Can the opening of an Italian food mecca spur a Renaissance? After this year, we could use one and the opening of Eataly, a 46,000 square-foot temple of Italian food, might launch a rebirth that will enlighten the remainder of 2020 and illuminate 2021 and beyond. From the birthplace of ballet, banking and batteries comes Eataly, a place where you can eat, shop, and learn your way through Italy without boarding a plane.
After media previews of the long-awaited opening of Eataly at NorthPark Center have drawn a crescendo of praise more powerful than a Puccini aria, the doors opened to the public Wednesday.
The colossal museum of Italian food and culture is the 8th location in North America and joins 32 others around the globe, most of them in Italy. The store contains more than 10,000 products, Italian and local, three in-house restaurants, and a scuola di cucina, a cooking school that is virtual for now.
The founders of Eataly ask us to do three things: Eat, Shop, Learn. (And for now, they also ask us to mask up, social distance in the store, keep our hands sanitized and to not feel like you need rush there on Day 1. “We’re not going to run out of food,” said Nicola Farinetti in a video message sent to the media.
Like a museum, there are so many things to take in at Eataly and you might want to plan for several visits that focus on certain food groups. Think of it as experiencing specific galleries that each feature a different type of art, rather than covering the entire museum at once.
There are hundreds of dried pastas, sauces, olives oils, spices, condiments, and packaged breads and crackers in one, sprawling magnificently merchandised section. Within the pantry section alone, there are rows and rows of tomato products, truffle products, and antipasto ingredients such as jarred olives, peppers, and fish.
The very best canned tuna I’ve ever tasted is As do Mar Solid Ventrasca Tuna Belly and, of course, Eataly has it. Among the imported items, you will find local favorites including tortillas from La Nortena and salsa – they know us so well. I spied a few jars of my favorite peanut butter from New Zealand, Fix & Fogg, so I can fathom Eataly being part of my weekly grocery shopping cycle.
There’s a lot of fresh here. The Boedecker entrance greets you with a colorful display of fruits and vegetables that are, in typical Dallas fashion, unusually attractive. The selection will be further developed to include seasonal items such as Hatch Chiles and local peaches. As you wind through the store, you’ll see fresh-made pasta with eggs from Sturdivant Farms in Alvin, Texas, fresh baked goods, freshly prepared ready-to-eat items from a market counter and grab-and-go meals prepared daily. The in-store fish market and butcher shops are filled with fresh.
Meat and Fish
I recently conducted an online survey asking those who have visited Eataly in other markets what they most love about the store and what they most look forward to when it opens in Dallas. Many respondents said they most looked forward to bringing home the fresh seafood, meats, and cheeses that they couldn’t bring home on a plane. Problem solved, friends.
The seafood shop here is swimming with choices for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian Christmas feast. Mollusks are well represented and the clams are just begging for their Eataly neighbors, fresh pasta and imported parmesan, to be comingled in a linguine and clam sauce.
The butcher shop is loaded with beef from three local ranches: Cobb Creek Farm; A Bar N Ranch and Hudson Meat Market, and features cuts of beef important to Texans, brisket and ribs. It also serves cuts aligned with Italian cuisine such as porterhouse, the same cut as Steak Fiorentina.
Eataly also sells dry-aged beef in the forms of Tomahawks, porterhouse, New York strips and ribeyes, as well as cryovaced briskets, strips and more. There is an abundance of pre-sliced and pre-packaged cured meats adjacent to the butcher shop and I can see it will be a challenge to just buy one or two, there are so many wonderful choices. While you’re in that section, you can also grab some refrigerated queso and pimento cheese. Because, Texas and all.
The Salumi and Formaggi market is where you’ll find the prosciutto, mortadella and saleme you need for your antipasto platter. Have you ever returned from a trip to Italy or France and asked by Customs if you’re carrying any cheese, sausage or paté? I have and, though I wasn’t, my contraband would have been taken if I had. The fact is, there are some things you simply cannot bring to the U.S. from other countries. For some reason, cured meats are on the forbidden list.
Eataly was the first market in the United States to be allowed to sell two of the most traditional and finest Italian salames: Salame Felino PGI Rovagnati Riserva and Saleme DOP Piacentini. If you buy nothing else, you should buy these because you can.
The cheese selection is positively dreamy and the Eataly cheese monger will help you navigate your way through the dozens of Italian cheeses. By the way, if you like a softer, mild cheese, try the Bra Duro DOP, a cow’s milk cheese similar to Brie, but milder. It’s divine.
Eataly’s wine gallery is stunning, with bottles arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves, arranged by region. This is the largest selection of Italian wine in Texas and is loaded with names you know, such as Chianti and Pinot Grigio, as well as those you might not be as familiar with such as Lambrusco and Sicily’s Grillo. Wine experts are there to help you navigate the wines and direct you to options you might not have considered. For big spenders, there is a Riserva section which is climatized and features extra special bottles and large formats.
In addition to fresh-made pastries, Tiramisu, pies and cakes, Eataly serves gelato in classic flavors such as Stracciatella and a special Dallas-exclusive flavor, Bourbon Pecan. The milk used in the gelato comes from Mill-King Creamery near Waco, another Eataly sign of rispetto for the bounty of Texas.
There are dozens of different kinds of panettone, which my family uses for French Toast on Christmas mornings. There are colorful bins and rows of chocolates, cookies, candies and so many flavors of Torrone, a fluffy nougat studded with either almonds, pistachios or hazelnuts, which is a specialty of Turin, the birthplace of Eataly.
The three on-house restaurants, La Pizza & La Pasta, Il Pastaio and Terra, offer full sit-down dining experiences and 60 different wines by the glass. La Pizza & La Pasta and Il Pastaio serve Italy’s most beloved dishes, regional pasts specialties such as Pasta Pomodoro and Cacio e Pepe and Neapolitan style pizza. These outlets are located on the main floor, surrounded by the scents, sounds and energy of the other galleries. Terra, a stunning wood-fired grill rooftop venue features a vertical grill where meat and vegetables are cooked in ascending layers, allowing for direct fire cooking and smoking. Make a reservation to order the Hanging Ribeye which is cooked over hickory wood then reverse seared.
Reservations are required for Eataly’s restaurants due to occupancy restrictions, but it will be well worth the wait when you get a seat at any one of these restaurants. I’ve eaten at the Flatiron District and Chicago Eatalys and really, truly crave the food just like I crave Italian food in Italy.
Dallas is #blessed to have fantastic award-winning Italian restaurants, and the addition of these three outlets provide very different options that don’t compete with the others. We should and will support them all, right?
Eataly’s arrival in Dallas is a big deal. Despite the recognition bestowed upon us in 2019 by Bon Appetit magazine calling Dallas the Restaurant City of the year, we have still struggled to gain respect as a world-class food city from the national and international media. Eataly chose to open in Dallas because, as Alex Saper, Business Partner Eataly USA, told me during our tour, Dallas is indeed a sophisticated, vibrant food city and a strong consumer for Eataly’s online shopping.
Welcome to Dallas, Eataly. We needed something uplifting and exciting to happen in 2020 and you delivered. Ciao, and welcome to Big D.