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Nothing says summer like a picnic. Whether the occasion calls for a park with a shelter and tables or a bench with a breathtaking view, Evanston has spots to fit a spontaneous lunch with the kids; supper at the beach in the cool of the evening; a family bike outing ending with an al fresco meal; a candlelit dinner under the stars.
Those with the time and knack can pack food from home. But those lacking time or talent can pick up an imaginative lunch or supper at various Evanston venues. While some cater to walk-in customers, others ask for orders in advance. A sampling follows.
There are at least two ways to picnic from Foodstuffs, 2106 Central St. – “a Meal to Go” and a more modest “Sandwich in a Box.” For $12.99 customers get a meal to take out, with plastic utensils and a napkin. The signature combo includes a chicken breast du jour, pasta salad, a mixed green salad with croutons and parmesan, a seven-grain roll, and cookies. Another option is a build-your-own salad plus a fruit salad, roll and cookies. The Foodstuffs Sandwich in a Box provides, for $11.99, two mini sandwiches, a fruit salad and small chocolate chip cookies, while another picnic pick combines a wrap (Chicken Caesar, Buffalo Chicken or South of the Border) with a pasta salad and a brownie.
There is sustenance for a solitary escape – perhaps an hour stolen for reading at the beach – in the “Simple Lunch in a Bag” from the Simple Gourmet, 1459 Elmwood Ave. Their picnics for two, which start at $32, lend themselves to romance. The basic two-person picnic includes three salads, flatbread and a cookie for each person. Another version, the “Simple Sandwich Picnic,” offers a choice of three sandwiches: chicken salad, deviled egg or vegetarian – chips, Caesar salad, fresh fruit and signature cookies. The “Tres Chic” celebrates France, with muffins, salad nicoise, a baguette, brie, fresh fruit and chocolate sweets.
One of Evanston’s oldest cafes has specialized for decades in sandwiches with a French twist. Al’s Deli, 914 Noyes St., was founded by a Francophile in the wake of World War II, and 61 years later maintains its French accent under the ownership of the founder’s son. These days the bread comes from Chicago’s Red Hen Bakery. But the café still layers slices of baguettes or specialty breads with longtime favorite fillings: smoked turkey with aioli; Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion; or roast beef with homemade blue cheese dressing. Each costs less than $9. With some of the restaurant’s large, buttery cookies – oatmeal rain, iced butter, spice, Belgian chocolate or French macaroon – any picnic becomes a party.
Fraiche, just east of Al’s at 815 Noyes St., will pack any of its innovative sandwiches to go. Favorites (subject to change) are the house-roasted beef with horseradish crème fraiche, pickled red onion, tomato, cucumber and mixed greens on ciabatta ($8); the marinated eggplant with roasted red peppers, chevre and arugula on ciabatta($7.50); and the warm brie with caramelized pear and arugula with raspberry mustard on a seeded demi-baguette. Tucked in the bag is a choice of a side, such as curried Israeli couscous or sesame broccoli. A Fraiche cupcake or bar cookie is an almost irresistible add-on.
Evanston has no dearth of public places to spread a picnic cloth. The City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org – currently being revamped and, therefore, temporarily incomplete – lists and maps 92 Evanston parks. The City operates 78 of them. The Lighthouse Park District controls four and Ridgeville Park District, eight. Perkins Woods is a Cook County Forest Preserve and Channelside Park, a collaboration with the Skokie Park District.
Though not all are big enough for picnic tables or grills, says Paul D’Agostino, superintendent of Parks/Forestry and Facilities Management, many parks in our Tree City offer a shady refuge and a festive place for an outing. Some have playgrounds or walking/jogging paths (see the reconstructed website). Except for those who want to secure a particular area of a particular park, picnic gatherings of fewer than 30 people require no permit.
City personnel will help residents find a park that will meet the needs of groups larger than 30. For groups of 31 to 250, depending on their size, Evanston requires a fee of between $40 and $75, a deposit and proof of insurance.
The Dempster Street Beach Office handles reservations for lakefront picnic tables and grills. Lakefront locations can be reserved for two or four hours for groups of up to 99 people – for $30 or $50 and with proof of Evanston residency.
The City’s most popular spots, such as the Lighthouse Beach Picnic Shelter, are taken long in advance for most weekends, says Mr. D’Agostino. The Lagoon Picnic Shelter, with its view of the park, three indoor tables, public washroom and barbecue grills, is another favorite picnic rendezvous.
But City parks also offer places like the shelter at Larimer Park to share, says Mr. D’Agostino. An ice-skating warming house in winter, the shelter becomes a pleasant refuge from the heat when its sides come down in summer.
Like the gem just around nearly every Evanston corner, this park requires no reservations, should picnic-itis strike some perfect summer day.