Eataly Chicago opened in December 2013 to tremendous fanfare. In fact, so much enthusiasm was generated in its first week that Eataly suddenly, and surprisingly, closed its doors for one day “in order preserve our standards of quality and service.” I had been looking forward to the addition of Eataly to Chicago’s already-incredible dining scene, but had decided to wait until after the holiday season to make my first visit, so as to try to avoid some of the crowds. I went for the first time just a couple of weeks ago with my five-year-old daughter, Lucia, for a lunch date with our friend, Pola aka Jetting Around. When we walked in and were immediately greeted by an Eataly staff member offering us a map of the place, I knew this was going to be no ordinary lunch date. We had arrived a bit early so Lucia and I got the lay of the land and set off to explore the two floors of Italian and local goodness.
My pre-conceived impression of Eataly was along the lines of “shop well, eat well, live well”, and that was immediately validated as my daughter and I began to browse Eataly’s lower level, starting at the produce market. The produce just LOOKS beautiful and there are items that one might not find at a conventional grocery store, like blood oranges and pomelos. As can be expected, there is an abundance of high quality Italian items, but Eataly also places much emphasis on locally-sourced products. Lucia and I continued on our tour of the first floor, which took us past the gelato counter and past the mother of all sweet treats, the Nutella bar. I thought Lucia might pass out from the sight of SO MUCH Nutella, and I promised her we’d return after lunch for dessert.
Pola arrived and we made our way upstairs to mangia at La Pizza & La Pasta. The three of us were seated promptly and my mind was made up as soon as I saw cacio e pepe on the menu. Lucia wanted “the cheese pizza like we had in Italy”, so I ordered the Verace for her, made with mozzarella di bufala from Napoli. Pleasantly stuffed from our delicious meal, we set off to hunt through the aisles of packaged dry pasta for the elusive pici, a type of pasta I have not been able to find outside of Italy. It took some time and some guidance from a knowledgeable Eataly employee, but we eventually located the pici! I’m not sure I can accurately describe how excited I am to know that I can now get pici whenever I want.
We spent three full hours in Eataly and still did not explore every section. Next time (because there will be many next times), I would like to become acquainted with la birreria (the brewery) and the seafood counter. But back to our initial visit… before we called it a day, Lucia and I enjoyed some gelato and pane con Nutella (housemade rustic bread with a healthy slathering of Nutella) and, as you can see, she absolutely enjoyed it.
TIP: There is valet parking available at Eataly for $14, or self-park in The Shops at North Bridge parking garage (10 E. Grand with access from Ohio-Grand-Wabash; $10 for up to three hours with validation from Eataly).
This article was originally published on Mommy Nearest.