By: Lynn Ogryzlo

Remember family picnics when you were a kid? Mother would miraculously pack the entire kitchen into a little basket from utensils to blankets, to food prepared the night before and the drinks chilling in the refrigerator. There were a million things to remember including ice packs around the potato salad and plenty of napkins and paper plates for the fried chicken. The perfect picnic was an entire weekend of preparation but boy, was it fun.

Today’s picnics don’t have to be a weekend of cooking, packing and lugging. Think of only having to pack a blanket and sunscreen, then leave the rest to the experts. From simple cheese and charcuterie to full gourmet meals, Niagara’s chefs and culinary entrepreneurs are packing some pretty delicious picnic lunches to make your al fresco dining a simple and elegant affair.

With the picnic spread taken care of, it’s up to you to choose the best picnic spot for your moveable feast. If you’re planning a walk in the park, afternoon on the beach or scenic drive in the country, take along a well-prepared meal from one of Niagara’s picnic packers that will satisfy your grazing appetite while celebrating the luxury of eating in the open air.

A beautiful day, great food, family and friends and an urge to get outdoors! Who doesn’t love a picnic?

Decew House Heritage Park and On The Front Café

The remains of an historic stone house, manicured lawns and a tributary of Lake Gibson winding around your picnic. What could be more idyllic for a delicious al fresco lunch? Decew House is on Decew Road on the outskirts of Thorold with picnic tables waiting for you to unpack your delicious foods from nearby On The Front Café (downtown Thorold). Owner Christina Skrtich specializes in gourmet sandwiches from a wrap stuffed with marinated mushrooms and bocconcini cheese to delicious chicken clubs on a house-made Pullman. Ask for their wine poached pear salad with toasted walnuts and blue cheese! On The Front is famous for their selection of fair-trade coffees and teas. Pre-order a must. info@onthefrontcafe.com

Welland Canal at Port Colborne and Minor Fish and Chips
One of the least elaborate, most delicious and my favourite outing is to pick up freshly caught perch, hot chips and a beverage from Minor Fish on West Street. Enjoy every mouthful of fried fish caught that morning while watching the boats go by on your canal side park bench. Don’t forget to feed the pigeons a chip or two and listen to them sing for you. You may want to pack a fruit salad or a dessert to nibble on after the fish and chips are eaten. Not a traditional picnic but an appropriate one for beautiful Port Colborne. No pre-ordering necessary.

Charles Daily Park and The Grand Oak Culinary Market

Right on Lake Ontario, Charles Daily Park is a beautiful spot to sit on a grassy hill under the shade of a romantic old tree and watch the waves lap the shore. Spread out your gourmet picnic basket custom made by Chef Jan-Willem Stulp of Grand Oak Culinary Market. All foods are made fresh that morning whether it’s the Chef’s famous hummus and vegetables or his amazing quinoa salad. Sandwich bread is made in house and so are the delicious bakery items from butter tarts to apple pie. Wash it all down with a chilled bottle of Spirit Tree Sparkling Apple Cider. Pre-order a must. chefjan@GOCulinary.ca.

Port Dalhousie and Gooddine Catering
Spread out the blanket, unpack a Gooddine picnic basket and enjoy a beautiful summers picnic on the Port Dalhousie Beach. Chef Collin Gooddine is Niagara’s gourmet picnic-to-go destination making baskets full of healthy salads, creative dishes, house-made granola for snacking, sparkling water or gourmet lemonade to keep you cool. Cutlery and napkins included. All foods are made in-house (including condiments!), most are made from local ingredients, all are custom created and pre-ordering is a must. Just don’t forget the quintessential beach picnic food, watermelon! gooddinecatering@gmail.com

Niagara Parkway and Cheese Secrets
Taking full advantage of wine country culture, Cheese Secrets in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake packs a beautiful basket of bread, cheese, and charcuterie for a super easy picnic party where you can graze the day away. Pick a spot on the Niagara River Parkway. The river from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Niagara Falls has dramatic views with beautiful parklands and plenty of picnic tables and open spaces waiting for you. Most spots have vineyard views and wineries for a bottle of wine for a true wine country al fresco lunch. Pre-order a must. 905-468-2555.

Queenston Heights Park and Your Friendly Neighbourhood Butcher
If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, beautiful Queenston Heights Park with public grills is the best place for al fresco dining fun. Heat up the charcoal and grill a few juicy burgers, sausages or chicken to go with some classic potato or pasta salads. Oh, and don’t forget the gourmet condiments, potato chips and some of Niagara’s finest fruit for dessert. It’s one of Niagara’s most popular picnic destinations. Sometimes when picnic tables are at a premium, you’ll be thankful you’ve packed a blanket to spread out and enjoy.

Balls Falls and Savoia Gourmet Emporium
At Balls Falls it’s all about early Canadian history, the natural beauty of a Carolinian forest and the pristine awe of an unspoiled waterfall. It’s hard to find a better picnic location anywhere in Niagara so it calls for a great picnic spread. The man who is famous for his luxurious little finger foods, Chef Oscar Turchi of Savoia Gourmet Emporium on Martindale Road is now designing irresistible picnic lunches that focus around warm, grilled Panini sandwiches. Pick out a soup, sushi or fruit salad and something to drink and you’ve got yourself a beautiful and delicious day in the heart of the region. Pre-order a must. info@savoiaonline.com.

Morningstar Mills and Grounds Coffee House and Bakery

The old stone gristmill is powered by the beautiful waterfalls and makes a lovely picnic spot. There are picnic tables on the grassy areas or you can spread a blanket at the back of the mill with full view of the waterfalls. It’s restful and relaxing. Pick up a picnic lunch at The Grounds Coffeehouse and Bakery on Schmon Parkway in Thorold. Fill your basket with some pinwheel savoury pastries. Some are stuffed with turkey and Asiago cheese and others are filled with feta cheese and spinach. Don’t leave without a few of their famous cinnamon buns! Preorder a must. info@groundscoffeehouse.com

Ridgeway Battlefield Park and The Flying Squirrel

Ridgeway Battlefield Park is on the corner of Garrison Road and Ridgeway Road in the quaint village of Ridgeway. Manicured lawns sprawl out, dotted with mature trees to offer shade on a hot summers day. There are plenty of picnic tables and also a pavilion to salvage a picnic when an unexpected rainfall threatens to ruin a great afternoon outdoors. The Flying Squirrel is the newest eaterie in town offering delicious picnic lunches that start with free-range egg salad sandwiches to slices of yellow fin tuna under slivers of daikon radish and smears of lemon aioli. Add a salad, a tart and some thirst quenching herbal infused ice tea. Pre-order is a must. 905-933-7548

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.