In just five days, the new, massive Italian food market Eataly opens, transporting shoppers on an authentic Italian shopping experience unparalleled in the Midwest. Located at 43 E. Ohio Avenue, and boasting 63,000 square feet, will offer imported and artisanally produced local food products, presented in an authentic European-style market featuring a highly trained staff specializing in their craft; you can meet the bakers who produce the rustic, authentic loaves stacked neatly in rows; the butchers proudly display their meats and sausages; and the cheese specialists are happy to discuss their hand-made mozzarella and imported Italian cheeses while the knowledgeable Sommelieri are eager to recommend the perfect wine to pull it all together.
Together with partners Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich; Mario Batali has created something special for Chicagoans. Having lived in Europe for a few years, I can attest to the authenticity of this style of shopping; in the cities and small villages across central Europe, this is the way most people buy their food. You get to know your grocer; and they get to know you. What you like, what you don’t, and when to alert you to newly arrived specialties that are not to be missed. The Eataly experience is modeled on this concept, and in fact is based on the legendary open-air market Campo de Fiori in central Rome. With eleven locations across Italy, four in Japan, and one in New York City, Eataly celebrates its newest location in downtown Chicago.
I recently attended the press preview of Eataly Chicago, and I was thoroughly impressed with the variety of products and the attention to detail. As Chef Mario Batali explains, the Chicago location is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, an Oak Park native, who spent a considerable time in Veneto, Italy. While living there from 1918-1954, Hemingway developed a great love of Italian wine and cuisine, and Eataly commemorates his life in Italy with photos of the author displayed prominently throughout the second floor. Chef Batali hopes to inspire a similar love of Italian food among Chicagoans by offering authentic Italian ingredients in an authentic market setting. “We cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook; and when you taste something here, we want you to know, that you can make it yourself at home” says Chef Batali. “Our customers love that at the end of the day, when they walk out of Eataly, they haven’t spend more than they would have at their normal grocery store.”
Compared to the New York location; Eataly Chicago is larger, offers more restaurants, and sells wine throughout the market, whereas in Eataly New York, the wine area is separate from the main shopping areas, according to New York state law.
At Eataly Chicago, you will find 21 counters offering cured and fresh meats, fresh seafood, cheese, bakery, and pastry. There are also two coffee bars and a wonderful Nutella counter. I recommend grabbing a slice of the wonderfully rustic, golden housemade ciabatta with a smear of Nutella, you will love it. They also serve the legendary fried Italian donuts Zeppole, crepes, muffins, and more, all available with Nutella spread. At the next counter, a soft-serve Gelateria (L’ait) serves up some of the best sweet cream and hazelnut gelato I’ve had since traveling in Italy.
There are 23 eateries throughout Eataly to accommodate every taste; at the Fritto bar (Italian fried foods) you can enjoy traditional Roman Arancini, fried calamari, and breaded vegetables. A pizza bar that specializes in not New York pizza, not Chicago pizza, but real, authentic Napoli pizza. Every fresh, hand-made pizza bakes in the wood-burning oven in just 90 seconds. There are also specialty meat, fish, vegetable and pasta eateries, not to mention a fine-dining restaurant. And be sure not to miss the Birrieria, Eataly’s own brewery for a glass of traditional or specialty Italian style beer. I especially enjoyed the Vino bar offering kegged Italian varietals and some of the best wines of Italy ready to savor. I had the opportunity to sample a few of them; the outstanding Barolo was my favorite. At Eataly, guests are encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine as they shop, and you will find pairing suggestions at each of the specialty counters. And the by-the-glass wine selection offers 50 to 60 wines which change weekly!
It is interesting to note that at Eataly, you will find everything arranged as in a Concerto with mini-restaurants integrated among the various food counters. Have you ever said “Wow, this tortellini is delicious! I wish I knew where I could find it!” That’s the beauty of Eataly. Everything you enjoy is available just a few steps away, from hand-squeezed mozzarella to Prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele from Salumeria Rosi and prosciutto cotto from Parmacotto; they are located just steps away from Piazza (a standup bar) that nicely pairs these ingredients together. Next to the fresh pasta, there is a pasta eatery. And with a mixture of local and imported ingredients throughout the store you are able to find exactly what you are looking for and much more.
The fine dining restaurant, Baffo, is set to open on December 10th and it will be similar to Batali’s New York City eatery, Babbo, offering seasonal food and an extensive wine list. Think this store is “too gourmet”? Not sure how to use the products or ingredients? Don’t have much experience cooking? Not a problem! Classes on technique and guest lectures on wine, beer, and pasta will teach people the history of their foods and how to prepare and serve them! They will also demonstrate recipes assembled entirely from Eataly’s stock. So, write it on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor, or note it in your calendar; just don’t miss the opening of Eataly on Monday, December 2 at 4pm, at 42 E. Ohio street. By the way, Mario highly recommends the Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese), in case you have trouble deciding where to start.