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Sandwiches, salads ideal for picnic lunch
Traditional foods fill basket for outdoor meal
Meat market specialist William Wolfe makes a chicken salad sandwich for a customer Tuesday at Green’s Grocery in Gainesville. The store makes large batches of chicken salad regularly. - photo by Erin O. Smith

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Summertime means everything moves outdoors.

Playtime changes from computer games to Frisbee or sports. Conversations take place on a porch or patio instead of inside on the sofa. And meals are made to eat by the pool, on the water or in the grass from a picnic basket.

When packing a basket, certain items are traditional such as sandwiches and salads. Chicken, tuna and egg salad are all frequent fliers. Some people prefer to make their own, but premade options are fresh and available locally.

“We got like four different types of chicken salad, tuna salad, broccoli salad, dips and cheese logs,” said A.J. Flanagan, manager of Green’s Grocery on Riverside Drive in Gainesville. “The spicy chicken salad is becoming more popular, and I really like the smoked. We sell it by the pound, so we can do as much or as little as you need.”

Green’s Grocery makes about 100 pounds of the salads each day and will compile sandwiches with pimento cheese, chicken salad and tuna salad. They do not have deli meats, but do have cooked meats ready for purchase.

“We cook all day on the big green egg,” Flanagan said, pointing to the grill outside the store. “The pork tenderloin is really great for a picnic because you just slice it and put it on a dinner roll.”

The shop’s chicken salad is a staple in Gainesville picnic baskets. Green’s Grocery also offers a variety of hot and cold sides to complement traditional picnic entrees.

“We have regular, Southern mustard potato salad and a loaded potato salad,” he said. “We also make a broccoli salad and have a Greek pasta salad that is outstanding. We also have anything from mac and cheese to a baked potato on the warmer.”

Greg Crowe, owner of Food Factory Catering in Cornelia, noted some of his most popular catered dishes for picnics are classic grilled items and chilled sides.

“Normally, barbecue pork is a popular item along with hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill,” he said. “Slaw and potato salad are good sides, and baked beans.”

For larger groups, grilling at a park is an easy option. Premade dishes such as pasta salad, coleslaw or raw vegetables are simple sides that go with almost any picnic food.

Crowe noted smaller groups tend to lean toward sandwiches and other easy-to-eat dishes that bring back memories and are part of tradition.

“I think part of it is nostalgic; that’s what people normally do for those type of events,” Crowe said. “All of (the sandwiches or hamburgers) are fairly easy to eat.”

With his company, Crowe has catered large company picnics and smaller family events. Many customers stick with tried-and-true favorites, but some ask for more unique dishes.

“We’ve done some events where they’ve roasted whole hogs,” Crowe said. “We’ve done a luau theme with a Polynesian pork and a Caribbean chicken, which is unusual for this area.”

He also mentioned sides can be customized to fit the picnic’s theme or party’s tastes.

“People have picked some unique sides, all kinds of salad combinations,” Crowe said. “One lady had a different take on slaw that she had seen in Hawaii.”

No matter the food in the basket, however, Crowe emphasized safety and ease are key elements. Disposable dishes can help with both, but don’t forget the ice.

“The biggest thing is food safety,” Crowe said. “You don’t want to make anybody sick. You want to keep the cool items as cool as possible in an ice chest or on the table with a dish of ice under it. Don’t leave them out too long.”

With the disposable pans, filling one with ice to chill a top one is simple. Cleaning up is even easier with paper plates and foil baking dishes.

“I like to get things in disposable containers so they don’t have to worry about bringing the dirty pans or platters back to their house,” Crowe said.