The picnic has once again become a beloved American event, whether in the form of snacks in a public park or an elaborate, expensive farm-to-table dinner under the stars. The history of the picnic depicts it as a luxury originally afforded to only the most affluent of society's elite. "Medieval hunting feasts, Renaissance-era country banquets and Victorian garden parties lay the foundation for today's leisurely repast," writes Lynne Olver, a food history librarian who runs foodtimeline.org. "Picnics, as we Americans know them today, date to the middle of the 19th century. Although the 'grand picnic' is generally considered a European concept, culinary evidence confirms people from other parts of the world engage in similar practices."
Dining together outside appears to be a universal indulgence. And lucky for us, we live in North Texas, where the weather is picnic-friendly for much of the year — but particularly right now, when the world is verdant and breezy as the seasons turn.
With the goal to create a sense of place in our picnic fare, we set out to build the ultimate Dallas picnic basket — a spread featuring goods from locally owned businesses that specialize in food that's meant to be shared. These markets, restaurants and bakeries sell delicious bites that call for a little pomp and circumstance, for savoring in a moment shared with loved ones. When it comes to food, there can be no higher calling than that.
1. CiboDivino Marketplace
1868 Sylvan Ave.
Sylvan Thirty's CiboDivino is where Napa meets Sicily. The one-year-old market is its own breezy food oasis where you can snag Italian pastries, gourmet condiments, pre-made veggie side dishes and Neapolitan-style pizza. There's even an entire charcuterie section perfect for stocking your picnic basket. To sweeten the deal, CiboDivino has a fantastic selection of wines organized by region and varietal — and you can easily find an above average bottle of Rose or Sauv Blanc for $12-$20.
Perfect for a picnic: An order of caponata ($14.99/lb.), a Sicilian eggplant dish made with celery, herbs and capers.
2. Corner Market
3426 Greenville Ave.
Situated in a sunny space inside the 100-year-old Belmont Pharmacy building, Corner Market is an old-school neighborhood market that grows some of its ingredients in a garden on the roof — what owners call the "Corner Market ecosystem." They also own a neighborhood chicken coop that supplies Corner Market's eggs, making this some seriously feel-good fare.
Known for their sandwiches, Corner Market's deli menu includes shrimp rolls, chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches, but when it comes to picnic snacks, we fell in love with their case of prepared items: citrus and mint salad, house-made hummus and healthy takes on classic salads. As an added bonus, this spot also sells adorable flower arrangements, which can easily turn an afternoon picnic into a Nicholas Sparks-level romantic rendezvous.
Perfect for a picnic: The key to a great picnic spread is balancing flavors and textures, so you'll want something sweet and crisp that doesn't reach dessert levels of sugar — which is where fruit salads come in. Corner Market's Texas Waldorf salad ($8.99/lb.) is a fun take on a classic salad with crisp apples, Texas pecans and juicy grapes tossed in a creamy poppy seed dressing.
3. Empire Baking
5450 West Lovers Lane
It's almost impossible to eat out in Dallas without finding a piece of Empire Baking Company's goods on your plate. Why? Because this European-style bakery is, simply put, the best. And since Empire uses "no fillers, conditioners, dough enhancers, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors," according to their website, this is one carb you can feel good about. Empire is also adamant about using King Arthur flour and Plugra butter, which has a bit more butterfat than other American butters.
Perfect for a picnic: Keep it classic with a baguette, which you can find at Empire's Inwood Village retail store or at markets like Scardello's, where we picked up a beautifully fresh loaf for $2.95.
3403 Oak Lawn Ave.; 5600 W. Lovers Lane; 1200 W. State Highway 114, Grapevine; 5967 W. Parker Road, Plano
This Italian market and gourmet take-out spot has several DFW locations, but we recommend hitting the flagship store on Oak Lawn. Inside, you'll find a veritable food wonderland: cured meats, cheeses, fresh-baked bread, stuffed olives and build-your-own salads and sandwiches. In theory, this could be your one-stop picnic shop, since there are full "chef-crafted meals," a decent wine selection and house-made desserts. If you're out West, take note: A Fort Worth Eatzi's is in the works for early 2017.
Perfect for a picnic: No omnivore's picnic spread is complete without cured meats, which Eatzi's does well. Their selection is ripe for exploration: salami, salumi, soppressata, hot coppa — it's a charcuterie-lovers' paradise.