The Hungry Wanderer: Eataly, NYCMarch 23, 2019
When I visited New York City a year and half ago, I knew there was one place I couldn’t miss. It wasn’t the Statue of Liberty, or Times Square, or even the Metropolitan Museum of Art. No, to me, it was all about Eataly.
Eataly has 9 restaurants, a beer bar, 2 cafés, a butcher, a fish monger, a fresh produce section, a bakery, and a gelateria.
Who wouldn’t want to visit forty thousand square feet dedicated to nothing but Italian food? It has nine restaurants (including a beer bar), two cafés, a butcher, a fish monger, a fresh produce section, a bakery, and a gelateria squeezed into what is, essentially, a supermarket of Italian food. If that doesn’t make you even a little curious (not to mention hungry), then I don’t think we can be friends.
As amazing as Eataly sounds, though, I tried my best to temper my expectations. Rare is the thing that is as good as it seems. The last thing I wanted was to hype up Eataly in my mind, only to walk away disappointed when it fails to meet the standards I set for it. I prepared myself. I was ready to fight through the crowds, to endure long waits just for a seat in one of the restaurants, and to get shocked at the expensive prices. It’s a good thing I did too, because Eataly lived up to its reputation, both the good and the bad.
Even with all that space, with everything Mario Batali, Lidia and Joe Bastianich and their partners tried to fit into it, Eataly is still cramped. And that’s without any people. A crowded supermarket is bad enough, but the addition of tourists on holiday makes for an absolutely chaotic Eataly. You get parents maneuvering double strollers through the crowd, tourist groups blocking off entire aisles, and people slowly walking around, staring at the merchandise with their mouths hanging open (I would of course be in the last group). Add that to the people who are actually shopping in Eataly with their carts and huge shopping totes, and I understood why a lot of locals only go to Eataly when they absolutely have to, and get out as quickly as they can.
Eataly is the go-to source in NYC for anything you would need to cook Italian cuisine.
But they still go. Even if it means risking being run over by stroller or having their ankles crash into an errant shopping cart, they still show up when they really have to. This is because Eataly is the go-to source for anything you would need to cook Italian cuisine. Even the air, heavy with the scent of basil, smells Italian. It has the largest selection of charcuterie that I have ever seen under one roof, and an array of cheeses that could rival any major Parisian cheese shop.
I can’t imagine anything Italian that they don’t have.
There were rows upon rows of dry pasta in shapes I’d never seen before. I found tiny bottles of balsamic vinegar more expensive than full-sized bottles of wine, and a few bottles of quality olive oil too. If you prefer fresh pasta, they have a section dedicated to just that, as well as a floor to ceiling wall of Italian ground coffee. I can’t imagine anything Italian that they don’t have.
Ogling the aisles and display cases was tiring work, and we quickly grew hungry. It only got worse as we tried to decide where to eat. My friend and I briefly considered La Piazza for cheese and charcuterie, but the location proved problematic, located as it was in the middle of the compound where everyone passed through.
We also wanted something more substantial. Our second option was The Rotisserie, for sandwiches with either porchetta or grilled chicken. Too bad having sandwiches during my first visit to Eataly just didn’t seem right. In the end, we went for the most predictable option of them all, La Pizza & La Pasta.
Our food was predictable, yet absolutely delicious. Of the two pizzas I had in NYC (the other one will remain unnamed), this was the better of the two. Topped with basil, mozzarella, and prosciutto, it’s the best of Italy on a crust that’s crispy on the edges, and still a little chewy in the middle. It was perfect in every way.
Unfortunately we didn’t try any of la pasta, despite the friendly server’s insistence that we could manage a pizza and a huge platter of noodles. We wanted to save room for dessert, anyway. We skipped the pastries and made a beeline for the gelato. I had a scoop of the salted caramel. While I usually prefer my salted caramel flavor to be bolder, I surprisingly liked this more muted interpretation too. The balance of salty and sweet was on point and still came through the milkiness of the cream base.
It’s an amazing experience to be surrounded by so much wonderful food.
Lunch and some mozzarella were the only things I had to show for more than two hours spent in Eataly, but I still think it was time well spent. Even if I really didn’t have anything that I needed to buy, or even the budget to buy a lot of the things that piqued my interest, I had a wonderful time just walking down the aisles. I hardly knew what to look at or what to pick up. It’s an amazing experience to be surrounded by so much wonderful food (even if you’re not necessarily eating it). Just being there gave me a warm, buzz All the delicious possibilities made me so excited, much like when I step into a bookstore, only closer to my stomach. For that feeling alone, Eataly is worth the visit, chaos notwithstanding. If that doesn’t convince you, the pizza is quite excellent, too.