The weather in New York City has been absolutely gorgeous this September and October. The elms and willows in Central Park are turning yellow and the maples are turning bright orange and red. The cooler weather makes for more activity and musicians and performers in the parks and streets. Just look at my reading spot yesterday! Doesn't it make you want to take a picnic to the park?
So that being said, all of you visiting NYC need to know the best spots to get a picnic to take to the park. And not just Central Park, all the parks have great picnicking suppliers to give you a great afternoon in sunshine. But let's start with Central Park:
Central Park Picnic: Zabar's
corner of Broadway and 80th St. 1 train to 79 St.
Zabar's is one of the most classic grocers in the city. New York City Jewish staples have been sold here since before World War II and the list of goodies is extensive. There are great selections of baked goods like rugelach, babka, bagels, and rye bread. The fish counter is excellent with whitefish, lox, and herring in cream sauce. Plus the knish (pronounced kuh-NISH) counter is a treat slowly disappearing from the city, although the knishes are meant to be popped in the oven at home so perhaps they are not best for the picnic. Basically Zabar's is the home of all the great food that got a shout out in Seinfeld. They even have great black and white cookies!
Washington Square Park: Peanut Butter and Co.
240 Sullivan Street, near W. 3rd St. A/B/C/D/E/F/M trains to W. 4th St.
While Zabar's might specialize in a cornucopia of delicious goods, it isn't a shock that PB&Co specializes in one product only: Their delicious house-made peanut butter. They sell the classic fluffernutter (with marshmallow fluff) and Elvis (with honey and banana) plus wild creations featuring chocolate peanut butter and spicy peanut butter. They even have a bagel with peanut butter creation by Jerry Seinfeld, and I promise that's the last time Jerry will make an appearance in this post.
Columbus Park: Mei Li Wah
64 Bayard Street, near Elizabeth Street. J/N/Q/R/Z/6 to Canal St.
Columbus Park is one of the great unappreciated parks by visitors to New York. For many tourists, Chinatown doesn't extend beyond the souvenir shops on Canal and Lafayette. But Columbus Park is bustling with local Chinatown residents playing cards, playing music, and doing their morning tai chi. Mei Li Wah is a great bakery nearby with shrimp dumplings, sticky rice, and one of the best pork buns in the city. Especially considering the pork bun is a mere 80 cents.
Madison Square Park: Beecher's Handmade Cheese
Corner of 20th Street and Broadway. N/R to 23 St.
So many choices at Madison Square Park! Danny Meyer's metastasizing burger behemoth Shake Shack? The classic lunch counter charm of Eisenberg's? The supersized Italian grocer empire of Mario Batali's Eataly? All great options. But down the block and less famous is the shop/production room of Beecher's Cheese. Their flagship cheese is great in grilled sandwich or baked mac form. Or you can just go for some classic deli charcuterie and cheese and olives.
Bryant Park: Grand Central Terminal Market
Inside Grand Central. 42nd Street and Park Ave. 4/5/6/7/S to Grand Central.
There aren't a wealth of high quality food items in Midtown. It's mostly just a motley assortment of quick delis for rushed office workers. But at the east end of Grand Central is a great market of vendors selling cheese, fish, candy, spices, veggies, and ready to east side dishes. Think of Chelsea Market's vendor-palooza but on a smaller scale. Murray's Cheese and Li-Lac Chocolates are the standouts here.