LENOX — Music is the engine that drives the experience, but the Tanglewood lawn picnic is an art unto itself.
Some diehards enjoy simulating a meal at home, hauling a summertime smorgasbord complete with elegant flatware, portable tables, and crystal serving bowls. But a much simpler Tanglewood picnic, one set on a blanket, which starts with wine and includes sandwiches from, say, Loeb’s Foodtown, the homey, family-owned grocery in the center of town, provides just as rich an opportunity to savor the tastes of the Berkshires amid the music.
There’s no need for picnic envy, says Judy Marzotto of Nejaime’s Wine Cellars. “The only thing that matters is: Does it taste good to you? So you can enjoy that experience of the food, the music, of being together with family and friends, and that whole Berkshire experience.”
There are many ways to do this, from a neatly demarcated meal highlighted by individual sandwiches and drinks, to more elaborate (perhaps messier) salads and charcuterie plates. A few stores offer all-in-one picnic packages (the priciest, though ultimately most convenient, choices can be ordered from Tanglewood
itself), though with that option you’re paying for the convenience as well as the food.
Dan Mathieu, co-owner of MAX Ultimate Food, a Boston-based caterer, advises keeping things simple. “It’s all about ease of setup and ease of breakdown,” he says. “I see these very elaborate setups out on the lawn, and I applaud them but I just think of the work that’s involved in it.” Mathieu, who owns a home in Richmond and often goes to Tanglewood with groups of 10 or more, focuses on individual bento boxes prepared at home and then pulled from a cooler.
Mixing and matching side dishes and salads is a treat at Nejaime’s, a family-owned trio of stores all close to Tanglewood, though it’s easy to rack up quite a tab here if you’re feeding a group. Specialties are Lebanese family recipes for hummus, baba ghanouj, and eggplant salad. Curried chicken salad with raisins, surprisingly creamy and boldly flavorful, is another favorite. These are good eaten straight from the container or spread on the store’s generous selection of crackers and flatbread; fresh baguettes and ciabatta are also available, premium cheeses are extensive. Staff happily offers cheese samples or assists with pairings from the large wine selection.
At Bizalion’s Fine Food in Great Barrington, gourmet sandwiches, made on baguettes, are the most popular items for patrons headed north to hear music. Co-owner Helen Bizalion says that an easy picnic for a group might be a couple of sandwiches, cut into quarters, along with green salad.
When her own family goes to Tanglewood, they’re just as casual, setting out small homemade pizzas (at room temperature), sliced prosciutto, and perhaps olives and hard-cooked eggs.
A tasty but basic approach to sandwiches is available at Loeb’s, where satisfying behemoths, mostly less than $7, include Earl’s Favorite, a generous serving of turkey with artichoke hearts and lemon aioli. Loeb’s is also known for homemade salads (look for the chicken salad made with roast chicken). Call ahead and the store will roast a bird specially for your spread (priced by the pound) with trimmings, and serve it on a platter, sliced, for an additional $25 or so.
The deli counter at the Elm Street Market in Stockbridge is another place to pick up a no-frills sandwich of deli meats.
There’s an emphasis on organic foods at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington and Pittsfield (these spots are known for their pies), and the Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, where you can find a rotating selection of prepared foods such as store-made artichoke-spinach dip and cranberry-cashew quinoa salad.
For the budget-minded, there are a handful of supermarkets within an easy drive of Tanglewood. Travelers headed into the region on the Mass. Pike might make a stop at the newly opened Big Y supermarket in Lee just off Exit 3. A Price Chopper is downtown, but at a larger location on Route 7, north of the Lenox turn-off, you’ll find a bigger selection of prepared foods such as fried chicken (hot or cold), fruit plates, and packages of mixed berries.
On the dessert front, Patisserie in downtown Lenox has an array of authentic French pastry; a box of croissants, cookies, or mini eclairs would travel well to your picnic spot.
Stockbridge Coffee offers baked goods, such as muffins and biscotti freshly made at Cakewalk Bakery & Cafe in Lee (worth a visit on its own, depending on your travel route), and homemade cookies at Loeb’s, especially the chocolate-filled variety, are particularly tasty. You can order a fruit salad to go with them.
If you’re looking for a bottle of wine, Nejaime’s has the most extensive selection nearby, and Loeb’s offers a smaller selection. Berkshire Liquors in Lee is a great option for a less expensive pour, or for bottled pints of Barrington Brewery ale, made only a few miles away.
“If it was me,” says Michael Albert, the down-to-earth manager of Loeb’s, “I’d get a rotisserie chicken and maybe a sandwich or some salads here, I’d go get some cheese at Nejaime’s, I’d get dessert at Patisserie, and I’d stop at the Heritage [Tavern] for a couple beers before heading over for James Taylor. But hey, that’s just me.”
WHERE TO GET THE GOODS
Berkshire Co-op Market
42 Bridge St., Great Barrington,
33 Canal St., Lee, 413-243-0022, www.berkshireliquors.com.
10 Pleasant St., Lee, 413-243-3201, www.bigy.com.
Bizalion’s Fine Food
684 Main St., Great Barrington,
Cakewalk Bakery & Cafe
56 Main St., Lee, 413-243-2806, www.cakewalkbakery.com.
Elm Street Market
4 Elm St., Stockbridge, 413-298-3634, www.elmstreetmarket.com.
Guido’s Fresh Marketplace
760 South Main St., Great Barrington, 413-528-9255, and 1020 South St., Pittsfield, 413-442-9912, www.guidos
42 Main St., Lenox, 413-637-0270, www.loebsfoodtown.com.
Nejaime’s Wine Cellars
3 Elm St. Stockbridge; 60 Main St., Lenox; 444 Pittsfield Road, Lenox,
413-448-2274 for all locations, www.nejaimeswine.com.
30A Church St., Lenox, 413-551-9050, www.patisserielenox.com.
88 West Park St., Lee, 413-243-2238, and 495 Pittsfield Road, Lenox,
6 Elm St., Stockbridge,413-298-3169.
Order complete picnics at www.bso.org, click on “Plan your visit,” or call 413-637-5152 weekdays.