Promontory Point in Hyde Park (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
For many Chicagoans, the start of summer also marks the return of summer Fridays -- those glorious hours of freedom that help us tolerate our jobs the other nine months of the year. How it works varies by workplace, but typically -- beginning Memorial Day weekend and continuing through Labor Day weekend -- companies allow employees to put in a few extra hours Monday through Thursday in exchange for starting the weekend early every Friday or taking every other Friday off.
For those who firmly believe summer Fridays are a rare gift not to be squandered on errands, dentist appointments and other practical tasks, but to be celebrated with long lunches, picnics and beach-going, we've rounded up some great places for all of the above. And if your company doesn't offer this treasured perk, you've got the perfect excuse to take a staycation day.
LONG, LAZY LUNCHES
Say goodbye to grabbing a mediocre sandwich and eating it at your desk; you'll need the better part of the afternoon to enjoy the cocktails, outdoor spaces -- or both -- at these summer Friday-worthy spots that recently launched lunch service.
Baker & Nosh
1303 W. Wilson Ave. 773-989-7393
Come to this Uptown eatery for the flatbread pizzas ($6) and sandwiches on homemade bread ($6.50), and stay for the cozy outdoor garden and patio, complete with high tables, a grassy area with reclining chairs, and a trickling fountain sure to wash away the stress of the week. Stake out your spot and don't give it up; the patio and garden seat only about eight each. When it's finally time to call it a day, take some fresh herbs from the garden home with you to cook dinner, free of charge. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
1072 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-772-4322
Plant yourself at this West Town tavern's open-air beer garden and keep the cold ones coming. A solid beer list plays well the game-heavy menu featuring dishes such as duck sliders with pepper jack, avocado salsa and bacon ($9); smoked alligator ribs with Georgia peach barbecue sauce ($14, new this season); and llama meatballs (yes, you read that right) with smoked tomato sauce, gnocchi, whipped gouda and sage chimichurri ($14). Lunch is served 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
151 W. Erie St. 312-274-1111
Already popular with the dinner and late-night crowds, this Spanish-inspired restaurant and lounge launched lunch service in March. Snack on small plates of hamachi crudo ($11) and lamb sausage bocadillos (small sandwiches, $8) while sipping on cocktails such as the Booty Collins, a mix of green tea-infused vodka, passion fruit and lemon juice with a hit of cayenne. Not in the mood for a three-drink lunch? Try a grape, orange or ginger-chili house-made soda instead. Fifteen tables set along the sidewalk promise prime people-watching. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; reservations recommended.
PICNICS IN THE PARK
Nothing says summer like a picnic, and nothing says picnic like having someone else do the cooking for you. These recently opened spots are happy to oblige. Reminder: Chicago Park District parks are picnic- but not booze-friendly, so BYOB at your own risk.
5491 S. Lake Shore Drive
Before setting up camp at Burnham Park's Promontory Point, a hidden gem with green meadows and skyline views, get your goods at Zaleski & Horvath (1323 E. 57th St. 773-538-7372. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.). The Hyde Park market offers cold, hot and grilled sandwiches, including The Godfather (prosciutto, mozzarella, greens, basil and roasted tomato, $7.50), A Little Pecorino (house-roasted turkey, roasted tomato and red peppers, pecorino and pesto, $7.50), and Down on the Farm (goat cheese, red pepper spread, carrots, raisins, greens and honey mustard, $7.25). Call ahead and they'll even put together a picnic platter loaded with cheese, charcuterie, olives and roasted vegetables.
Lakeshore East Park
411 E. Benton Place
On the way to Lakeshore East Park, a six-acre sanctuary that's just north of Millennium Park but far removed from the crowds, swing by the Toni Patisserie & Cafe (65 E. Washington St. 312-726-2020. Open 8 a.m.-7 p.m.). Starting June 3, the French bakery will offer picnic lunches for two that include a half sandwich or side salad, chips or baguette, bottled drink and brownie or cookie for each person ($23.95). Sandwich options include the Le Breton (ham, salted butter and gruyere) and Le Vegetarien (white bean hummus, roasted red peppers, baby spinach and tomato vinaigrette). The rest of the menu -- including cheese, charcuterie and fruit plates -- is also available for carry-out.