Planning and a sense of fun make fancy picnics a breeze Splendor in the grass

June 15, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Picnics needn't be plebeian affairs, with paper plates, plastic utensils, charred hot dogs and bland potato salad. Dining out of doors can be an elegant affair, an occasion to remember. All it takes is a little imagination, a romantic or slightly exotic location, and some planning.

Consider the guests at Antrim 1844, a country inn in Taneytown, who climb aboard a horse-drawn carriage for a nostalgic journey to a nearby mill, where they find a meal spread out from an antique wicker picnic basket. They might dine on spicy lamb sausages with fruited mustard, roasted tenderloin with horseradish cream, three-onion tart with Gruyere cheese, oysters on the half shell, apples, pears and grapes, assorted cheeses such as brie and Stilton, French bread, and chocolate pate while lounging on an Oriental carpet borrowed from the Greek Revival mansion. "It's very casual with just that little touch of elegance," says Dorothy Mollett, who, with her husband Richard, owns the 14-room inn that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "We use real crystal, china and silver." And usually something is passed around in the carriage, perhaps lemonade or mulled wine.

Even if you have to use horsepower, rather than horse power, to get to a suitable spot for a picnic this summer, you can still pack plates and glasses and serve elegant dishes. And if you don't have a convenient mill nearby, try the grounds of Rock Run Mill in Susquehanna State Park, off Route 161 in Harford County. Or watch the boats go by from Downs Memorial Park, a waterfront park off Route 177 in Anne Arundel County.

And if alfresco eating isn't entertaining enough, how about stopping for a picnic on the way to a concert?

Patrons of Diversions, the Baltimore-based cultural-arts touring company, recently tucked into breast of chicken Normandy on mixed grains, grilled eggplant, roasted potatoes and onions, brioche with herbs and apple crostata while en route to Wolf Trap concert pavilion for a D-Day celebration featuring Jerry Vale, Jane Powell and Michael Feinstein, among other performers.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual series of outdoor summer concerts starts Sunday June 19 -- Father's Day, a perfect occasion for an outstanding meal for Dad. There are 11 concerts in the series, which lasts through early August. Seven are at Oregon Ridge off I-83 in Baltimore County. The Fourth of July is traditionally the most popular of the concerts. And speaking of the Fourth of July, it's traditional to picnic on the Mall in Washington that day, to listen to the National Symphony Orchestra, and to watch the fireworks.

Closer to home, you can picnic on the grounds of Boordy Vineyards, on Long Green Pike in Baltimore County, and sample Boordy wines.

If sitting on the ground to eat doesn't appeal to you, how about sitting on the water -- on a boat, that is, sailing out of the city.

Aboard the schooner Nighthawk, based in Fells Point, guests munch fried chicken, fresh vegetables with dips, several varieties of salad and upscale cookies while testing the vagaries of wind and tide beyond Fort McHenry, or slipping into the Inner Harbor with its elegant skyline view and bustle of activity. "It's smooth sailing" when the Nighthawk cruises on the Patapsco River, says Capt. Martin Weiss. With cruises at different times of the day, he says, "You can eat sailing under the moon and stars and the sunshine."

And if all that travel is too much trouble, why not pretend you've gone on a journey to a romantic spot?

Imagine, for instance, you're in the hills of Fiesole, five miles north of Florence, Italy, a landscape celebrated by artists for thousands of years. You're sitting in a garden with friends, watching the sun set while drinking a superior Brunello di Montalcino and eating a salad of arugula, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, roast pork loin Florentine-style, white beans with tomatoes, garlic and sage, and baked pears in wine sauce with pine nuts.

To help make the Italian experience real, take some tips from Craig Pyes, whose new book "Picnics of Tuscany" (Simon & Schuster, $14) offers a selection of eight menus, chosen to highlight a particular spot in the central Italian province whose crown jewel is Florence.

"All who take this journey will find Tuscany has much to offer in cooking techniques and fine food," he writes in the introduction. "World-class wines and olive oils; fruits and vegetables tenderly grown on small farms; Chianina beef, the best in Italy, transformed into a sizzling Bistecca alla Fiorentina; abundant wild game; fish from inland waters, and seafood from the Tyrrhenian Sea." Tourists who are going no farther than the nearest lawn chair can still sample the culinary delights of the Italian hillsides. And watch exactly the same sunset.

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