Packing a Picnic Made Easy: Top Places to Get Spreads-to-Go on the UES
MANHATTAN — Just in time for Friday's New York Philharmonic concert in Central Park, the heat wave has broken, and it's time to start planning picnics.
For those who don't want to spend time washing arugula, chopping lettuce or whipping up a potato salad, there are plenty of options on the Upper East Side to help with the perfect spread — blanket and basket included, sometimes — before snagging a spot on the Great Lawn.
From finger-licking lobster rolls to caviar tins with mother of pearl spoons, here are DNAinfo.com New York's picks:
242 E. 81st St.
The always-popular seafood joint, which expanded to the Upper East Side after opening in the East Village in 2009, doesn't make picnic baskets per se, but its combo meal — a lobster roll with chips and a pickle ($17) — has been a hit with its customers heading to parks.
"People definitely take our combos for picnics all the time," said Ben Conniff, of Luke's. "In fact, last summer some of our regulars took a picnic to Central Park, and a guy proposed to his girlfriend over a lobster roll."
308 E. 78th St.
Customers can mix and match offerings from this bakery — known for sourcing local ingredients and working with local artisans — to create their ideal picnic outing.
A recent basket Orwashers' retail manager Jessica Dragonetti put together for a picnic at Carl Schurz Park included a wine bread ($4.50), spelt bread ($6.50) half a pound of Manchego cheese ($9.50), a container of roasted tomatoes ($6.50), a can of Rick's Picks pickles ($4) and local jam from Beth's Farm Kitchen ($6.50). Orwashers even supplies a basket to put it all in ($7), for those keen on presentation.
"You can do anything custom made," Dragonetti said, adding that the bakery's freshly squeezed lemonade ($3.50 a serving) has been a hit this summer.
"People shouldn't be afraid of the heat," she said. "A real good lemonade can combat the hot weather."
1114 Lexington Ave.
Years ago, this neighborhood favorite had stocked up on nice baskets to make elegant packages only to realize that most customers heading to Shakespeare in the Park or other grassy outings were simply opting to grab the shop's prepared foods for their less formal spreads, said co-owner Joelle Obsatz.
So, Butterfield will still make customized picnics with baskets (or more often, canvas bags) — blankets included — if ordered a day in advance, but the market is more focused on making sure its shelves are stocked with picnic-friendly platters, especially when the Philharmonic is playing in Central Park.
"There are people who come right in from the  subway at 77th Street at 5:30 and grab and go to the park," Obsatz said. "It can get crazy."
Some popular platters include: sliced mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil ($7.99); an antipasto tray with roasted peppers, olives, asiago cheese, pepperoni and baguette slices ($11.50); and assorted vegetable spears with dill dip ($3.99). The shop's homemade hummus ($5), eggplant dip ($4.50), black bean dip ($4.50) and guacamole ($6) are also hot items for picnic goers.
Disposable plates and cutlery are included.
1064 Madison Avenue
E.A.T, which is part of Eli Zabar's gourmet neighborhood shops, has an array of options for picnic meals packed individually in boxes that can be ordered 24-hours in advance. The "sandwich box," for instance, comes with a chicken salad, smoked salmon or meat loaf sandwich; an asparagus or pasta salad; brownie and fresh fruit ($30). There's also a "vegetarian picnic," which includes a pita with a lentil salad, eggplant or tabouleh; tomato and mozzarella, cucumber and chevre on ficelle or grilled vegetables on cibatta; a slice of pound cake and fresh fruit ($16).
"They are complete — each box is its own personal meal," said Helene, who works at Eli's catering. "It's easy."
That Picnic Place
This online service will deliver picnic baskets to the Central Park entrance of your choice (and other parks) filled with goodies prepared at Guy & Gallard, which has locations on the Upper East Side and elsewhere.
The main sellers are the "pre-made picnic basket" for two ($130), which comes with a choice of sandwich, snack, dessert, beverage, blanket and game (such as checkerboard, playing cards or Frisbee); and the "lil' romance picnic basket" ($190) — only for adults over 21 — which includes two sandwiches or salads, two desserts, a bottle of wine, a blanket and a "novelty item" (such as massage oil or chocolate body fondue).
The overwhelming majority of those placing the orders for these picnics are men, and they're often tourists, owner Antija Moore said.
"It's something romantic and they don't have to do anything except click 'buy,'" Moore said. "You can tell how serious their relationship is by what they order. You can tell when it's a first date or something more. There are always women, who don't know what's going on when they see our delivery coming toward them."
Moore said she hopes the chocolate body fondue isn't taken out at any parks, but is used afterward in more private settings.
538 Madison Ave.
For a more indulgent outing, Caviar Russe has a couple of picnic options.
The upscale boutique has a "beachfront" package that includes either a 1.75 oz. or a 4.4 oz. tin of the malossol caviar of your choice with two and four mother of pearl spoons, respectively, all packed in a Caviar Russe insulated gift bag. (Prices range from $125 to $1,175.)
There's another option that includes a 1.75 oz., 4.4 oz. or an 8.8 oz. tin of your choice of caviar, along with half a pound of artisanal smoked salmon, silver dollar cocktail blinis, crepe blinis, crème fraîche and mother of pearl utensils. (Prices range between $155 and $815.)