JP’s Food Adventures: It’s Picnic Time!

Photo by Cynthia Lamb.
Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the July issue of The Lo-Down’s print magazine.

For some, summer means the time-honored escape to the Catskills. Others will run their air-conditioners nonstop until September, hiding out in their apartments’ relative cool. For me, part of the pleasure of warm weather is taking meals outside. Our neighborhood may have limited choices for al fresco dining, but there are a number of good picnic spots.

Where do I go for a neighborhood picnic?

Sara D. Roosevelt Park, which runs along Chrystie Street, has a number of suitable spots, including some tables and chairs near Hester Street. Just north of Delancey is the achingly beautiful M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, which might be the best picnic spot around, but make sure you go during its open hours (weekends noon to 4 p.m., Thursdays 5 to 7 p.m.).

There are several areas along the East River where one can find suitable greenery and open space for a picnic. It’s easy to forget how close we are to spectacular river views, and though the park is a work in progress, much of it is lovely. Those who prefer a livelier scene can vie for a space among the musicians, gamers and caged hua mei birds singing from the trees in Chinatown’s Columbus Park.

Where to stock up on eats? Those feeling Frenchie-correct can hit the Essex Street Market. A baguette from Pain d’Avignon, some cheese from Saxelby and some charcuterie from Heritage Meats fit the bill very well. Formaggio Essex is full of great choices as well, and even sells the Opinel knives no Frenchman would picnic without. Pick up some fruit on the way out of the market and you’re good to go. The newly opened Malt & Mold on East Broadway can also fill your bread and cheese needs, and offers the option of to-go growlers of beer, for those so inclined.

Those hungry for American cookout fare can hit Georgia’s Eastside BBQ for ribs, biscuits and slaw to go. Interstate Food & Liquor also has takeout burgers, hot dogs and mac and cheese. Both of these establishments can ease the sting of not having an outdoor grill at your disposal.

Chinatown bakeries, dumpling houses and Vietnamese sandwich shops offer exotic options for small dollars. Don’t forget the lamb burger from X’ian Famous Foods. These delicious bargains taste even better shared outside with friends and loved ones.

The Hester Street Fair is, among other things a recurring Saturday picnic, complete with tables and green space. Numerous food vendors offer a variety in the $5 to $12 range: barbecue, lobster rolls, tacos, macarons, coffee and much more. The food is on the trendy side, but nearly everything I’ve tasted there was good.
Regardless of how and where you choose to do it, a picnic on the Lower East Side is one of the joys of summer

J.P. Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is also a wine consultant and a serious home cook who scours the Lower East Side for frugal food finds in his free time.