The night before I left Chicago to go home for Christmas, a friend and I went to the Loop to check out the brand new Eataly– a multileveled, high-quality food wonderland that drew so much attention among New Yorkers on the outskirts of Manhattan, founder Oscar Farinetti decided to bring his model west to the Windy City. (Oddly enough, a large poster by the front door announces that the store is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, an Illinois native who also shared a large appreciation for Italy’s land and cuisine. A subtle tactic to reel in Chicago’s hip, young, and classic-literature inclined? Being the cynical skeptic I am, I think yes.)
For those that prefer to sit down and be served (and can afford $15 salads), there are two restaurants. But most come for Eataly’s various open markets and tasting bars – bread, beef, fish, poultry, chocolate, gelato, dessert pastries, cheese, wine, coffee, and probably some more hiding in the corners. There’s even a Nutella bar where chocolately-hazelnut goodness is scooped from jars the size of basketballs into crepes and cream puffs and brioches.
Needless to say, this was at first awfully overwhelming. After coming to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t be smooching any wine off one of the suit-and-tie-yuppies walking around with half empty glasses, the two of us wandered through the crowd (SO MANY YUPPIES) to examine our options for food (SO MANY OPTIONS). Brick oven pizza? Roast beef sandwiches? Do we skip right to the Nutella bar?
When we eventually ran into the cheese counter, a large, rounded case with stacks and stacks of wheels and wedges of every kind of cheese of every kind of milk-bearing animal, I began to geek out. FINALLY after interning in an independent wine, cheese, and charcuterie shop as a cheesemonger all summer, I would be able to showcase my (arguably) useful skills in cheese identification, verbal description, and pairing. We ended up purchasing a soft, cow-milk cheese from the case (one of the few that wasn’t $70/ lb), a small, pre-wrapped, leftover nub of provolone, an artisan baguette (after sampling every other kind of bread available), and a small jar of fig jam.
We found two empty stools at a bar along one of the glass walls that overlooks Wabash and dug into our feast. Literally. Passing the bread back and forth, we tore off large chunks of sweet-smelling dough, crumbs flying everywhere. Using plastic knives, we liberally covered the bread with jam and pieces of cheese. Paired with swigs of grapefruit San Pellegrino (oh to be twenty-one…), it was a highly satisfying and fulfilling meal, despite its simplicity (or, more likely, because of its simplicity).
After I said the word yuppie for about the 493rd time since we walked into the market (as evident by the previous paragraphs), I asked my friend if it was pretentious to like this kind of food (and to freak out at the sight of overpriced cheese). Being the genius she is, my friend said,
“It’s only pretentious if you’re eating nice food just to say that you are eating nice food. It’s not pretentious if you genuinely enjoy its taste and appreciate where it’s come from.”
To which my response was,
We then proceeded to end our Eataly experience with a gigantic crepe overflowing with warm Nutella, licking our fingers and promising we’d never become a “twenty-something.”
Despite my mockery, I really did enjoy Eataly and will shamelessly be stopping by again this winter, if only for a Lavazza coffee. (Honestly, my biggest complaint would be the One Direction and Demi Lovato hits softly playing from ceiling speakers. General rule of thumb: don’t play teen pop sensations where you sell $3oo bottles of wine).
I recommend that you stroll through and draw your own conclusions. And I mean, come on, can you really resist an open Nutella bar?
43 East Ohio Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Your Ernest Hemmingway-loving-almost-yuppie,