Perfect Picnics

Grab some eats, spread a tablecloth, and get lost in the landscape

Take your booty and wander over to the boardwalk. There are benches along its length, and a couple of pavilions with picnic tables, but these are likely to be crowded on a sunny day. Better to seek out the less populated beach to the south between Coney Island and Brighton Beach, where you can spread a tablecloth on the sand or perch on the stone jetties that point toward the Rockaways.

The Challenge:Afterward, trek further south to the Cyclone, one of the world's last remaining wood-framed coasters. Built in 1927, it attains a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour, and its maximum drop of 85 feet will leave you shaking.


Love 'em and leave 'em in Staten Island
photo: Kate Lacey
Love 'em and leave 'em in Staten Island

Take Me to the River
Bronx

There's no better place to get a hero in Belmont than BUTCHIE'S(2480 Hughes Avenue, Bronx, 718-733-4136), where the chicken cutlet is king, and "chicken hero" isn't an oxymoron. These perfectly fried beauties—two to a sandwich—can be treated conventionally, mantled with plenty of gooey cheese, but with wilder combos available, why cleave to convention? A list of neighborhood-themed heros offers such strange delights as the Fordham (chicken, bacon, mozzarella, and honey mustard), but nearest to my heart are the sandwiches that incorporate onion rings or french fries. "Those heros were invented by neighborhood kids," proclaimed the proprietor, as the cook poked her head through the kitchen window and nodded enthusiastically. For vegetarians, strips of fried eggplant can be substituted for cutlets, and the potato and egg hero is a formidable treat, too.

Secure your culinary treasures and head north—we've got a hike ahead of us. Our destination is the NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN. Though it's only a few blocks north as the dodo flies, land-based bipeds must tack around the campus of Fordham University to arrive at the main gate. Once inside, you'll find an official picnic area at the Everett Children's Adventure Garden, accessible by heading east on a path that runs behind the Haupt Conservatory. But if I were you, I'd continue on to the area known as the Native Forest, which runs along the Bronx River and features a waterfall and a dramatic bridge spanning a gorge. You can surreptitiously picnic on the river, and even take a swim, if you're discreet about it.

The Challenge:Find the Snuff Mill—not the headquarters of Murder Inc., but a rustic stone structure, part of which dates to 1792. It ground tobacco into snuff on the former Lorillard plantation. Tobacco plantations in the Bronx? My head is spinning!


Stalking the Giant
Queens

Boasting some of the most varied terrain in town, ALLEY POND PARK stretches one mile, from the sandy swampland of Little Neck Bay to the hilly hardwood forests of Bellerose. Entering at Springfield Boulevard and 76th Avenue, you'll encounter broad lawns with flowering trees, formal gardens with promenades, and softball diamonds and cricket pitches galore. There are plenty of picnic tables among these facilities, and some barbecue pits, too, but it's much better to seek out the wilderness trails that extend north and east, and eat your lunch on a stump. Picnic stuff can be acquired at the nearby corner of Springfield and Union Turnpike, with choices running to deli sandwiches, bagels, and Chinese food, but since you probably came in a car, you can get better food by driving a mile or so to FIZA DINER (259-07 Hillside Avenue, 718-347-3100) for tandoori chickens and spice-rubbed kingfish steaks, or to DELI MASTERS (184-02 Horace Harding Expressway, 718-353-3030) for pastrami sandwiches and potato knishes.

The Challenge:Find the tulip tree known as the Queens Giant. As theTimes recently reported, "at 134 feet tall and as much as 450 years old, it is the tallest and oldest living thing in New York City." Hint: Seek out East Hampton Boulevard, which crosses the Long Island Expressway on the western edge of the park. Then plunge down the ravine!

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