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Restaurants are bringing the picnic to you with perfectly curated meal boxes, boozy treats and more
Patio season may be around the corner but picnics are still all the rage.
For many Toronto restaurants, popping up near parks or offering delivery directly to your park picnic has been a necessary business move as the weather warmed up but patios remained closed. And since patio tables can only seat a max of four people under Ontario’s reopening plan, park meets are still essential for larger groups of people who don’t live together to hang out.
Recently I’ve been invited to more picnics and outdoor hangs than I can count – definitely more than in pre-pandemic life. Obviously, our options for socializing are slim at the moment. People can fall back on tried-and-true picnic recipes but it’s been a challenge to find some novelty when every weekend feels like a repeat of the last.
As a picnic-goer it can also be a bit cumbersome lugging your basket and cooler and coordinating with friends about who is going to bring what. After a few unfortunate spills in your favourite tote bag or sandwiches getting squished before you even get to your picnic spot, having someone else prepare all the food becomes even more enticing.
Why not have a refined and upscale meal at Trinity Bellwoods? Or try some Indian street food while people-watching at Grange Park? Or have an entire five-course dinner delivered to you at Riverdale? All in the same weekend?
Here are six Toronto restaurants with picnic-ready menus to help take the load off and give your taste buds something more exciting than finger sandwiches, pasta salads and veggies with dip.
This refined family-style restaurant near Danforth and Coxwell is serving up takeaway classic afternoon tea in the park. Think scones with Chantilly cream, assorted tea sandwiches like cucumber and chicken with orange and tarragon and mini raspberry tarts and crème brulée. They’re also doing full picnic meals that change every week (check their Instagram for the latest menu). This weekend the theme is Italian, with antipasto, assorted cheeses and cured meats, house-made pickles, caprese skewers, pesto pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes and more.
Near: Monarch Park and Withrow Park
1458 Danforth, aviatordanforth.com
For those who love to nosh, Butcher by Nature’s charcuterie spreads are the way to go. They come in pre-packaged boxes with everything laid out artfully for the “phone eats first” crowd. They do five different sizes, the smallest feeding two people and the largest enough for 12 as an appetizer. They didn’t spare a single thing – even the small one is overflowing with a bounty of imported and locally sourced cheeses, cured meats, fresh bread, fruits, jams, honey, homemade brittle, taralli, crackers and more.
Near: High Park North
515 Annette, butcherbynature.com
For five people feeling snacky, this summer revamp of the shop’s Cheese Night In platter is an easy choice. Their fine cheese masters select assorted gourmet cheeses and meat for your posse paired with cornichons, olives, almonds, fancy potato chips, crackers and chocolate. Good Cheese’s wine selection is also one of the city’s best kept secrets (they’re on our list of Toronto’s best new bottle shops) so be sure to ask for a recommendation when you pick up your order.
Capitalizing on its proximity to one of the best views in the entire city, this Danforth institution is offering a sunset dinner delivery experience at Riverdale Park. The Italian restaurant’s entire menu is available for delivery directly to the park after 5:30 pm. Il Fornello has set up an outpost where you can use a QR code to place your order and return your garbage after – they will dispose of it for you to mitigate littering. Their Neapolitan-style pizzas, mussels, calamari fritti, rigatoni bolognese, classic spaghetti pomodoro or penne alla vodka could turn a casual hang into a romantic date night.
Near: Riverdale Park East and Withrow Park
576 Danforth, ilfornello.com
La Palma’s ready-to-eat meals for two are a touch more elevated than typical picnic fare, but since you don’t have to worry about preparing it yourself, why not indulge? The menu changes every weekend and recent offerings include beef tartare, focaccia with tomatoes and provolone, shrimp wraps, watermelon salad and vanilla panna cotta. Keep your eyes peeled on Instagram where La Palma hints at the next week’s menu items in advance. You can also add on bottled cocktails, like the one-litre La Palma Iced Tea made with bourbon, rinquinquin, orange pekoe and lemon.
Near: Trinity Bellwoods Park and Alexandra Park
849 Dundas West, lapalmato.myshopify.com
Picnics often occur around lunch or dinner but why not have an early afternoon brunch al fresco? After going viral on Tik Tok in May, Light Cafe saw lines down Baldwin of people waiting to order their brunch boxes. Now they’ve set up a pre-ordering system to make things a bit easier, but they still sell out online so try and get ahead of the crowd. They’re overflowing with eggs, waffle fries, croissants stuffed with pulled pork, lobster or mushrooms, bacon, mini pancakes and more and come in convenient pizza boxes.
Near: Grange Park
23 Baldwin, lightcafe.ca
Stefano’s is the brainchild of the owners of Ufficio, an upscale Italian restaurant on Dundas West. When they noticed a drop in orders for more complicated or refined menu items, they realized people were craving comfort food and launched a range of vegan sandwiches. It was an instant hit and Stefano’s was born. For the summer, they’ve launched a picnic kit for two. It comes with two of their plant-based sandwiches (the vegan fried chicken is sublime), potato lentil and baby gem salads, olives and seasonal fruit.
Near: Trinity Bellwoods Park and Lakeview Avenue Parkette
1214 Dundas West, stefanossandwiches.com
Toronto’s restaurant power couple, Jeff and Nuit Regular, are getting in on the picnic action. You can grab a build-your-own picnic meal at all three of Sukhothai’s locations but the Front and Dundas locations are the closest to parks. The picnic for two comes with fried rice one of four ways (chicken, beef, tofu, veggies), spring rolls, tofu or chicken garlic nuggets and mango salad. You can add-on their signature bottled cocktails like the Purple Rain (gin, Kaffir lime leaves syrup, lime juice and butterfly tea) or the Ruby Tuesday (vodka, lychee liqueur, dry vermouth, grenadine, lime juice and fresh lychee).
Near: Corktown Commons (Front location), Dufferin Grove and Trinity Bellwoods (Dundas location)
490 Front East and 1442 Dundas West, sukhothaifood.ca
If you’re in the mood for nostalgia, Skyline’s grab-and-go weekend menu is the option for you. The retro diner is selling jumbo hot dogs and hamburgers, milkshakes, (booze optional) freezies and more items reminiscent of a childhood backyard birthday party. Grab a picnic bag and blanket and transport the potato salads, coconut cream pies and ice cream to the nearest park. And for the grown ups, they have bottled pina coladas, mojitos and sangria.
Near: Sorauren Avenue Park and Lakeshore Boulevard Parklands
1426 Queen West, theskylinetoronto.com
Thindi is doing pre-set Indian street food picnic boxes. Each comes with sandwiches, bite-sized snacks and sweet treats from their menu like vada pav, a deep-fried potato dumpling stuffed in bread with house-made green and dry garlic chutneys. Other snacks include Maggi samosas, pizza grilled cheese sandwiches, cold cucumber sandwiches and besan ladoo for dessert. The boxes are currently available at their location on College but not their express spot in the World Food Market near Yonge and Dundas.
Near: Alexandra Park and Grange Park
400 College, thindi.ca