There is something so special about eating a meal outside on a perfect summer day, and there is no shortage of beautiful places in Wheeling to do just that. A quaint afternoon spent alongside Big Wheeling Creek, Oglebay Park and Heritage Port immediately come to mind. It’s also no coincidence that perfect outdoor dining weather occurs during one of the most bountiful seasons of the year. Local fruits and vegetables can be sourced nearly any day of the week in Wheeling right now from the Public Market in downtown Wheeling to one of the area’s several weekly farmers markets.
If you’d rather leave the food preparation to the experts, there are a few local businesses that have got you covered. Good Mansion Wines has baskets already prepared for picnics and ready to purchase. You could also grab a baguette alongside an excellent selection of meats, cheeses, spreads and more before heading to your favorite spot. Table 304 has been serving up their gorgeous and delicious grazing boards, charcuterie cups and cold brew coffee out of the Flatiron Building since mid-2020, but they have recently added luxury picnics to their offerings.
Libbi Gramby, owner of Table 304, will set up a luxury picnic nearly anywhere in the Wheeling area. Since launching this new service, their team has set up picnics for engagements and photoshoots on private property and in public spaces like Oglebay Park. A two-hour picnic set up from Table 304 includes a one-foot grazing board, bottled water, Bluetooth speaker as well as beautiful and comfy seating. The best part? Once you’re finished, you can text Table 304 and they’ll swoop in to handle the clean-up.
Curate Your Own Luxury Picnic
If you’re more of a DIY-er, then it’s simple to create your own luxury picnic experience. One of my go-to recipes for a picnic or backyard cookout is pasta salad. The best part of this dish is that you can customize it to include ingredients you have on hand or that are in season at your local farmer’s market. This version contains vegetables from my garden, with tomatoes being the real star of the show. To me, summer picnic recipes should be all about tomatoes. Real, vine-ripened tomatoes are well worth the wait. Find locally-grown fresh cherry tomatoes for this recipe or dice heirloom tomatoes and slicers you might have growing in your own garden. You can also feel free to add a protein like chopped hard-boiled egg or roast chicken to take this dish from a side to a hearty main.
Summer Whole Wheat Pasta Salad (8-10 servings)
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¾ pound whole wheat pasta (I like shells)
½ red onion, diced small
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small yellow squash or zucchini (sliced lengthwise then into thin half-moons)
⅓ lb. fresh green beans, blanched and sliced.
Juice of one lemon
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, minced
Cook pasta according to the directions on the package. When the pasta is ready, strain it in a colander and then add it to a bowl with ice water to stop the cooking process and quickly cool the pasta. Drain and set aside in a medium mixing bowl.
Chop and prep the raw vegetables. Summer squash and zucchini are especially delicious when thinly sliced and raw in a salad like this.
Bring a small pot of generously salted water to a boil and blanch and shock* the green beans. When cool, drain them and slice them into about ½-1 inch long pieces and mix into pasta with all the other vegetables.
Add lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper to pasta salad.
Add the fresh herbs and mix well. Finally, add olive oil and continue to mix well.
*This recipe calls for a technique called “blanching and shocking.” Blanching is when you bring salted water to a boil and then add a vegetable. Usually, you are just cooking the vegetable for a minute or two then removing it immediately to a bowl of ice water to “shock it”. Shocking effectively stops the cooking process. This helps to keep vegetables fresh and crisp in the salad, but not raw.
Not sure what to pair with your pasta salad? Here is my go-to Italian picnic menu that is sure to offer something for everyone.
Summer whole wheat pasta salad
Melon wrapped in prosciutto (cantaloupe or honeydew works best)
Dried figs and apricots
Caponata served with crusty bread
Assortment of meats and cheeses
Juiced fresh watermelon spritzer with Pellegrino sparkling water and lime
Where is your favorite place to picnic in Wheeling?
• Melissa Rebholz was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, to a Sicilian/German family. She grew up in a household revolving around food. In 2007, a summer of volunteering for GrowNYC (New York City’s Farmer’s Markets) led her down the path to culinary school at The Natural Gourmet Institute and 10 subsequent years of farming from Long Island to Sonoma to Tennessee. Working simultaneously in kitchens to support her farming habit, Melissa migrated back to the rustbelt in October of 2019 to help Grow Ohio Valley open the Public Market as the head chef. Her hobbies include foraging, baking, dinner parties and exploring her new home of Wheeling, West Virginia.