Less frenzied than an alleyway football game, less expensive than a water park, and infinitely less stressful than a corporate retreat, the “picnic” remains one of America’s signature summer activities. Elsewhere in this country, the picnic is a battle of fun versus elements, where citizens use lemonade, potato salad and horseshoes to combat near-fatal temperatures, militant ant invasions, and a humidity that can turn sandwiches to soup. We Northern Californians should honor their struggle—and feel grateful that we got off easy. With calm weather and numerous lovely parks at our disposal, all that remains is to fill up the basket. Thankfully, the leaders of three local restaurants have tips on how to do just that.
Christine Meade, Capitol Café
Christine Meade is the co-owner of Benicia’s Capitol Café, a restaurant that specializes in family-style cooking. Her staff uses organic and local ingredients to make dishes that dazzle with culinary inventiveness, but which are familiar enough to leave customers with a pleasantly nostalgic buzz. On Saturdays and Sundays they serve breakfast all day and brunch specials; and, to the delight of local barhops, they’ve recently extended their Friday and Saturday hours until 2 a.m. As the restaurant offers an adventurous and ever-changing selection of dishes, it was no great shock that Meade was able to whip up a picnic-ready recipe at a moment’s notice.
Summer Fruit Wraps
Use a standard or flavored tortilla as a base. Spread a layer of cream cheese over the tortilla. Fold one side of the tortilla over and add strawberries. As you roll up the tortilla, add additional layers of seasonal fruit and cheese (brie, gruyere, or cheddar), until only a quarter of the tortilla remains. Finish rolling the tortilla and add a toothpick. If serving guests, cut the roll into small pieces and use a fruit-based vinaigrette dressing for dipping. Dish goes well with wheat beer or white wine.
Abe Hadeed, Sahara Restaurant
Mr. Hadeed has owned and run Sahara Restaurant for the past 3-1/2 years. The restaurant offers solid, freshly made Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Though the place will certainly sate the meat aficionado searching for good lamb, it has lately been drawing a vegetarian crowd who savor its relaxed atmosphere and its tasty moussaka. He suggested a kid-friendly chicken kebab dish which—parents take note—he considers a good way to smuggle vital vegetables into their diet.
The recipe is for an easy kebab dish. Simply grill up a selection of meat, chicken, or lamb with vegetables like red bell peppers, tomatoes and small and large onions, and then arrange on a skewer in any order you please. For a good dip, dilute Tahini sauce with water, zest with lemon juice, and salt. Goes well with Basmati rice. For other styles of grilled meat, Studio 41 has grilling spices and rubs.
Char Herd, Char’s Hot Dogs
Char Herd, a 32-year veteran of the Bay Area dining scene, has owned and run Char’s Hot Dogs for 16 years. Last year she moved her operation from the iconic Tannery Building to a larger location at 523 First Street, made her grandson Josh Branum co-owner, and expanded the business to include fresh yogurt and vegetarian hotdogs. But her hearty, all-American hotdogs remain the main draw; and she was happy to answer the call of patriotism and submit a recipe worthy of July’s festivities. The recipe was developed by her grandson Josh.
Grill up a Miller All-Beef Hot Dog and put in a bun of your choosing. Cover with shredded cheddar cheese, add a dab of Stag chili, pickles, jalapenos, and spicy pickled carrots. The rest is up to you.