Nestled beside the Ink Block apartments in the South End, coastal Italian restaurant Bar Mezzana is the kind of neighborhood restaurant everyone wishes they lived close enough to walk to.
“This area we’re in all used to be under water, so our menu really invokes the ocean and the coast,” said Heather Lynch, who owns Bar Mezzana along with her husband, Chef Colin Lynch, a Barbara Lynch Gruppo alum (no relation).
Lynch said that the food at Bar Mezzana is meant to easily lend itself to grazing and snacking.
“You really can have a picnic at the bar if you want to,” she said. “Have an arancini! Order a couple of glasses of wine!”
On their days off in the warmer months, the couple is known to pick up some Italian munitions and head out for a full-day picnic outside. Here are some of Heather Lynch’s tips to plan your own Italian picnic in the city this summer.
It’s not an Italian picnic without pick-at-it food
For Lynch, the Boston Harbor Islands provide an ideal backdrop for a summer picnic in the city. Before heading out, she and her husband like to stop into the South End’s Formaggio Kitchen, a beloved charcuterie shop that houses the goods of some of the city’s best-informed cheesemongers.
“They just have an awesome selection of things,” Lynch said. “These amazing bright, buttery, briny, meaty, green Sicilian olives called castelvetrano olives, I totally dig those. We’ll also hit up the meat and cheese counter, grab some finocchiona, which is a Tuscan fennel sausage.”
Lynch also noted that Formaggio’s has a great selection of breads, and that she’ll usually grab Fennel Taralli crackers.
Lynch and her team make their own mozzarella at Bar Mezzana, and she said she’ll grab some of that when packing up snacks for a picnic. Otherwise, she’ll go with any cheese Dave or Julie behind the counter at Formaggio recommends.
Although she admits to not being much of a dessert person, she said she’ll pack some of Formaggio’s chocolate espresso beans for an on-the-go sweet treat.
Easy, seasonal foods are also a big part of the art of the Italian picnic. Chef Colin likes to throw together a simple salad of seasonal fruit (recipe below).
When there isn’t enough time to make the stops and pack a picnic lunch, Lynch said she cruises by cozy South End Italian trattoria Coppa, best known for its pizzas and pastas, for some Italian grinders to go.
“The combination of prosciutto, mortadella, and lots of other great flavors, it’s awesome. It’s basically an Italian picnic on a sandwich,” she said.
It’s also not an Italian picnic without wine
If Lynch were to choose the perfect wine for enjoying the outdoors in the summertime, she’d choose a sparkling rose called Il Fric, produced by Casebianche.
“It’s like the picnic wine,” she said. “It’s pink, bubbly, dry, and easy.”
Il Fric comes in a bottle with a pop-top like a beer bottle, which makes it easier to enjoy on the go, she said.
If the occasion calls for canned wine, Lynch said she opts for Ramona’s cult-favorite ruby red grapefruit spritzer made of Italian wine, which is also served at Bar Mezzana and available to purchase at Whole Foods.
For the non-drinking crowd, Lynch recommended Polar’s grapefruit soda, which she jokingly called a “non-alcoholic Ramona.” An aranciata or blood orange San Pellegrino also fits the bill, she said.
Don’t forget about the essence of the Italian picnic
“A picnic in the Italian sense is all about being outside, unplugging, and enjoying conversation with simple stuff you can snack on,” Lynch said.
She and her husband traveled in Italy for a little while, and Lynch described how a particularly memorable meal at a restaurant in Florence shaped their vision for how they wanted Bar Mezzana to feel.
“Before you ordered any food, they put out all these bowls of pecorino cheese and olives and anchovies in front of you,” she said. “You just start eating and talking and you relaxed enough to enjoy the moment instead of immediately stressing out about what to order off the menu. Those little bites and good company are what Italian picnics are all about.”
Of course, it’s also not an Italian picnic without a good game of bocce. Lynch said that she had a set they like to bring along for beach picnics, and those games are a great way to break up a long day in the sun.
Lynch said that there’s a saying her beverage director, Ryan Lotz, uses that is the Italian equivalent of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses: Aver le fette di salame sugli occhi.
“It means, ‘Salami over my eyes,’ which is how we see the world when on a picnic!”
Chef Colin Lynch’s Picnic-Perfect Fruit Salad (Serves 4)
For the pickled chili:
4 Fresno chili (seeds removed if you are faint of heart), thinly sliced
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Hearty pinch of salt
Bring sugar, water, and vinegar to a simmer. Add salt. Pour over chilis and place in the fridge overnight. They will last at least a week as long as they are submerged in the vinegar.
For the salad:
4 ripe nectarines (white or yellow, your choice — white will be more floral, yellow a little more tart)
8 slices good prosciutto di Parma
12 mint leaves
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1 recipe pickled Fresno chili
2 balls of good mozzarella (your preference, just make sure it’s fresh — burrata is great, buffalo is also great)
Fresh ground pepper
Sea salt (Malden or fleur de sel)
Slice nectarines into six wedges each and place on a platter. Tear the mint leaves and scatter them over the stone fruit. Cut or tear the mozzarella into bit sized pieces and place them around the platter. Sprinkle with a lot or a little of the pickled Fresnos. Drizzle with the olive oil. (Do not be shy about this. It’s not the place to cut out fat.) Sprinkle with the sea salt. (Don’t go crazy — the prosciutto will help its cause.) Add the prosciutto, tearing it, but being careful not to bundle it into unappetizing spheres (imagine good sheets laid over a bed). Finely crack some fresh ground pepper over the whole thing. Be aggressive. It’s a different kind of heat than the chilis and people will appreciate it. (Note that the recipe is simple but specific. The order in which this is assembled is second only to the quality of ingredients you use.)