September usually brings the warm weather that San Franciscans crave all summer long, making it the perfect time to pack a picnic and head outside for a casual meal at the park or beach. Especially now, after months of being sheltered in place, dining anywhere other than your own kitchen table is especially appealing, and outdoors is the safest bet. But going to the store for supplies and making and packing picnic essentials; well, that’s less inviting. Luckily lots of the city’s restaurants are set up to provide everything you need for an al fresco meal. You may have to think outside the typical picnic basket, but really, everything tastes better sitting on a blanket or at a picnic table and watching the world go by.
GOODIES TO GO
The city’s North Beach neighborhood boasts a wealth of ready-to-go-picnic ideas. For traditionalists, there’s Molinari Delicatessen on Columbus Avenue. This venerable deli offers everything from sandwiches loaded with your choice of standards like turkey, prosciutto, salami, meatballs, mozzarella, and provolone, and vegetables like sweet bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts — served both hot and cold and in a variety of combinations (Molinari Delicatessen, 373 Columbus Avenue, 415-421-2337, molinaridelisf.com).
A relative newcomer to the neighborhood is California Fish Market Restaurant on Green Street. While 30 percent of this seafood-centric spot is devoted to a display of local sustainable seafood, you can also pick up antipasti such as fritto mistara with squid, prawns, and zucchini; salads that include bay shrimp or crab Louie; a fish-market salad with marinated squid, octopus, prawns, clams, and mussels; and a Caesar salad with anchovies. Pasta and main courses are also available. Try the fish and chips with beer-battered rock cod and fries along with a beer or a bottle of wine on a pleasant late-summer night in Washington Square Park. You can also order from the restaurant’s generous selection of imported and domestic wine, beer, and soda to take out (California Fish Market, 550 Green Street, 415-757-0918, cafishmarket.com).
A PIZZA BASKET? WHY NOT!
Pizza may not seem like picnic food, but Tony Gemignani, owner of four North Beach Italian restaurants disagrees. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Tony’s Coal-Fired Pizza & Slice House, Giovanni Italian Specialties, and Capo’s are all located just steps away from Washington Square Park, and Gemignani says his patrons are already happily grabbing a slice of pizza and a cappuccino or a cocktail and heading there. “North Beach is always bustling,” he says, “and with the chalk circles drawn on the park’s grass, it’s become a popular place for people to hang out safely distanced throughout the day and evening. I see folks enjoying the sunshine and later coming in for one of our seasonal, to-go cocktails or wine or beer to share along with some pizza for dinner. Having a picnic in the park makes things seem more ‘normal.’”
At Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, bar manger Elmer Mejicanos uses everything from honeydew melon, fennel, and rosemary to whip up refreshing cocktails to grab from the walk-up window. Sip one while you enjoy a classic pepperoni pie or a specialty pizza like Grandma the Hippy with mozzarella, pesto, peppers, and pecorino (also available gluten-free).
Steps away at Tony’s Coal-Fired Pizza andSlice House, you can choose a slice of your favorite pizza or a whole pie. These Connecticut- and New Haven-style pizzas include a four-cheese pizza and the California Veggie with mozzarella, bell peppers, black olives, green, yellow, and red onions, mushrooms, and feta. And at Capo’s, Gemignani has shifted his focus to Chicago- and Detroit-style pies. Detroit pizza is cooked in a 10×14 pan and Chicago-style pizza offers a choice of four types of crust: deep dish, cast iron pan, stuffed, and cracker thin. Toppings are similar to those at Tony’s other two spots, and Capo’s also offers great dishes to share like meatballs, hot Calabrese fries, fried Brussels sprouts, and chicken wings. Salads and grinders (submarine sandwiches) are available along with Italian wine and cocktails (Tony’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House, 1556 Stockton Street, 415-835-9888, tonyscoalfired.com; Capo’s, 641 Vallejo Street, 415-986-8998, sfcapos.com).
Giovanni Italian Specialties offers a variety of grab-and-go picnic items including focaccia sandwiches, pasta salads, Italian sodas, and espresso drinks. For your post-picnic dessert, don’t miss the Strauss Family Creamery soft-serve ice cream in vanilla or chocolate with toppings like rainbow sprinkles or olive oil and fleur de sel (Giovanni Italian Specialties, 629 Union Street, 415-578-8806, giovannispecialties.com).
And if not pizza, what about a calzone? Calzone’s Restaurant on Columbus Avenue has been specializing in these stuffed dough turnovers with pizza fillings for years. Calzones are the perfect picnic fare as they are easily transportable and stay hot for quite a while. Calzone’s bakes them in an almond-fired brick oven, and fillings range from roasted chicken with caramelized onions, mushrooms, artichokes, peppers, and mozzarella to an Italian calzone stuffed with prosciutto, beef tongue, fennel sausage, baby artichokes, tomato, and cheese. Other picnic choices include antipasto, salads, panini on toasted Acme pain au levain, pizza with a variety of toppings, and more. There’s also dessert, craft cocktails, wine and beer by the bottle and glass along with soft drinks and espresso drinks, all available to go (Calzone’s Restaurant, 430 Columbus Avenue, 415-397-3600, calzonesf.com).
If you prefer a waterfront picnic, head to the Embarcadero’s Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. This California-certified farmers’ market is operated by the nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) and is well loved for its high-quality, diverse fresh farm produce and prepared foods. And because the Ferry Building Marketplace is not a typical indoor mall, almost all of its artisan vendors including Acme Bread, Blue Bottle Coffee, Cow Girl Creamery, and many more are open. Pack your bag full of goodies and find a bench on the to enjoy the view while you eat (Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, One Ferry Building, 415-291-3276, cuesa.org).
We’ve been cooped up inside too long, and it’s a shame to miss out on the best weather of the year. Masks In: it’s picnic time!
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