Nothing says summer like dining al fresco.
How about a repast by the river? What about a picnic in your favorite park or at your favorite event?
The choices are limitless when it comes to prime picnic ideas in the Treasure Valley.
The Treasure Valley boasts a bevy of excellent markets and delis that sell freshly made sandwiches, seasonal salads and other exquisite treats, making picnics a snap for those looking for convenience.
The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is considered by many to be the premier picnic spot in Boise. The season kicks off this weekend (May 30), and Lisa Peterson is once again gearing up to feed the masses at Café Shakespeare.
Peterson, a longtime Boise caterer who owns a’Tavola, knows a thing or two about feeding hungry Shakespeare fans. She’s provided food service at the theater for 11 years.
Peterson is always amazed to see how the community embraces live outdoor theater in Boise, as well as the al fresco dining that comes with it.
“The funny thing is, we sometimes see the same people out there three times a week. People really support the Shakespeare Festival here,” she says.
Her goal at Café Shakespeare is to keep her menu fresh and exciting, so people can have a different experience each year — just like the playbill itself.
“We change our menu every season, and this means different desserts, sandwiches and salads,” Peterson explains.
“It’s a diverse menu. There’s something for everyone.”
Besides picnic offerings, Café Shakespeare can set you up with appetizers, boxed dinners, theater platters and decadent desserts. They also offer draft microbrews (many from Boise) and plenty of Idaho wines.
Peterson recommends pre-ordering food items online ( http://www.atavolaboise.com or through the link at IdahoShakespeare.org) to streamline the process once people arrive. Plus, the pick-up line tends to be much shorter than the regular line, as hungry Bard fans stream into the theater grounds.
“That’s the biggest way our customers order. It’s much faster that way,” she says.
In addition to the amphitheater itself, diners can enjoy their meals on the café’s flagstone patio or at one of the many scenic picnic spots around William Shakespeare Park.
Idaho native Mary Monroe, who’s a season ticket holder, has enjoyed the Idaho Shakespeare Festival since the 1980s, when the plays were performed in a small amphitheater next to what’s now Angell’s Bar and Grill Renato in Downtown Boise.
“We packed a picnic back then, but the options weren’t nearly as robust as they are today,” Monroe says.
She shares a four-seat box with a close friend, and they alternate inviting other friends to watch the shows.
Sometimes they buy food from Café Shakespeare, while other times they tote in items from elsewhere. But it’s always a concerted, well-planned effort.
“We take turns bringing the food. We go to places like Whole Foods and the (Boise) Co-op and get fun desserts and entrées,” Monroe explains.
“People often comment on how nice our spread looks. We even dress it up with a tablecloth and flowers.”
Wherever you are planning to picnic, the Downtown Boise area has a multitude of options when it comes to picking up food.
A’Tavola, Peterson’s gourmet market and deli in the Linen District, is a great place to load up the picnic basket.
“Everything we do is picnic-ready, and everything is made fresh daily,” Peterson says.
The market offers a large array of seasonal deli salads, sandwiches, desserts and more.
Chef Dustan Bristol, of Brick 29 in Nampa fame, recently debuted an upscale deli on the second floor of the Eighth & Main building aptly called On the Fly.
The concept at this grab-and-go deli focuses on house-cured and rotisserie meats that make it onto the various sandwiches — made with bread from Gaston’s Bakery. How does a bologna sandwich with green olive tapenade sound? What about a chicken salad sandwich with shaved fennel, raisins, blue cheese and walnuts?
Long rows of reach-in coolers — filled with freshly made sandwiches, wraps and deli salads — greet diners as they walk in the door. It’s all designed with convenience and speed in mind.
On the Fly also serves panini sandwiches, baked goodies and seasonal soups, which are dished up behind the counter.
Newcomer Main Street Deli has made a splash in Downtown Boise with an inventive menu of tasty and healthy deli fare.
Stop by and pick up a vegetarian BLT or a Vietnamese-style banh mi sandwich, made on a crusty roll with pulled pork, Asian slaw and chili-spiked Saigon sauce.
The deli puts out several entrée-sized salads, like an Idaho Cobb salad and a beet salad mingled with candied pecans, strawberries and blue cheese crumbles.
There’s also a reach-in cooler packed with grab-and-go items such as deli salads and hummus with carrot and celery sticks.
The deli offerings at Zeppole Baking Company (with locations Downtown and in East Boise) make picnicking a snap.
Drop in and score some sandwiches (made with focaccia and other freshly baked breads) and prepared salads. The Chinese chicken salad is a solid pick.
Zeppole also sells custom boxed lunches (choice of sandwich, chips, beverage and a big cookie) for those looking for a convenient package.
And what about those long, crumby breadsticks coated with pesto? Can’t go wrong with a few of those.
Kind Cuisine Cafe on State Street in Northwest Boise has vegetarians covered with a meatless menu of seasonal offerings, many of which are vegan, raw and gluten-free.
Here, you can get freshly made salads, sandwiches and wraps for your trip to the park. Try the Hindi Bindi wrap, made with curried veggies, tofu, basmati rice and spinach.
Cucina di Paolo, in the Bench Depot neighborhood, is another good place for a tasty meal that you could be out the door with in a few minutes.
Chef Paul Wegner’s menu boasts Italian-inspired salads and sandwiches, including a Caprese sandwich with tomato, fresh mozzarella and pesto.
Cucina di Paolo also offers a special Idaho Shakespeare Festival menu that changes from year to year. People can pick up orders at the restaurant, with advance notice.
In the North End, Boise Co-op’s deli case is legendary for its large selection of seasonally fresh salads and cured meats. Stop by this hyper-local store and pick up a fat sandwich and some couscous salad and head to your favorite picnic spot for a nutritious lunch.
Boise Co-op is planning to open a second store at The Village at Meridian in the coming months.
The Basque Market is the place to go for a pound or two of solomo (house-cured pork loin) and excellent Basque country cheeses. And don’t forget to grab a tub of super-creamy rice pudding and a bottle of Rioja while you’re at it.
And at Reel Foods Fish Market and Oyster Bar on Capitol Boulevard, new owners Marcus Bonilla and Mark Ballen — two fish-loving chefs — continue the tradition of offering Boiseans fresh-as-can-be seafood.
During the day, you can score chilled items such as shrimp cocktail, sushi rolls and sandwiches. Try a Hagerman trout salad sandwich on whole-grain bread or a spicy tuna roll.
Sushi is always a fun pick for the park, and most sushi restaurants will package orders to go for you.
Whole Foods Market has just about everything under the sun for planning a culinary adventure. Stop by this popular market for some organic apples, a chunk of artisanal cheese and a crusty baguette.
There are also premade and fresh salad and sandwich options, as well as delectable desserts. A hot bar also features pasta, soups and many other easy to-go items.
In Eagle, Porterhouse Market has earned a loyal following over the last 15 years for its commitment to serving high-quality local meats and other products.
Owner Dave Faulk has already seen the shift from winter doldrums to the twinkle in his customers’ eyes about the prospect of dining al fresco.
“People are wanting more backyard stuff, more picnic items. Everybody wants to get outside,” Faulk says.
He keeps his deli cases full of sandwich makings and freshly made salads. The market even sells sack lunches, which include a custom-made sandwich and the choice of a deli salad.
Porterhouse makes many of its own lunch meats, including the house-brined turkey breast and roast beef made with Snake River Farms eye round.
You can also get slow-smoked barbecue items to go, like beef brisket, pulled pork and tri-tip.
It’s important to mention that Albertsons, WinCo, Rosauers and Fred Meyer all have extensive deli sections where fast is the key word.
And Trader Joe’s has more than just wasabi peas and wine. This store in Downtown Boise has a plethora of snacks that are perfect for picnics and road trips.
James Patrick Kelly, who writes restaurant reviews for Scene magazine, is the author of the travel guidebook “Moon Idaho.” The seventh edition is slated to hit the shelves soon. He also teaches journalism at Boise State University.