Eataly a must-stop for Chicago food lovers

Eataly is barely a month old, but with two dozen eating options, spread over 63,000 square feet already, it is becoming a must-stop on every food lovers' tour of Chicago.
January 4, 2014 8:40:05 PM PST
The fishmongers are happy to tell you about the farm-raised hamachi they get from Japan, and the produce expert is just giddy about the fruit and mushroom varieties he's bringing to River North. The two-story complex is huge - and packs in a bakery, pasta shop and butcher, but a lot of the items are also imported.

"We bring a lot of stuff from Italy, then we use a lot of local producers in meat and fish and cheese and dairy and vegetables and we make it all still feel very true to the Italian ideal but we hire Chicagoans; we expect the store to be filled with Chicagoans," said chef and restaurateur Mario Batali.

Batali and his partners - Joe and Lidia Bastianich - want customers to feel as if they've stumbled into a mini-Italian village; albeit one stocked with a cheese counter that rivals the largest and most extensive in Chicago.

"This is more like going to a town, then it is like going to a giant big box store. So you'll feel like you're in the butcher shop and you'll feel like you're in the pesce vendalo, then you'll feel like you're in the enoteca or the wine store; then you can go meet the brewer, then you can go talk to the baker. It's a different feel. It's not a giant store with anonymous people in it," he said.

Those people are pretty well-trained too, answering all sorts of questions about ingredients and technique. There are lots of cooking gadgets and household items that support Italian cooking, also, a range of goods that are only available here, thanks to our location.

"We produce 70 percent of what we sell, and we utilize local products to do that. In the Midwest, such a great hub for great products," said Lidia Bastianich.

And if you have a sweet tooth, you can really do some damage down here on the first floor, next to the checkout. Try one of these nougats - the pistachio, highly addictive and delicious - or, show your bank account and your Italian pride with a $70 chocolate bar.

There are now eight restaurants inside Eataly, but just one of them, for fine-dining, takes reservations.

Eataly 43 E. Ohio St.
Open Mon - Sun., 10 am - 11 pm

Parking (with a $20 Eataly purchase):
Garage at 10 E. Grand Ave. (The Shops at North Bridge)
0 - 60 min.: Free
61 min. - 3 hours: $10
3 hours or more: regular prices