It may be tempting at times to criticize Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, the creators of a nearly global restaurant empire comprising two dozen establishments. However, any qualms that consumers might have about them tend to fade when confronted with their magnum opus, the Eataly market in Manhattan.
Calling Eataly a food market is roughly equivalent to describing a dinosaur as a lizard. Located at 5th Avenue and 23rd St. in the Flatiron district, it sprawls over an entire city block and more than 50,000 square feet of space. The place is more accurately a shrine to quality Italian food products of all sorts. The concept was originated by Oscar Farinetti, the largest electronics retailer in Italy, who opened his first market in Turin in 2007. There are now 11 locations throughout the country, as well as Istanbul, Japan and Dubai. The American operation was fueled by Mario Batali’s star power and the organizational talent of the Bastianich family; the New York location is celebrating its fourth anniversary, and a Chicago market opened last December.
Craving summer truffles, 100 varieties of fresh pasta, or every possible form of prosciutto, seafood, bread or imported cheese? Eataly has it all, along with seven restaurants, a cooking school, a Nutella bar, several wine bars and a retail wine shop. Vegetarians need not fret: There’s a vegetable butcher on the premises who will wash and cut your produce to your specifications. A first-time visitor could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon wandering through the place and not see everything.
Eataly’s manifesto invites consumers “to be active participants in an innovative food and beverage experience,” and one glance around the market on a weekend shows how well they have succeeded. The massive space is filled with New Yorkers who are relaxing, socializing with friends, sipping a glass of wine or dining at one of the food counters. The experience is helped along by the friendly and accommodating staff---Eataly “ambassadors” who seemed informed on every aspect of the operation. The Medieval market in the town square has met the global village, and everyone seems happy.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012); his second book, Moonshine Nation, has just been released by Lyons Press. For more information, go to amazon.com