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Curious foodies line up for first taste of chef Mario Batali’s Eataly

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Updated: January 4, 2014 6:37AM



Foodies flocked to Eataly to be among the first to glimpse — and taste — celebrity chef Mario Batali’s all-things-Italian culinary experience, which opened Monday in the Near North neighborhood.

Noel Norris said two simple things lured her to wait 90 minutes in a line that stretched more than a block: gelato and wine.

“Today’s my birthday,” said Norris, 33, of the South Shore neighborhood.

Joe and Paula Greco, who live in an Italian enclave along Harlem Avenue, where they own a bakery, wanted to see how the food stacked up to their idea of authentic Italian cuisine. “And I want to see if Mario Batali really speaks Italian,” Paula joked.

Batali and his celebrity chef partner, Lidia Bastianich, were said to be roaming the two-story space that boasts eight restaurants and grocery sections, but locating them was a “Where’s Waldo” experience in the nearly 65,000-square-foot facility at 43 E. Ohio.

“I just want to see if he’s wearing his orange Crocs,” said Jerry Altshuma, referring to the signature footwear Batali sported on his hit ABC show, “The Chew.”

Catering to the masses were an array of attendants able to explain the dizzying displays of cured meats, cheeses, olive oils and pastas.

Monday’s grand opening follows a wave of hype about the store, which takes Italian food to previously uncharted territory by housing so many choices under one roof.

There is one other Eataly in North America, and it’s in New York City. Other locations are in Japan and Italy.

“Most Chicagoans have gotten the concept right away. It took New York a little longer,” said Adam Saper, a managing partner of the Chicago Eataly. At least 5,000 people had come through the doors in the first few hours of business. Many of them were treated to hot chocolate as they waited in line, Saper said.

“For a foodie, this will be a destination — and not one you cross off your list in one visit, but one that keeps you coming back,” said Alex Ablamumets, 28, of Wicker Park.

Lisa Ryding, 57, was steered by her sweet tooth. “I kind of got stuck by the chocolates. It’s like the worst thing I could possibly do, but what the hell. And now I’m going to the wine section,” she said.

“I would almost prefer to give my business to a little mom-and-pop store, but to be honest with you, this is part of Chicago now, too, so you want to see it succeed,” said Ryding, of Edgebrook.

Michael Smith, a real estate investor, was suspect of the deep selection.

“How deep is the salami market in Chicago, really? Some of it may be beyond the Chicago gourmand. This is a meat and potatoes kind of town,” said Smith, 49.

Gary Diaz, 33, a cook at Deca, a restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, couldn’t disagree more.

“This place is amazing,” he said. “There’s something for everyone.”

Email: mdudek@suntimes.com

Twitter: @mitchdudek



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