How to picnic like a pro in St. Catharines

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It’s not uncommon during the mad rush of the workweek to find yourself eating lunch al desko. But summer begs for meals to be enjoyed al fresco. Did you even summer if you didn’t pack a picnic to eat in one of St. Catharines’ many parks? Blanket or bench, there are plenty of places to hunker down for a memorable bite with a warm breeze and beautiful view as co-stars.

Here are a few places in the city to find some portable fare and the stunning spots to enjoy it:

Eh José Taqueria
at Montebello Park

Eh José specializes in tacos but its sandwich game is nothing short of serious business, too. And everyone knows sandwiches are quintessential picnic fare. Let chef José Granados pack you one of his tortas, stacked with chorizo, ham, beans, sausage, cheese, jalapeños, onions, tomato and avocado, and topped with a Mexican flag.

Then head to Montebello Park and take a seat on a bench near the rose garden or under one of the old-growth trees. Either is perfect for sinking your teeth into your torta to the soundtrack of children whiling away their day on the playground.

📸 – Eh José Taqueria

Torta, a type of Mexican sandwich

Picnic lunch boxes

Helen’s Deli at Burgoyne Woods

This downtown deli usually feeds the office crowd during the week. But what fuels the cubicle crowd can also make a picnic basket overfloweth. Helen’s Deli sandwiches galore that are made to order, salads of every ilk, and baked goods to cap any outdoor meal. The hot counter also features Helen’s famous pirogies and Bigos, a Polish hunter’s stew, for those seeking something heartier.

Whatever you order, take it to Burgoyne Woods in the city’s Old Glenridge neighbourhood where there’s plenty of room to lay down a blanket or sit at a picnic table as close to or as far from the action as you want to be in this urban oasis.

📸 – Helen’s Deli

CHZ PLZ at Lakeside Park

Think of charcuterie as the sandwich deconstructed to become finger food for grazing. In other words, it’s food made for picnicking. No one packs a prettier charcuterie box than CHZ PLZ in Port Dalhousie. They’re filled with meat, cheese, fruits, nuts, condiments and personal-size baguettes. And they’re meant for a leisurely afternoon of nibbling, especially in Lakeside Park just steps from this shop. Whether you eat under the gazebo, along the pier, or on a blanket on the grass or beach, it makes for an experience you’ll want to put on repeat all summer long.

📸 – chzplzniagara

Picnic box 

The Lemon Tree Bistro at Jaycee Gardens Park

These two Ontario Street gems were meant to be enjoyed together. The Lemon Tree is St. Catharines’ only vegan Mediterranean restaurant and it packs a generous mezze platter equipped with two types of hummus, tzatziki, spicy feta, pita, olives, cheese and veggies. There’s also a cheese platter — yes, it’s all plant-based. Both are perfectly portable, too, which makes them ideal for sharing when surrounded by pristine gardens and the remnants of the third Welland Canal at nearby Jaycee Gardens Park. After lunch, take a walk on the bridge connecting to Rennie Park in Port Dalhousie, all the while enjoying the gentle breeze and sound of rowers on Martindale Pond.

📸 – thelemontree_bistro

St. Joseph’s Bakery at Harold Henry Wright Parkette

This tiny green space at the top of Vine Street offers a gorgeous view of Lake Ontario and the ships waiting to be piloted through the Welland Canal. There isn’t room for a blanket, but there are benches inviting you to take a load off. Whether it’s a picnic done solo or with someone special, this spot offers plenty of peace, quiet and scenery best enjoyed with a sandwich made by the deli crew at St. Joseph’s Bakery on Facer Street. St. Joseph’s offers all the fixings for a continental lunch made to order, so after that salami or roast beef sandwich, enjoy a pastel de nata, paczki, or poppy seed babka, and wash it all down with an Orangina or Fanta. You can also find everything you need to assemble your own picnic lunch.

Picnic spread

Dispatch at The Waterfront Trail through Cherie Road Park

Dispatch in downtown St. Catharines made a name for itself as one of the best new restaurants in Canada in 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, it’s reinvented itself with a bodega filled with exclusive prepared foods and conservas that just happen to make for memorable picnics. There’s tinned fish from Spain — the mackerel in olive oil is a must — chips in a league beyond run-of-the-mill salt and vinegar, jars of pickles and conserves, beverages and sweet snacks to go. You can also leave all the thinking to chef Adam Hynam-Smith, who will put together omnivore and vegetarian picnic spreads for you. Then take your haul to the entry to The Waterfront Trail at Cherie Road Park (enter off Largo Drive or Melody Trail), and sprawl on a blanket among the enchanting greenery or on a quieter stretch of sandy beach.

📸 –  dispatchresto

Valley Restaurant at Sunset Beach

Valley Restaurant in St. Catharines’ Port Weller neighbourhood is legendary, much like the sunsets at this namesake beach just steps away from Valley’s Italian kitchen. Valley specializes in upscale fare eaten on white linen, but this summer, it’s also offering walk-up barbecue options, including burgers and brisket, taken to go. So pack your beach towel or blanket and head to the city’s largest beach where there’s always room to sit in the sand or a shady spot in park. Just remember to wait half an hour after eating before going for a swim.

Sunset Beach Smoke Shack


Bushel and Peck at Orchard Park

Entering Orchard Park with its ethereal canopy feels like walking into a fairytale. You expect to see woodland sprites and fairies flying among the greenery in this pretty but little-known north-end swath. Orchard Park is begging for picnickers and Bushel and Peck, a midtown gourmet grocery store on Lake Street, can set you up with a moveable feast of smoked or tinned fish, cheese, prepared meats, condiments, fresh bread, local fruit, snacks, including the Brazilian-Niagara mash-up known as Cheese Dots, and a deep selection of non-alcoholic wine, beer and cider.

There’s a reason why St. Catharines is called the Garden City given its many foliage-filled recreation areas. Those picturesque parks and the city’s many talented food artisans and chefs also make it the picnic city. Just don’t forget to pack a blanket and ask for extra napkins.

There’s a reason why St. Catharines is called the Garden City given its many foliage-filled recreation areas. Those picturesque parks and the city’s many talented food artisans and chefs also make it the picnic city. Just don’t forget to pack a blanket and ask for extra napkins.

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