up Your Picnic
Don’t stress over your picnic spread! Instead, leave the selection to the specialists. One option is to custom order your own picnic at Pastoral- simply hop on their website to compile your basket and it will be ready for you upon arrival! The basic basket is $25, and you can add cheese, pair with wine, and request other accompaniments. They have a massive amount of combinations within each type of picnic spread- from the Al Fresco with fruit and veggies to the Sweet Picnic with goodies like spiced almonds and shortbread cookies to the Savory Picnic with Jamon Serrano and pickled vegetables (hint- add the Harbison cheese; it won best of show at North America’s most prestigious competition this past year and is wrapped in tree bark). Each spread comes on a compostable sugarcane tray, so nothing to bring back home AND a baguette from La Boulangerie, the delish French bakery in Chicago. Upgrade your picnic spread the EASY way!
I love that Pastoral is a complete one stop shop- you can add a bottle of wine (or cans!) to your basket. I suggest the Non Disclosure Rosé which is a private label just for Pastoral and has a screw top…no forgetting a cork screw. Order your picnic from any of their Chicago locations at least 24 hours in advance so it will be ready for you to pop in and pick up.
If you want to go the sandwich route, my favorite places to grab a sandwich are the multiple Italian delis around the city, like JP Graziano in the West Loop, Fiore Deli in Ukranian Village or Conte Di Savoia in University Village.
Another classic option is fried chicken, and Chicago has multiple locations that serve up this picnic staple. Bring it hot or keep it cold, either way it provides the perfect main dish. A few of my favorite fried chicken restaurants are Chef Luciano in the South Loop, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Evanston Chicken Shack and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (place a pick up order or delivery order online).
If you want to make the effort yourself, single serve recipes are easiest in a picnic setting. Two of my favorites are
Antipasti Kabobs and Mason Jar Strawberry Shortcake.
For the kabobs, take wooden or bamboo skewers and thread items like these:
Tortellini, ciliegine, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, grilled vegetables (Trader Joe’s makes a simple frozen version with eggplant and peppers; simply thaw and serve), marinated artichoke, salami, prosciutto, cheese cubes, mushrooms, peperocini
For Mason Jar Strawberry Shortcake desserts, simple slice ripe strawberries into a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Cube shortcake, angel food cake or biscuits. Layer strawberries and cake in jars and top with whipped cream (I bring the whipped cream with me- Trader Joe’s has the BEST whipped cream in a can. I buy it in bulk).
Wine is lovely for a picnic, but why not upgrade your picnic with a martini? A local company Vitani has crafted martinis, mules and cocktails with premium vodka (not malt or wine). A couple in Northbrook, IL decided to create what they couldn’t find- a pre-made martini that tasted like a professional bartender mixed it. They have expanded upon the original Cosmo and Dirty martinis by adding Elderpear (my personal favorite), Cucumber and a Mule. Each drink packs a pretty high proof- 36 to 39, comes in aluminum bottles that stay colder longer, and are available in single serve 200ml and party size 750 ml. You can grab Vitani at a number of stores throughout Chicagoland, including Binny’s, select Whole Foods and Mariano’s.
Canned wines have come a long way as well, providing a convenient single sip option. Underwood has some great varieties and is widely available, and wine clubs are starting to stock canned wines like the Ruza Rose from Winc! I also found Simpler Wines at Trader Joe’s for a fairly affordable albeit sweet option. Just check to make sure the place you picnic allows alcohol first.
Unique Picnic Blanket
The hottest picnic blanket trend has a totally different shape- round! Many of them are highly decorative, coming in patterns that look like Persian rugs, Mandalas, cross sections of watermelon, even tortillas. You can find them at most price points and they pull double duty as the ideal beach blanket for laying out. I found a nylon watermelon pop up blanket for under $20 on Amazon- ideal for the beach since sand slides off!
Pick a Perfect Picnic Spot
Find a new place to plan your perfect picnic! Here are the top picnic spots in each area of Chicago-
North side- Foster Beach
South Side- Promontory Point Park
Downtown- Grant Park
West Side- Humboldt Park
Suburbs- Forest Preserve of Cook County, Gillson Park in Wilmette, Harvester Park Burr Ridge, Volkening Lake Schaumburg
Cheers to enjoying the warm weather months outside while they last! Happy picnicing!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links– I may make a small commission if you purchase through my site but it does not affect your price. All opinions are honest and my own as always.