Eataly officially opened on December 2, with fine dining Baffo to open some weeks hence. It's dedicated, somewhat unpredictably, to Oak Parker Ernest Hemingway, who spent more time in Italy than I'd realized. Apparently, he liked it there.
The Hemingway quote – "The more you know, the more you enjoy" – is apt: this store is an education-by-immersion in Italian foodways.
Supporting this educational effort are 24 of what the promotional literature describes as "eateries" (a hateful-sounding word, though I get it: restaurants, bars, stations), 10,000 products, and a "vegetable butcher" (I do not know what this is, but I'm sure I'll learn along with everyone else).
Eataly is immense, a little overwhelming, gorgeous and, ironically, right across the street from Uno's, whose half-extinguished neon sign gazed somewhat sadly at its new neighbor.
There are quite a few Eataly locations. Chicago is the second in the U.S. (after New York, of course).
There's wine, including a number from Joe Bastianich, a partner in Eataly with Lidia and Mario Batali.
Batali explained "This is one giant bar so people will have a drink and shop better." That is a somewhat self-deprecating assessment, though there are lots and lots of shelves of stuff to buy, and some shelves were still being stocked as we walked through.
There's a food court with counter after counter of fantastic-looking ready-to-eat food.
Batali stressed, though, that the idea is that this should all inspire the home cook: "When you taste something here, we want you to know you can make it." Honestly, I'd rather have these guys do it.
We stopped in one night around 9PM (it's open until 11PM). Lines were short, but the place was still pretty crowded: many tables filled with people eating pizza, charcuterie, etc. from various vendors. Kind of like an indoor street fair.
Produce was looking gorgeous and, somewhat surprisingly, the pricing was very reasonable on some items. There's definitely ways to spend thousands of dollars here, but if you're shopping for basics, it seems you will not be gouged.
A point that should be stressed is that Eataly buyers are making an effort here to source a lot of stuff locally from small producers. Scrumptious Pantry, owned and operated by Chicagoan Lee Greene, has its own rack of products, which is very encouraging.
Lidia Bastianich is about as nice an Italian lady as I've ever met. Surprisingly, she said 70% of the food served at Eataly is sourced domestically.
We also talked about Uno's and the New York-Chicago pizza "controversy" fueled by Jon Stewart. Bastianich, with what I'm guessing is characteristic graciousness, said "I like Chicago deep-dish. It feels good in the mouth. We have something very similar in Sicily: sfincione."
Like I said, it's going to be an education, and a tasty one.