RIVER NORTH — Eataly Chicago will open Dec. 2 with a mix of imported Italian foodstuffs and locally-sourced ingredients in its two-story River North grocery and restaurant complex.
The two-story food emporium features several restaurants interspersed with grocery vendors sorted by category.
"When you taste something there, we want you to know that you can make it," co-founder and celebrity chef Mario Batali said at a media preview of the complex Monday.
The high-concept grocery store is modeled after the Eataly series in Italy and New York City, though the Chicago outpost is the biggest at 63,000 square feet.
"Our customers love that at the end of the day, when they walk out of here, they haven't spent more than they would have spent at their normal grocery store," Batali said of the high-end grocer that seeks to make gourmet ingredients and produce affordable. "And they're a little tipsy."
The store's wine section features varieties bottled especially for the Chicago eatery served in-house from wooden barrels, as well as imports. Guests are encouraged to imbibe while they shop, and pairing suggestions are highlighted at the meat, fish, bread, cheese and pasta stations.
The River North complex also hopes to attract travelers and roving diners with a gelateria, Nutella-centric snack bar and Lavazza coffee shop on the ground floor at 43 E. Ohio St.
As is tradition with the Eataly line highlighting innovators at each location, the Chicago outpost was dedicated to Ernest Hemingway at the event Monday.
West Loop Salumi's cured meats will have a featured spot inside the monolith building that once housed ESPN Zone. So will cheeses from Downstate Champaign's Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery and Ludwig Farmstead and Creamery in nearby Fithian, Ill.
Chicago's Eataly outpost will be the biggest of the franchise, which has sites in New York, Italy and Japan. Spokesman Dino Borri said that was no accident.
"Chicago is the most important city in the center of the United States," Borri said. "It's already a really important foodie city. The quality of the food there is amazing."
The Eataly concept values extremes, and specificity. Borri noted that the Eataly Chicago pasta collection will feature "over 200 shapes," many of which will be served in Eataly's interior restaurants.
The experience is modeled after the open-air Campo de Fiori market in Rome.
"Sometimes you go to the restaurant, and you taste something, and you say 'Oh my God, this is so good, I would like to buy it.' Sometimes you ask the chef, 'Where is this from?' and he'll say 'Oh the fish market down the street,'" Borri said.
"Here, you say, 'Oh, this pasta is so good, where can I buy [it]?' and they say 'Two feet over there,'" he said. "This is the beauty of our store."
In addition to curating a selection of locally sourced ingredients, Borri said Eataly Chicago will also import lots of hard-to-find products from Italy and elsewhere.
"I really think in Chicago, a store like ours will be a destination for the daily shopping of the Chicago people," Borri said. "We have some products that nobody sells right now."
Restaurants and "stations" inside will include "a new meat restaurant that we don't have yet in New York," and a "fried station, Frito, where it's all fried stuff that is really typical in South Italia, like fish fry," Borri said.
In the name of variety, many items will be available on a rotating schedule. The by-the-glass wine selection of 50 to 60 wines will change weekly, Borri said. Classes and guest lectures with "wine experts, beer experts, pasta experts" will "teach people about the history of the products, the quality of the products, when the producers are in town," and demonstrate recipes assembled entirely from Eataly's stock.