Spring is here and with it comes thoughts of the great outdoors and festival weather. Leave it to a certain trio of restaurant pros to plant a new “destination square” on this checkered blanket of our mass consciousness. When Ti Martin, Darryl Reginelli and Tory McPhail launched Picnic Provisions & Whiskey last fall, all three drew inspiration from personal experience to shape a restaurant around this central theme. The result is a family restaurant with fine dining cred but none of its airs.
Given the complimentary talents of its owners, it is no surprise that Picnic landed fully-realized, with a branded identity spanning its mission statement, its menu and its décor. “I think the idea was to take a fine dining chef, a restauranteur and a pizza man and put them together to come up with a relaxed menu,” explained McPhail, who also happens to be the chef of a place called Commander’s Palace in his spare time.
McPhail did his homework prior to opening, having visited (at last count) 105 fried chicken joints as part of his R&D. He zeroed in on Nashville and, in particular, its famous Hot Chicken. “But some of that hot chicken is just too spicy,” he says. “You can’t enjoy it. And we wanted our chicken to reflect New Orleans.” To this end, crawfish boil is used for the seasoning along with a unique Crystal hot sauce pulp doled out tableside to give diners some control over the heat. The chicken is sourced from Joyce Farms and raised “without any of the funky stuff nobody wants to talk about,” McPhail says. Asked why he settled on boneless, McPhail reasons that this offers diners a seasoned crunch on both sides with every bite.
The menu is arrayed around its core chicken offerings. It is served in a basket, as a sandwich or as a mild tenders package that doubles as a kid-friendly option. The accompanying mayo is blended with white miso, an interesting adaptation whose umami creates depth of flavor. The menu evolved a bit as the restaurant established itself, adjusting to its neighborhood clientele to have some more inclusive offerings alongside the hot chicken. “What we found was people came first for the hot chicken but then they came back with their family,” McPhail said. “So we adapted some milder dishes to accommodate that – our grilled cheese and chicken tenders options, for example.”
Overall the menu reads as southern (pimento cheese and an interesting cake-y twist on a biscuit represent) but is heavily informed with New Orleans twists. Sides are anything but ordinary and include collard greens stewed with BBQ pig ears and moonshine, a recommended choice which offers an acidic bite that complements the chicken. There is also a smoked cochon de lait boudin. Healthier eaters shall not despair – there is a smoked chicken salad sandwich as well as a farmhouse “Picnic Salad” you can protein up with chilled shrimp. The bar menu includes some well-considered wines and a short-list of crowd-pleasing cocktails, spanning the stoic Old Fashioned to a worldly Caipirinha.
Catering, takeout, and delivery are available, but at the end of the day it seems a meal here may best be enjoyed at their picnic table al fresco, with some cornhole to occupy the little ones while they wait for their food. In creating their concept these picnic pals have also created a destination.
MEET THE CHEF
Picnic Provisions boasts an A-List lineup of local culinary talent spearheaded by restauranteur Ti Martin of Commander’s Palace. Tory McPhail (executive chef of the same) tested many of the items on Picnic’s menu in the kitchen of Commander’s prior to opening. Pizza maven Darryl Reginelli, of the family-friendly and casual Reginelli’s Pizza, rounds out the trio. “The idea behind Picnic is that it is fine-dining when it comes to the quality of our ingredients while the setting is easygoing and fun,” says McPhail.
Picnic Provisions & Whiskey, 741 State St.; Uptown; 266-2810. L, D Mon-Sun. Nolapicnic.com.
Fried Chicken and all the Fixins
A world apart from Picnic is McHardy’s Chicken and Fixin’, a no-frills takeout spot on Broad that offers some amazing fried chicken and sides. Boxes are sized from 5 piece to 100 and sides include fried okra and dirty rice. They make for a good go-to option for picnics, as well but be sure to call ahead for larger orders.