New York, New York

October 2010 

Eataly, the new mega food and wine store on 23rd Street in Manhattan has definitely captured my attention since I’ve been there no less than three times since it opened a little over a month ago.  Yes, it’s big, it’s crowded and you have to wait in a line to get in.  Normally, the thought of waiting in line to get into a supermarket would have put me over the edge.  But this isn’t any old supermarket, this is virtually a temple to all things Italian as conceived and ultimately birthed by Mario Batali, Joe and Lidia Bastianich and Oscar Farinetti, the guy who established Eataly in the first place.

Eataly reminds me of some of the great food halls in Europe – two that come instantly to mind are Dallmayr and Käfer in Munich.  I was probably the only teenager growing up In Munich who would cut class not to smoke or do other unsavory things but to invariably visit these establishments and look at all the wonderful food that was on display.  Because of those adventures, Eataly reminds me quite a bit of shopping and eating in Europe .   (if anyone else cut class to go food shopping, kindly send me an email, I want to seriously talk to you.)

The first time I went to Eataly it was early enough on a Sunday morning (a tad after 11 a.m.) so there was no line to get in.  It was also more than a bit overwhelming looking at all that good food.  Consequently, I found myself simply walking around muttering, “oh, ah, oh, ah.”  Since it was a tad too early to eat or drink, we decided to come back later in the day.  Later in the day turned out to be closer to 3 p.m. and now there was a line to get in.  A line that ran down to Fifth Avenue no less and was easily a 30 minute wait.  We waited anyway. 

The first thing that greets you when you walk into Eataly is a fresh fruit and vegetable market.   I would think even the most die-hard meat eater would have to cave in and buy something after looking at all the bounty on display.  I ended up picking up some tiny French radishes, a net bag filled with baby brussel sprouts, some yellow pitty pat squash and a container of black mission figs. So as to not slow down the cashier line at the front of the store, they have a brilliant system in place that has someone right smack in the middle of this section weighing and slapping price tags on your fruits and vegetables. 

We then made our way over to the meat counter and looked at some of the more interesting things on display (namely rabbit in particular) as well as beautiful cuts of meat.  From the meat counter we went over to look at the fish, passing a fresh pasta counter along the way.  There’s also a staggering selection of cheeses including a separate area where someone’s sole task was to cut huge hunks of parmigiano reggiano from a large wheel.   There are also regular supermarket shelves but stocked with all things Italian — pasta, sauces, olive oil, vinegar, beans, artichokes, tuna.  In the refrigerated sections there are packages of thinly sliced prosciutto, roasted pork loin and salamis. But besides all of the different types of things to eat that you normally would be hard-pressed to find in even the most well-stocked Italian deli, there are no fewer than seven places to sit down and grab a bite to eat.

Want some pasta or pizza?  There’s a place for that.  Fish? That too.  A counter to stand at to grab a glass of wine and maybe some cheese and an assortment of smoked meats?  You got it.  What about the idea of making a meal solely around perfectly cooked vegetables?  Yep, it’s there.  What about a full service, sit down kind of place featuring grilled meat?  Manza would fit the bill nicely.  But here’s the thing, you can’t just plop yourself down at any one of these eateries and be served.  There are lines to snag a table at anyone of these places, too.  So not only do you have to wait to get inside Eataly, but once in, inevitably you’ll be waiting on a line to eat. 

The pizza and pasta lines were invariably the longest.  The vegetables-only eatery was the least crowded followed by the fish eatery.  We waited less than five minutes though to secure a table at the fish place whose wait staff somehow managed to walk in between tightly packed tables carrying platters of fried-to-perfection fritto misto, grilled sardines and whole cooked fish.  We ordered a bottle of wine to tune out the din of all the noisy shoppers around us and within a few minutes of being seated dug into a pile of perfectly fried pieces of assorted fish. 

After lunch, we headed over to the bakery section and picked up a loaf of Italian bread to eat with the mozzarella and prosciutto we had bought, then decided before we went home we’d get some gelato.  The gelato line was nearly as long as the line to get into Eataly.  We waited anyway and were rewarded with a delicious if somewhat pricey scoop of pistachio. (Gulp, nearly $4.00!)  

Driving home I realized how much I loved the idea of combining supermarket shopping with the chance to grab a bite to eat at the same time.  How revolutionary! How very European!  But as much as I loved shopping and eating there, I’m glad there isn’t an Eataly near where I live; I could easily blow a paycheck or two on all they had to offer.   Ultimately, the incredible assortment of high quality ingredients coupled with the sheer excitement factor of a new place to shop in Manhattan to eat well  is really sexy.  Mangia.  Bene.

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