I’m a food tourist. I spend part of every vacation dragging my family to visit the local food markets and grocery stores.
Nothing in Paris makes me happier than the organic market on the Rue de Raspail, where I can happily ogle the goat cheeses for hours. And no trip to New York could be complete without at least one visit to Eataly, that awe-inspiring paean to Italian food (and Mario Batali).
So imagine my delight when I heard that Eataly was opening in Chicago, and that it was going to be even more humongous than the New York store. Second City no more!
I skipped the opening—I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment—and felt vindicated when I heard that lines were around the block. But truthfully, it was all I could think about until I finally made the pilgrimage. Yes, it’s a sickness. I’m aware.
So here’s my review: WOW.
It’s 63,000 square feet spread over two floors, with 650 employees providing service at the 23 restaurants and food counters. They are stocking nearly 10,000 different products, from imported Italian sodas and Prosecco to fresh focaccia and sweets made on premise.
My advice is to take a quick turn around the first floor to admire the Nutella counter (you heard me), the many flavors of house-made gelato, and the colorful rows of Italian pastries. Then head upstairs to get your eat on.
Eataly has everything you need, plus stuff you didn’t know you needed, but now desperately do. I defy you to find a better or deeper source for dried pasta, canned tomatoes and sauces, or Italian condiments (all housed on the second floor). There’s enough extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to fill a swimming pool. But it’s not just the range of packaged goods that astonishes here.
There’s La Focacceria, where you’ll discover crusty loaves of bread, thick slices of fresh focaccia topped with various cheeses, meats and roasted veggies, and all sorts of other goodies, like perfect butter cookies edged in poppy seeds.
Fresh fish and shellfish are stocked in abundance at the fishmonger counter; cured meats and cheeses beckon from open refrigerated shelves; gorgeous cuts of beef, pork and veal are displayed at the butcher; and 15 kinds of fresh pasta are made daily, right in front of you.
Looking for a restaurant? You’ve got options: La Carne, a 100-seat meat-centric restaurant; La Pizza & La Pasta, 200 seats available but the longest waits; Il Pesce, an 80-seat fish and seafood café; and Le Verdure, the 60-seat veggie paradise where we left our name and cell number and then wandered happily through the food wonderland until they texted us. No walls separate the restaurants from the general hubbub, so prepare to be surrounded by people shopping, gaping and chatting while you enjoy your veggies.
And enjoy them you will, if our meal was any barometer. We enjoyed the smoky Scarola Griglia ($14), grilled leaves of escarole and radicchio, the bitterness of the greens countered by a generous drizzle of unctuous balsamic vinegar, a light dusting of grated Pecorino Romano, pignoli and tiny, sweet currants.
We followed that up with a bowl of the toothsome Farrotto ($18), the nutty farro grain combined with chunks of winter squash, vegetable broth and, I’m guessing, a fair amount of butter in risotto-like fashion. The Gnocchi alla Romana ($19) was another winner, but be warned that Roman-style gnocchi are not the little potato pillows that you might expect, but a polenta-like disc made from semolina, here dotted with melty cheese and earthy, sautéed wild mushrooms.
Too excited to sit down (or, alternately, too hungry to wait for a table)? Grab a bite at La Piazza, where you can stand at a bar table and order from La Mozzarella (Eataly’s cheesemonger), Il Crudo (raw seafood bar), I Salumi e Formaggi (charcuterie and cheese plates) or Il Fritto (offering arancini and fritto misto). If you want a grab-and-go option, try La Rosticceria for their rotisserie chickens, roasted meats and veggies.
After you’ve eaten and/or shopped your way around the second floor, head downstairs to the Grand Bar Lavazza for a perfect espresso to accompany your Nutella crepe. Add a few Italian chocolate confections to your overflowing rolling basket and aim for the cashiers near the front door.
Don’t be dissuaded by the crowds, but it’s not a bad idea to aim for the middle of the week, rather than a Saturday when the tourist crowds are sure to descend. Though they had to close one day last week to restock and recover, Eataly is open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
43 E. Ohio St.