The original Italian food emporium Eataly was born in Torino, Italy in 2007. The concept was to create a space where people can eat, buy and study all about the best Italian food. An homage to the great food and gastronomy of the country. The name itself is a bit strange. I get it – a combo of – Eat and Italy. Eataly. Clever, but it just sounds odd.
Weird name aside, the concept isn’t going away. In fact it has grown by leaps and bounds all over Italy – and beyond. There are now Eatalys in Bologna, Genova, Milan and Rome. And as a Slow Food supporter the idea really resonated with me.
I’ve visited the Eataly in New York City several times and I have to say I feel torn every time I go. Part of me thinks the prices and grand scale is an overblown Disneyland attempt at the original, catering mostly to tourists. And the set-up and design is confusing, a bit overwhelming, and not exactly user-friendly.
But, on the other hand, there are a few redeeming (and tasty) things I do like, which keep me going back. Here are things I like and I’ll provide some tips for how to “do Eataly”.
8 Things to Like About Eataly
1. The Concept
A place dedicated to all things Italian food – what’s not to love? The concept of being able to dine on almost anything, shop and get educated all in one spot is a good one. I’m especially fond of being able to move around and try different dishes at stations throughout like La Piazza (above), La Verdure, La Pizza and La Pasta or even just grab an arancino or slice of focaccia.
2. The Food Quality
Whether it’s pasta, vegetables, seafood, a mozzarella and salumi board, wood-fired pizza or a dessert treat, all of the food that I’ve tasted has been delicious and top quality. Cacio e pepe (pictured above) is a simple Roman dish, yet very hard to get just right. Eataly’s version was spot on.
3. The Selection of Italian Products
Mamma mia! You name it, Eataly has it. Cheese, fresh and dried pasta, rice and beans; olive oils, vinegars and condiments, espresso. I’ve never seen so many products straight from Italy in one spot. The dried pasta takes up an entire aisle! The selection is bar none.
4. The Birreria
The rooftop beer garden on top of the Eataly building is a gem. Good food, a relaxed and fun atmosphere and gorgeous views of the city and nearby Flat Iron Building. And the beer is tasty too!
5. Big Red
This shiny red workhorse gets me excited every time I see it! I liken it to the same feeling a car enthusiast would have at the site of a new red Ferrari. But since I’m a food-lover, it translates to prosciutto so thin you can see through it. Don’t let the transparency fool you – the salumi on offer melts in your mouth.
6. The Wine Pairings
Eataly highlights a different region of Italy every month (or so), and the wines from those regions are featured and paired with a cheese. This enables you to get a taste of something different and get a bit of education at the same time.
7. The Rosticceria
Nothing better than smelling and seeing crispy-skinned free-range chickens twirling around on a bar, dripping their juices on a bed of golden potatoes. Some selections change daily, and roasted potatoes, cannellini beans and greens all make perfect sides. You can even get these items to-go. Pork-lovers can rejoice – Porchetta is one of the offerings!
8. The Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
The gold-tiled pizza oven, brought in from Naples, is responsible for the tasty traditional Neapolitan-style pizza. That and the simple ingredients – fresh mozzarella, basil and San Marzano tomatoes. Thin, crisp and charred to perfection – that oven is worth its weight in gold.
> Want to see more mouth-watering photos of the food at Eataly? Click here to see a slideshow.
Tips on How to do Eataly
- Plan enough time. This place is huge and it will take you hours, maybe days, to see everything. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll make a ‘quick’ visit. Trust me – you won’t.
- Go hungry. Like ‘starve yourself all day’ hungry.
- Before you go, check the hours on the website. Each ‘area’ has its own hours.
- Maps with info were available on my first visit. Ask for one and use it.
- Do a walk through first. Then go back and decide what and where to eat. Do your shopping last. The set up isn’t conducive to placing a shopping basket next to you as you eat in an open area.
- The fresh produce looks amazing and will certainly entice you, but prices are high. Splurge only on hard to find fruits and veggies.
- Avoid buying staples like boxed Barilla pasta and opt for hard-to-find artisanal brands instead.
- Eataly always seems busy. To avoid crowds, try for a weekday afternoon. Avoid weekends if possible.
- Skip the fancy sit down restaurants and instead nosh your way through stations where you can sit at the bar, or stand (like at La Piazza). This gives the most variety.
- If you really want a sit down meal, try the Birreria – the rooftop views are worth at least double of what you’ll pay. Make a reservation.
- Buy authentic Italian products, imported from Italy, that you can’t find elsewhere. Try a new brand.
If you love Italian food, there is no doubt you should visit an Eataly. If not in Italy or New York City, there may be one coming to you soon. Rumor has it there are Eatalys planned for Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC.
Have you visited an Eataly? Would you visit one in Italy during your travels?