Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Favorite Things: Eataly Chicago & Lavazza Cafe

If you live in Chicago and pay any attention at all to the media, you likely know that Eataly Chicago opened this week. After visiting the Eataly in New York City a handful of times, I  have been anxiously awaiting the opening of this Italian food mecca here in the Windy City and can safely say that it exceeded my expectations!


Eataly officially opened to the public at 4 pm on Monday, but I had the pleasure of attending the official pre-opening party earlier that afternoon as a guest of Lavazza. Lavazza is a fabulous purveyor of high quality coffee that was born in Turin, Italy way back in 1895. Being rooted in both quality and Italian culture, Lavazza is a natural partner for an upscale market like Eataly. In the Chicago location, Lavazza Café has found a sleek and modern home right on the main floor of Eataly-- they have a spacious corner of the store with bar seating, cafe tables, and a traditional standing room-only coffee bar. It's the perfect location for catching up with friends over a latte or grabbing a quick espresso at the bar after taking a little break from Magnificent Mile shopping.


I sampled a cappucino during my visit and everything about it was perfect-- right down to the heart-shaped foam! Ordering at the bustling counter and watching the baristos work, followed by sipping while standing up at the counter made me feel like I was back in the coffee bars of Florence. Sigh. I think I will be coming back often!


I should also mention that Eataly was founded in Italy by Oscar Farinetti, but gained traction in the US thanks to the celebrity chefs and restauranteurs behind the New York and Chicago stores: Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianic, and Mario Batali. When I caught the three of them mingling at the Lavazza Cafe bar (pictured above) I was definitely starstruck to be so physically close to them. And by the way, I found them to be incredibly kind and gracious people at the event. Bravo, chefs!


Eataly Chicago is also home to several specialty food counters and kiosks. Unique to this store is the Nutella bar. Yes, that's correct. A Nutella bar, where they serve a variety of foods made with and/or dipped in the most delicious spread on earth.


Eataly Chicago is a little different in design than its New York City counterpart: over 10,000 square feet larger and also two stories, which-- in my opinion-- felt better organized. The ground floor houses more of the "grab and go"items like general groceries, pastries, the Lavazza Cafe, and gelateria.


The second floor is even more spacious and is home to even more specialty counters, cafes, and shopping. It is all organized around La Piazza: A gathering space where you can enjoy small plates, drinks, and socializing... just like a traditional Italian piazza.


The products in the fish and meat counters looked fresh and amazing. And the cheeses and salumi that I sampled were so delicious. I can't wait to come back and do some actual grocery shopping-- I've got my eyes on that fish (good seafood is hard to come by in Chicago!) and the amazing selection of fresh pastas. How unbelievable do they look?!


The small cafes within Eataly each specialize in a different kind of food, so there is something for everyone: Le Verdure serves vegetable-based dishes, Il Pesce specializes in fish, and at La Pizza you can watch these guys in action stretching dough and crafting pizzas by hand in these gorgeous gold ovens.


So, if it isn't obvious to you I will just say it: I'm completely in love with Eataly!

I can't wait to come back and eat my way through each of the restaurants here-- or to meet Alex after work for a drink at the Birreria. Eataly will also soon be home to Baffo, an upscale sister restaurant to chef Mario Batali's Babbo in New York City.


Eataly is located at 43 East Ohio Street in downtown Chicago. Eataly on Urbanspoon

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