To put it mildly, New York exports do not have a good track record in Chicago, as the recent closing of BLT American Brasserie demonstrates. So why are we so excited about Eataly— as in our story yesterday of their reported choice of location (the former ESPN Zone)? Well for one, Eataly’s concept seems much more exportable than many, being as much retail as dining. But beyond that, Mario Batali’s and Joe Bastianich’s Ikea of Italian food-slash-Italian food court simply raises the bar for quality Italian ingredients in every category you can think of, and its various restaurants would each be, if not the absolute best of their type in town, at least worthy contenders that would add a first-class choice to their category and especially to an area where thousands work and eat out every day. There’s no telling how precisely the New York Eataly will predict what the Chicago one will be like, but we assume they’re not coming to town to dumb it down, either, and that most of what is working in New York will be replicated here. So come with us on a tour of the New York edition of Eataly in the Flatiron District, and start getting hungry for ours when it comes, most likely sometime early next year.
The first thing you see as you enter from Fifth Avenue is a Lavazza coffee stand, followed by pastry and chocolate counters… and an Italian tourism display.
At least in New York, there’s no point from which you can get a visual overview of the entire store. Instead you keep turning corners and discovering sections filled with artisanal products of different types, such as artisanal cheeses.
A deli counter slicing charcuterie.
A counter offering fresh housemade pastas.
A bakery with Roman-style sheet pizze and breads.
A small produce section, well-focused on seasonal items widely used in Italian cooking.
Shelf-stable goods are around the perimeter, such as this diverse and impressive olive oil section.
A small display of housewares makes a statement on contemporary Italian design.
On this Saturday, however, more of the customers seem interested in the restaurant-style offerings, of which there are many.
There are a number of counters where you can order food of a particular type— this one is all vegetable-based dishes such as artichoke fritti, seared escarole or risotto.
Others are sitdown restaurants on a particular theme, such as this pizzeria.
There’s even a rooftop beer garden.
The dining options seem to have been an instant hit with all ages.