Whether you're going to see a summer concert or just looking to spend an afternoon people-watching in Central Park, there are many great places to stop if you'd like to enjoy a picnic. Although a picnic blanket makes for a better experience, you can also enjoy any of these meals from a park bench in one of the meadows or along the reservoir.
Grace's Marketplace has served Upper East Side shoppers since 1985. The high-end grocer has super fresh produce, however it can be a bit pricier. Picnickers can put together a lovely spread of salads, spreads, fruits, bread, cheeses, and desserts at Grace's Marketplace to bring to Central Park. Be sure to grab some forks, knives, and napkins near the salad bar before you head to the checkout!
Zabar's is an Upper West Side neighborhood institution that has been around for over 80 years. The family-run store offers a tremendous array of delicious foods for your picnic spread. Zabar's is probably most famous for its smoked fish, but they also have an impressive cheese department, a variety of prepared foods, and delicious baked goods that you can use to easily create and impressive Central Park picnic.
Basically an upscale bodega, Marche Madison is a gourmet deli with a salad bar, a hot buffet, and a beer and wine bar. Most of the menu options are healthy, including paninis, salads, and smoothies. The store is very convenient to get to from Central Park and has a decent selection of fruit, beverages, and prepared items that can make for a tasty Central Park picnic.
Citarella is a gourmet market offering picnic shoppers a wide range of prepared foods, breads, cheeses, and pastries. Prices can be steep at Citarella, but the quality is top-notch. The store is most notably known for its fresh seafood selection from whole fish and lobsters to clams and oysters.
Fairway is probably the largest of the stores around Central Park. It's a full-service grocery store, but it offers great value and a good variety of picnic provisions. The layout of the store can be a bit confusing, but if you can navigate the aisles, you'll find lots of prepared foods, sandwiches, sushi, cheese, and more for stocking your picnic basket.
Eli Zabar is a fairly small store making it easy to navigate and shop, but everything contained in the store is well-prepared and of high quality, with prices to match. If you don't feel like picking out your goods one-by-one, consider buying a gift basket. Some of the pre-packaged baskets include: salmon lox brunch basket; kosher gift basket; or the popular antipasto e vino gift basket, with two bottles of Italian wine, olives, salami, prosciutto, crackers, and three Italian cheeses.
Whole Foods is a national chain, so although you may not get specialty, one-of-a-kind goods, it is very conveniently located next to Central Park. Make sure to check out its expansive (and expensive) prepared food offerings, from the antipasto bar (olives, artichokes, sundried tomatoes) to the pita and cheese sections.