Tips for Exploring Chicago's Eataly

by Blagica Bottigliero

My, my, it's been quite some time since I wrote. Leave it to the Saturday night excursion at Eataly Chicago to bring out the writer in me. I kid (kind of). This post is also to help you navigate the ins and outs the Batali/Bastianich Italian treasure of awesome.

I'm not going to tell you about 'what' Eataly is. You are visiting this post because you either know what it is or heard of it. You can gingerly visit the Eataly site for more details. Now, let's get to the how-to of visiting.

If you aren't taking public transit or a cab, you can drive. Parking at the 10 E. Grand Avenue (The Shops at North Bridge) garage is FREE for the first hour if you spend $20 within Eataly's monstrous, glorious walls. After that, parking for 1-3 hours is $10.  My husband snagged a rare gem of a parking spot on State St. so we walked. If you do decide to drive, I recommend the garage.  You are almost guaranteed to spend $20. Here's why...

Navigating Eataly may seem daunting at first, but you'll get over that once you see the space.  Upon entering, a well dressed door man/guard will direct you to the right.  The massive coffee bar and Nutella bar (separate) smack you in the face.  On the other side of the wall, an endless row of pastries and gelatos sit in front of Eataly workers, eager to get you started with a $3.80 gelato (that's the cheapest scoop...a Hazelnut Cookie/Nutella sandwich will run you close to $ espresso at the downstairs coffee bar is $2.80).  The prices won't phase you.

Your mouth will be agape as you look at the choice of white space, design and presentation. The rest of the first floor includes a marketplace (fruits, veggies, pasts, kitchen gadgets, etc.) and the checkout lanes. The middle of the first floor includes a handy dandy guest relations area. Now, to the second floor.

In the words of my husband, 'Santa Maria!' That's what he said when the elevator doors open and we poured out of the second floor. This was a Saturday night. Around 9 pm. The place was PACKED. Here is how the 2nd floor is setup:

The middle has what you would equate as 'high top' seating near a bar.  This is a casual spot to have some wine, eat bread and cheese, people watch, etc. We ordered a few glasses of wine and walked around with them (smart move, Mario). One corner of the upstairs is a beer/wine nook. Another part has a sit down restaurant, Carne.  I noticed some other ad-hoc benches/tables rolled up to counters. Smart. So imagine going to the Cheese Guy and hanging around and actually eating the cheese at the same time.  

From pastas to meats to cheeses, the second floor of Eataly has a slew of options for getting exactly what your Italian loving heart desires. We picked up some cheese and Michael decided to get some brandy from his birth year (see what I mean...walking around with alcohol and ooh and aahing around food makes the wallet jump out of the pocket easier). Oh, but there is more.

There is a casual pizza/pasta 'space'. It's not really a restaurant, but moreso a mini interior 'piazza' where you can sit down and enjoy some quality casual fare. Note, no reservations.  Other highlights of Eataly's second floor include a massive wine section, baby products, bakery, book store, butcher, vegetarian restaurant, beauty lotions and another high end coffee experience. It's amazing.  

On our way out, I asked about baby changing stations. I was told those are on the second floor as well. Bonus.   

What can I say? There are definitely some premiums as it relates to pricing, however, Eataly Chicago is a game changer. As a woman married to a bonafide Napolitano guy, Eataly passed the test - and then some.

Another interesting tidbit? Eataly is open EVERY day from 8 am to 11 pm - including Sundays. With the location in the cross section of Chicago's River North gem + tourist artery, Eataly should do well. 

And yes, I hope to have the majority of my future date nights there.