It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of brunch, but the truth is that, as a concept, it’s not always easy to combine with a financial diet. While delicious and satisfying, spending a few hours around a big table in a trendy restaurant with a bunch of your friends can easily set you back 40 dollars or more, and that’s only the first meal of the day. You never intend to spend too much, of course, but once the day-drinking and “I’ll eat whatever” trains get rolling, it’s really, really hard to stop them.
So after talking about the perfect home brunch, I thought it would be nice to talk about its sexier, outdoorsy cousin, the picnic brunch. Today is the first ~real spring day~ in New York City, and tomorrow is supposed to be even nicer. It’s scheduled to be bright, sunny, and in the high 60s, which is the perfect combination of “don’t need a jacket but am not sweating,” and also “can enjoy my food in peace because the mosquitos haven’t come out yet.”
Brunch picnics used to be a hallowed ritual with some of my friends, and it’s definitely a tradition that needs to be rebooted. Because for 10 or under per person — a fraction of the cost of a “real” brunch — you can have something amazing. And there are tons of outdoor-friendly versions of “real” brunch food, you just have to give it a little thought, which I have done for you here.
The key is to invite 5-10 people and have each one take care of a “station.” Supposing you have eight people coming, they are as follows:
Egg & Cheese: Eggs and cheese are pretty straightforward, but the question, of course, becomes what eggs? What cheese? For the eggs, I’ve found the best option is to bring some hardboiled eggs that you’ve sliced (make sure to keep them on a budget), because they’re easy to make and SUPER easy to transport/use outdoors on a blanket. People can eat them plain, or put them on a sandwich. Then, for cheese, I’d do one spread-y cheese and one harder cheese to use as slices. I find that everyone loves Boursin for spread (it’s a little more fun and sexy than cream cheese), and that a simple hard cheddar or pepper jack is both cost-effective and crowd-pleasing.
Meats: Meats are usually the most expensive food station, so they only get one item, particularly if they want to bring something like smoked salmon. Here, I think it’s nice to get a few options from the deli for making nice stacked sandwiches or just eating them as-is. Again, think transportability. Ham, turkey, prosciutto, or even the fancier things like capicola and bresaola are all awesome options. (Yes, you can also bring cooked bacon, but I find it often gets soggy en route.)
Drinks: This generally has to be split between two people, because most alcohol is pretty expensive. Freixnet is my favorite cheap sparkling wine by far, it’s a tasty cava that doesn’t at all taste like you’re skimping on quality. And the point is to keep things simple, so no complicated bloody mary mixes. Our go-tos were usually two people bringing a few bottles of rosé, or going in on a bottle of vodka and a bunch of orange juice for screwdrivers. Also, and this is really important, do NOT forget to bring a ton of water. For some reason no one ever remembers to bring the water, and daydrinking in the sun for several hours is the fastest possible route to dehydration.
Bread: An outdoor brunch is nothing without a bunch of good, crusty bread to go with it. If you are Bread Person, go the extra mile to a real bakery or cheese shop and get some good, hard bread, at least two or three different types to try. Sometimes they can be as much as three dollars apiece, but it’s so worth it. Showing up with armfuls of crusty, chewy, wonderful bread will make you the star of the picnic, and will make every other bit of food completely delicious.
Fruit & Veg: Yes, you get the be the responsible person who brings things like cherry tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, and grapes. It may seem boring, but when you’re all drinking and eating otherwise-heavy food on a lawn for a few hours, it’ll feel nice to get something wholesome in your system. Some people go a little crazy here and try to make a salad, but it’s important to just stay simple, so go with crudités.
Dessert: Loaf cakes and pies are your best bet here. Anything you can slice off and eat in large, chunky pieces off a napkin in your hand is what you want. Please don’t be that person who brings some complicated mousse or strawberry shortcake that’s falling apart all over the place.
Tableware: Oh, my god, I cannot express how important it is to have someone whose sole job is to think of cups, plates, napkins, and cutlery. Somehow, if you leave otherwise-capable adults to their own devices when it comes to “bringing something to eat your food on,” it all turns into chaos. By setting up someone whose sole job is to bring that stuff, you’re saving your skin. That person can also bring the big blanket, of course, but that should really fall to whoever has the best one. The point is, don’t find yourself without enough plastic cups, cause it’ll ruin your day.
Having a brunch picnic is a fun, delicious, and CHEAP alternative to the stuff in nice sit-down restaurants. It requires, yes, a little bit of organization. But when you have the whole afternoon in the sun with friends and good food — and no one who needs you to pay and leave your table — few things are more satisfying.
See you in the parks!