Summer may be coming to an end, but it’s not too late for some al fresco feasting. Here we bring you the best places in Brooklyn to picnic in style and the provisioners who should be packing your knapsack. You’re welcome.
1. Brooklyn Bridge Park & Sahadi’s (187 Atlantic Avenue)
Hummus | Baba ghanoush | Stuffed vine leaves | Tabbouleh | Greek salad | Fried cauliflower | Falafel | Pita bread | Pistachio baklava | Fruit juice | Water
Lose yourself in Sahadi’s maze of Middle Eastern goods: nuts and seeds and jars of candied fruit, barrels of coffee beans, and deep vats of every shade of olive. This bustling foodie bazaar has been here since the 1940s, when Wade Sahadi set up shop as an offshoot of the family’s Lower Manhattan import business. Sahadi’s has survived as other similar small businesses here have fallen by the wayside—note the Barney’s across the road for a sign of the times. Siblings Christine Whelan and Ron Sahadi now helm the restaurant, and they just landed an America’s Classics awards from the James Beard Foundation. Deservedly so.
We like to creep around the 250-strong cheese counter, home to the best feta this far from the Mediterranean, until somebody relents and gives us a taster. If negotiating the ticketing system at the deli counter is too taxing, then they’ll pack you a Mediterranean Meze Picnic hamper for $35 and deliver it to you anywhere within the vicinity. Make that vicinity Brooklyn Bridge Park, a short walk away, for the sake of the skyline. Watch the boats knock together in the harbor or the kids kicking about on probably the most scenic sports field in Brooklyn. If you time it right you can catch a free concert or outdoor film screening after you’ve eaten.
Alternatively, hop on a Governors Island ferry and take your goods over to this 172-acre playground, somehow overlooked by tourists despite the historic houses and open green spaces.
2. Valentino Pier & Fairway Market (480-500 Van Brunt Street)
Sixpoint Sweet Action | Boylan Sparkling Lemonade | Prosciutto San Daniele | Ciabatta | Olives | Mozzarella | Sun-dried tomatoes | Cacao Prieto Absinthe Chocolate | Cupcakes | Mixed berries
Rejoice that Red Hook remains far from a subway line; it’s the only thing that’s saved this atmospheric waterfront enclave from a rash of development—so far. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with red-brick warehouses-turned-artist-studios, and while IKEA can be blamed for the increased crowds (as well as many wasted hours of home assembly), Van Brunt Street has kept the mom-and-pop spirit alive. Check out the indie art zines in Pioneer Books or screen-printed stationary at Foxy & Winston before sticking your head into the gallery at Pioneer Works.
Wind your way down to Fairway Market and admire the enormous building with its wooden shutters and arched windows; once the iconic nineteenth-century Red Hook Stores housing cotton, coffee, and other commodities, it turned into Fairway’s best outpost in 2006. They stock some next-level grub, like house-whipped mozzarella and Italian meats, as well as local goodies like the organic bean-to-bar Cacao Prieto chocolate, made in a factory up the road, or Sixpoint craft beers, whose brewery is around the corner. Get in and get out: this place is like the Tardis for gourmet geeks.
Check out the last remaining antique rail car parked just behind Fairway before heading to Valentino Pier. An unassuming park, it has some of the best sunset views in the city, looking out over the Buttermilk Channel (which was once the main waterway for New York’s shipping industry). During the summer, Red Hook Boaters offer kayak rides from the small pebble beach or you can take a walk along the pier and wave at the Statue of Liberty in the distance, weeping for America. Once you’ve wrapped up your picnic, decamp to Sunny’s for some bluegrass and wholesome community vibes.
3. Prospect Park & Riverdel Fine Foods (820 Washington Avenue)
The Parisian: brie, apple, arugula, and candied nuts on ciabatta | Cucumber sesame salad | Rescue Chocolate | Croissant-wich: tofu “egg”, “bacon”, tomato, greens, and cream cheese | Jackson’s Honest Coconut Oil Potato Chips | Spindrift Sparkling Water |Pepper Billy | Chive Billy | Gluten-free Onesto Ancho Chile Cracker
Prospect Park has all the picnic spots you could ask for and then some: get lakeside down by the LeFrak center (we recommend a picnic on a pedal boat for comedic value) or seek out one of the secluded benches, preferred by lovers and smokers. If enjoying a good meal requires a table and chairs, then commandeer one of the picnic tables at the Picnic House, adjacent to Long Meadow on the westside. The 4,000-square-foot brick-and-glass pavilion makes for a nice backdrop when you’re inevitably making everyone wait to eat until you’ve photographed your food. After which the point of having a picnic is over, right?
For the meat-free folk amongst us, head to Riverdel Fine Foods in Prospect Heights. This is a vegan cheese shop, which will either sound like a world-shattering oxymoron or the equivalent of the dairy-free messiah, depending on your attitude towards lactose. They take their stock seriously here, with a huge selection of plant-based cheeses thanks to entrepreneurial animal advocate and owner Michaela Grob, as well as house-made raw cashew cheese, celebrated by vegans citywide.
The shop is sweet like your nan’s pantry with a ladder to reach the provisions stacked high on the shelves and photos of the cows and sheep whose milk you’re not sapping. There’s sustenance for the non-vegan too and the Balthazar bread makes the sandwiches top notch. Riverdel also offers a prix fixe picnic hamper for $37 with two sandwiches, two drinks, a salad and a dessert. All proceeds from the Rescue Bar go to animal rescue groups, as if this wasn’t all feel good enough.
4. Sunset Park & Brancaccio’s Food Shop (3011 Fort Hamilton Parkway)
Marinated garlic-and-herb flank steak with grain mustard and charred broccoli rabe | Fiuggi sparkling water | Polenta-crusted tilapia with pickled onions and spicy herb sauce | Manhattan Special | Penne polpettine with broccoli rabe and roasted garlic | Flourless chocolate cake brownies
“Sunset Park is so hot right now,” says everyone who wants to sell you a house, while the rest of us are still a little confused about where it is. The mega development at Industry City is bringing in tech and media types, as well as the world’s first avocado bar—as if we needed one of those—but the rest of the ‘hood remains refreshingly free of Starbucks and the like, instead boasting excellent dim sum restaurants along Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn’s own Chinatown.
Sunset Park itself gives a great view: Manhattan skyscrapers framed by ye olde worlde lampposts. Head up the hill for the best vista and ample green space to lay your picnic blanket beneath a tree. There’s also a 1930s Art Deco public pool and some basketball courts for impromptu games.
Before you set up camp, hit up Brancaccio’s Food Shop. Okay, maybe it’s not the most local, but it’s worth the 15-minute cycle. This is no straight-up Italian deli, despite chef-owner Joe Brancaccio’s Italian heritage; he credits the culinary feats of this 600-square-foot spot to the international influence of his badass team (hailing from Haiti to Mexico), some of whom have worked with him for 20 years—though a special nod goes to nonna’s mega meatball recipe. There’s Beastie Boys blasting in the background and Joe moving between the kitchen and counter, chatting to the loyal customer base and sampling the goods. The specials change daily, but the penne polpettine will be the best pasta salad of your life—and if you say that’s only because it’s coated in parmiggiano then yes, you’re right, so what?
After feasting, walk off the carbs and caponata with a stroll through the gothic Green- wood Cemetery, and indulge in any Buffy the Vampire Slayer fantasies you may harbor.
5. Coney Island & Paul’s Daughter (1001 Boardwalk)
Littleneck and cherry stone clams | Lobster rolls | Brooklyn Lager | Candy floss
In high season the hot dog-eating hordes descend on the clattering wooden boardwalk, margaritas to-go clutched in their sticky hands and slick pink suntans. It’s best to visit post Labor Day when the holiday masses clear out, taking their windbreaks and soundsystems with them, leaving it like a kitsch 1960s movie set, the Cyclone still in the backdrop.
If the Nathan’s Famous unidentified “metal flakes” scare of last year put you off their dogs, then head next door to Paul’s Daughter, one of the oldest joints on the boardwalk, with its vintage signage and iconic rooftop burger-wielding man (presumably Paul) and beer-drinking lady (presumably his daughter). They’ve been serving funnel cakes, corndogs, and knishes to the Coney crowds for over 50 years. We came for the clams on the half shell, though, washed back with a cold beer or a few.
Alternatively, keep it simple, and pick up a Tontonno’s Napolitano pie en route, then lie down with languor and call it a day.
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All photos by Julie Goldstone.