Almost any food can be put in a picnic basket, but usually an outdoor meal in a park involves sandwiches, salads, cookies, and a refreshing drink like iced tea or lemonade. When that same food is served indoors in a walkable business district, the result might qualify as an “Urban Picnic,” the name of a restaurant with just that approach in Downtown Mesa. Urban Picnic occupies a small storefront along Main near Robson just a block east of the future Country Club / Main light rail station. Bike racks are found at just about every corner along Main Street in this part of Mesa.
If you have any problem finding the restaurant, look for it near the big pink chair, one of Downtown Mesa’s many quirky pieces of public art. In terms of places to sit, the indoor picnic concept isn’t taken so far here as to involve spreading a blanket on the floor. Instead, after ordering at the counter, customers can sit down at any of the small tables inside or the larger ones out on the sidewalk. It’s a tight space, so there is seating for only a dozen or so indoors and about the same outdoors. Of course, many orders are to-go, reducing pressure on the limited space.
|entrance near the big pink chair|
The restaurant’s interior is sunny and cheery with plenty of natural light, a good view of activity outside on Main, and contemporary art and furnishings. There’s no reader board over the counter, so if there’s a line to order (not uncommon during peak lunch hours), sneak ahead to grab a printed menu. It’s also a good idea to take a glance at the monthly menu of specials, which is displayed outside the restaurant’s entrance and again at the counter. The specials keep the same theme of sandwiches and salad as the everyday menu but add some variety and color to the choices.
|bike rack at Robson and Main|
The best place to start is right at the top of the menu, where Urban Picnic’s “signature sandwich” is called out. Think of it as what you’d eat the day after Thanksgiving, assuming of course that every component of the holiday feast had been prepared with great care and that leftovers remained in exactly the right proportions. In between slices of crusty white bread, lean turkey meat is paired with a filling, indulgent stuffing made of sausage and even more bread. Unlike many Thanksgiving sandwiches, it omits cranberry sauce, so maybe not all the leftovers made it to the next day’s lunch.
|roast beef sandwich|
Continuing down the menu, there are nine sandwiches served warm from the panini press and four that come cold. Each is a well thought-out combination of bread, fillings, and toppings. The roast beef sandwich takes lean meat and combines it with horseradish mayonnaise, shaved parmesan, and greens on a baguette. A veggie and goat cheese sandwich uses the same crusty loaf to hold planks of grilled zucchini and eggplant accentuated by a sun-dried tomato spread. A basic grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato as options works well due to good quality ingredients.
|veggie and goat cheese sandwich|
Among the cold sandwiches, the curry chicken is a standout. This is not the type of fiery curry found down the street at Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine. Instead, it’s the type of mild curry in which an innocuous powder is mixed into mayonnaise, along with raisins and apples. It’s reminiscent of any number of gentle curries served as a cold salad or sandwich filling suitable for picnics or afternoon tea. A buttery croissant is the bread of choice for this speciality, and the result turns out to be one of the most filling items on the Urban Picnic menu.
|curry chicken sandwich|
All of the sandwiches come with a choice of side. A picnic classic, potato salad, is the most traditional here. It’s an eggy, yielding version of a summertime staple. Likewise, the mac-and-cheese is of the creamy variety and would fit into any old school menu. The coleslaw is just a little bit on the bolder side. It’s boosted with a bit of bleu cheese, giving it a slightly sharp taste in contrast to the mild cabbage and mayo. The pasta salad features black beans and orzo in a blend of Mediterranean and Southwestern influences. Finally, the simplest and lightest side is straightforward seasonal fruit.
The alternative to sandwiches at Urban Picnic is to order a salad. Make that a big salad because those served here are generally huge and quite filling. The constants on the menu are all familiar choices such as Caesar, spinach, and caprese. Each month, however, there is at least one special salad. At one point in the spring, it was a kale salad that must have included at least an entire bunch of the popular greens mixed with quinoa and feta. More recently it has been a Greek salad, the familiar mix of romaine, cucumbers, feta, and tomato with grilled chicken breast on top.
Urban Picnic has no liquor license, but it offers some fresh, vibrant choices in the beverage case. Lavender lemonade is unexpectedly assertive, and the strawberry limeade is bold and quenching with just enough tartness. Watermelon nectar is a bit sweeter but not excessively so. Peach green tea with a sprig of fresh mint completes the fresh beverage selection. There are also fountain sodas, bottled sodas, and coffee and espresso drinks. Be careful how much of any liquid you consume, however, because Urban Picnic’s compact layout does not include a restroom available for customer use.
|peach green tea|
For dessert, individually wrapped treats are sold at the counter. There are cookies, brownies, zucchini bread, and lemon bars. The last item is gooey, rich, and accentuated with slivers of lemon zest on top. After a one of these desserts, along with the main dish that most likely preceded it, it’s tempting to climb into the giant chair outside for a nap. Instead, walk around Downtown Mesa and explore its museums and shops. Everyone should enjoy outdoor picnics, but in the heart of Arizona’s third largest city (and the United States’ 38th largest), it also makes sense to enjoy an Urban Picnic.
218 W. Main St., Mesa AZ 85201