“Eataly, what a cute name!” a young woman exclaimed as she attempted to navigate the crushing crowd that surged into the Italian food megaplex shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday. By 4:30 there was a line to get into the door, monitored by a silver-haired man with an earpiece and a walkie-talkie. But the line moved quickly, streaming through the glass doors and into what had been anticipated for months as more or less the food world’s version of the Rapture, or at least the biggest Italian food court in history.
Between the crowds and the vast displays of food lining the high walls, Eataly was an exercise in sensory overload. Slick men in dark suits, speaking rapid-fire Italian into cell phones, prowled the floors alongside gaggles of food bloggers, moist-eyed gastronomes, giddy Batali fans, and a smattering of folks who could have passed for Jersey Shore extras.
The sheer amount of food was mind-boggling, as the following photos suggest. But in a pleasant surprise, the high quality of the products didn’t necessarily translate to exorbitant costs — bouquets of red Swiss chard, for example, cost $2, which is well in line with what you’d see at the Greenmarket, while a pristine ball of fresh mozzarella could be had for $3.80. Certain items, such as the $8.80 jars of bitter orange jam and $26.80-per-pound racks of lamb, while not cheap, were no more outrageously priced than they would be at Dean & DeLuca (which, granted, isn’t saying much) or even Whole Foods.
Of course, Eataly also has sheer volume to help with price control. Taking in the displays of meat, fish, fresh and dried pastas, pasta sauce, bread, jam, milk, honey, sweets, and produce, it was hard not to conclude that even more than being a tribute to Italian cuisine, Eataly is a monument to globalization and the enduring appeal, even in a strained financial climate, of beautifully packaged things. The giant melons clustered near Eataly’s front door weren’t Italian, but they sure did look pretty.
Amid all of the chaos, Batali stood near the bread counter, holding court with his many well-wishers and posing for photos. In a sense, he was everywhere, thanks to the orange Crocs worn by the store’s staff.
“We have to wear them,” one employee explained later in the women’s bathroom. She was changing to go home, and had stuffed her Crocs into a paper bag. Although the store had opened at 4, the staff had been there since that morning. “It’s been a long day,” she said.
Click through for more photos from yesterday’s scene.
A beaming Lidia Bastianich — a partner in the project — held court near the Fifth Avenue entrance.
It was hard to walk 20 feet without encountering a chance to buy an espresso.
Pastries — many of an unfamiliar sort — were available in profusion.
There were chocolates, too, of course.
And tiny bottles of colorful sodas.
Free samples of Parmesan were cut directly from the rind.
And prosciutto, too.
There were wine bars, and panini bars, and bars selling morsels of seafood.
Finally, there was a fully stocked greenmarket — no more searching in vain for those obscure Italian weeds.