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A First Look Inside Eataly Chicago

By Sarah Freeman  |  November 26, 2013
Credit: Nick Murway

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” If that's the case, then the Chicago outpost of Mario Batali’s Eataly, opening December 2, is the center of civilization. The 63,000-sq.-ft. space holds a bazaar's worth of imported and domestic Italian goods, from cheeses to chopping blocks, books to Bordeaux and pasta to produce.

The Chicago location of the Italy-based food market is dedicated to Hemingway himself. The esteemed author and infamous imbiber's quotes and photographs guide guests through the two-story space, which is filled with 23 unique eateries and 21 retail departments. Eataly commonly is referred to as a theme park for a reason, as the Italian superstore is more than just high-end retailers; it's an experience filled with bites to try, tidbits of knowledge to learn and, of course, 10,000 products to purchase.

Brought to Chicago by the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group as well as Adam and Alex Saper, this is the largest Eataly location to date (yes, it is bigger than New York City’s). It houses a brewery, bakery, multiple casual restaurants with floor-to-ceiling windows, grab-and-go dining options and a fine-dining restaurant, Baffo, scheduled to open December 10. Each concept within Eataly is outfitted with a walk-up counter, many of which have bar seating, as well as first-come, first-serve tables.

It's a lot to take in - sights, smells and flavors of appealing offerings are available at counter after counter. Check out some of the sights that await at Eataly Chicago, and then brave the crowds next Monday for the 4 PM grand opening.

43 E. Ohio St.; 312-321-5944

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Il Panino

    If the whole idea of this place slightly terrifies you, start by seeking out this sandwich station. As soon as you step inside, you are immediately greeted with a farmstand display of fresh vegetables - cashiers and dry goods on the left, and the answer to all of your prayers on the right. The grab-and-go sandwich spot is the solution for anyone who wants to experience Eataly's food but not its crowds. A daily selection of hot and cold meats can be quickly prepared on an Italian panino.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Il Gran Bar Lavazza and Caffè Vergnano

    Eataly boasts not one, but two coffee bars. On the ground floor, Il Gran Bar Lavazza offers a selection of espresso-based drinks and quality coffees. This large coffee bar serves the more traditional cappuccinos and coffees as well as several signature creations. Upstairs, Caffè Vergnano serves a more-special coffee experience. Modeled after the traditional Italian espresso bar, the stainless steel machine serves perfect espresso.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Nutella Bar e Il Gelato

    You heard rumors about the all-Nutella-all-the-time station, and they're true - and just steps from the entrance. The Nutella bar is bookended by shelves filled with the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread. It can be enjoyed in cannoli, crêpes and crostatinas. Adjacent to the hazelnut haven is the gelato bar with a selection of fresh flavors made in small batches as well as soft-serve gelato, a new addition unique to the Chicago store.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Piazza

    Everything from produce to pastries as well as a chocolate factory are on the first floor, but the second floor is reserved for specialty goods, from walls of meat to giant wheels of cheese. Welcoming guests to the culinary arena is the piazza - a wine bar that doubles as a central hub for all things Eataly. Modeled after an Italian city square, the circular bar is surrounded by high-top tables for munching on a quick bite.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Mozzarella

    This unassuming cheese station specializes in something very special: housemade mozzarella made in front of your very eyes. Pulled, stretched and shaped behind the safety of a glass window, the mozzarella lab prepares fresh creamy mozzarella for sampling, sale and use in all of Eataly’s restaurants and food stations.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Carne e La Macelleria

    The glistening selection of freshly butchered chops and cuts ranges from traditional steaks to more obscure offal offerings. All of Eataly’s meats are sustainable, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free and hormone-free. Take some home or let Eataly's chefs prepare it at the carne station. Meat-centric antipasti, lunch and dinner entrees are made to highlight Eataly’s meats from small, family farms.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Il Pesce e Le Pescheria

    The six-foot swordfish may not be a regular visitor, but Eataly’s seafood case will usually house a selection of local filets from Fortune Fish & Gourmet as well as whole fish imported fresh, never frozen. Again, a nearby cooking station uses fish selected by Eataly’s fishmonger. The seafood station serves the catch of the day roasted, grilled or fried. The nearby Fritto offers a wider assortment of lightly fried goods - another first for the Chicago location.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Il Crudo

    Conveniently located between the fish counter and the wine bar, the crudo bar serves freshly shucked oysters which can be enjoyed with a glass of bubbly. In addition to oysters, the open kitchen showcases how to prepare raw fish and garnish with rich olive oils, as well as add simple accents to bring out the delicate flavors of raw fish.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    I Salumi e I Formaggi

    Take home an entire wheel of cheese or log of imported cured meat from the oversized display. Offering both imported and local varieties, the gourmet selection ranges from Parmigiano-Reggiano to Grana Padano and prosciutto di parma to salumeria rosi. The same selection is served at the nearby counter where guests can snack on platters of cured meats and hand-selected cheeses with crusty bread and condiments.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Pizza

    Two copper-plated pizza ovens are cranking out Neapolitan-style pies at an alarming rate. Each pizza starts with dough using 100% stone-ground, organic flour. It is then hand-stretched and spun by a team taught by a world champion pizza-maker and is fired in the 900-degree wood-burning ovens for 90 seconds. Each pizza is topped with the same fresh mozzarella, meats and produce available throughout the store.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Pasta

    Mario Batali himself said that the pasta counter is the place to go for a quick dinner the way the Italians do it. Housemade pasta can be purchased by the portion; prepare it with a little bit of olive oil or a light sauce for the perfect simple supper. This station also includes a peek-a-boo window to watch the masters prepare fresh gnocchi, noodles and hand-cut strands. The nearby prepared pasta station serves signature pasta plates boiled fresh and finished in sauté pans on a flat-top griddle.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Focacceria

    Save room for bread. Eataly’s bakery makes a tempting selection of two to three thousand loaves of baked breads each day using traditional Italian techniques and styles. The highlight, of course, is the focaccia lightly sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil. There's also olive focaccia, stuffed focaccia, and focaccia with tomato sauce and mozzarella. The same olive oil is showcased in the adjacent olive oil grove, complete with an olive tree surrounded by shelves of imported oils.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Le Verdure

    Opposite of the bakery, neighboring the olive oil grove, is another station unique to the Chicago store. The farmstand-esque veggie bar is a haven of produce and seasonal favorites, while daily soup specials and bruschetta are a healthy alternative for both vegetarians and meat-eaters. It's operated by a vegetable butcher, whatever that means.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Vino Libero

    Directly translated to “Freed Wine,” Eataly’s wine bar is a multipurpose wine store, enoteca and aperitivo bar. Wine is available by the bottle or the glass; 13 featured wines are available on tap, poured from faux wood casks. The wine selection wraps around the front wall of the store, with 1,000 bottles of Italian wine divided by region.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    La Birreria

    Three brewers have come together to make Eataly's in-house brewpub. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Teo Musso of Birra Baladin and Leonardo di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo combined their international beer expertise to create four rotating ales. The brewpub has 12 beers on tap and at least one cask special. The opening beer is an American pale ale brewed with fresh thyme from the hills of Borgorose, Italy.