Words by Michaela Mazure, Photos by Boris Huang and Mingjing He
I arrived at the Prudential Center at 3:40p.m. on Tuesday, taking my place in the rain behind the 30 plus people already waiting in line. Twenty minutes and the doors would be open. Twenty minutes, and I would be in Eataly.
Eataly began as a European Superstore, and celebrity chef and restauranteur Mario Batali helped bring it to life in the U.S., with locations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and now Boston. The business now has locations all over the world, including Japan, Istanbul, and Dubai. On paper, it is a food superstore that provides various Italian products, groceries, and meals. In person, however, it is an experience.
Finally, the clock struck four, and the line slowly started to snake through the doors. Smiling faces greeted us as they handed out papers of the building’s layout. Yes, the store is so impressive it requires its own map.
On the ground level, there was a casual coffee bar and a crepe stand serving up sweet and savory treats. Workers behind the counters patiently awaited for the first orders to come in; they were just as ready as we were to get the show on the road. Up the escalator on the main level, cooking tools, appliances, and various products available for purchase lined the waist-high selves in the center of the front room. A cannoli cart had shells stacked ten rows high in the display case, waiting to be piped with the delicious ricotta filling. “Prime Rib,” “Chicken,” “Brussel Sprouts” and various other entrees and sides (all written in Italian of course with the English translation below) cover the wall-size menu of the hot food stand at the top of the stairs. A glass wall divided guests from three employees who were hand-pulling pasta and rolling them into perfect golden balls of noodles. To the right, I spotted the wine room with floor to ceiling shelves of the imported Italian wines, with waitresses circling the room with free sample glasses. It seemed as though I had seen all of Italy already, and I was only in the front room.
As I made my way through the building, I came across three sit-down restaurants, as well as an opening market selling fresh produce and classic Italian packaged goods like Kinder chocolate bars. The perimeter was broken down into sections like a mall food court. The bread counter had fresh samples with dozen of loaves on display in the widest variety. Mini tiramisu, cream puffs, and various other Italian classics lined the glass case of the dessert and chocolate counter. Meat, seafood, and cheese all were given their respective areas, and people waited for their chance at the freshest ingredients. The longest line, however, was found at the pizza counter, where slices were flying out of the oven almost as fast as they were being taken off the counter. Made to order soups, salads, and smoothies were great lunch options for those who weren’t looking for a formal sit-down meal and wanted something quick to take on-the-go. I was tempted by the gelato stand, serving ten different varieties that made it nearly impossible to choose just one.
Continuing my exploration, I discovered another coffee stand, panini shop, and a cooking school classroom, which was demonstrating - for lucky visitors - how the pasta was rolled and cut. I circled the building five times over the course of an hour to make sure there wasn’t anything I missed (although, I’m sure there was). Towards the other entrance resembled the checkout line of a grocery store - employees waiting to scan and check out customers purchasing fresh food and other goods.
Everywhere I turned, there was something new to see, something new to discover. Although I wasn’t fortunate enough to see Batali himself, I’m sure he will be back to visit Boston soon enough to assess the progress of his latest business adventure. I will most certainly be back again soon, and I suggest you do the same. Whether you’re looking for a nice date restaurant, a quick lunch, or a place to do you grocery shopping for the week, Eataly has it all. And if you have a sweet tooth like me, go for the gelato, it won’t disappoint!