Two well-known New York celebrity chefs, Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich, decided to come to Boston and teach us provincials about Italian food. Their Italian food emporium, Eataly Boston, in the Prudential Center mall, is opening to the public later this week. I managed to get a press pass and here is a preview of what it’s like.
Eataly is an international franchise started by Oscar Farinelli in 2007. His first store was in Torino and he has since expanded into other parts of Italy as well as Germany, Denmark and Turkey. Oscar’s son Nicola joined the company in 2010 as head of North American operations and the Boston store will be their fourth US location. The numbers are staggering. The Boston store spans three floors and has over 45,000 square feet. There are four restaurants, ten eateries, two cafes, three bars, a wine shop and seven retail departments. The physical space is fantastic and appeals to all our senses. The architectural design, lighting and cabinetry are all top notch. The two wood fired pizza ovens are themselves works of art. This is Italian design and craftsmanship of the highest order.
Growing up in the North End I was skeptical of this entire project. What could these people teach me about Italian food that I didn’t already know? My maternal grandmother came from Emilia-Romagna, the bread basket of Italy where the food is unmatched. I still drool over her home made tortelloni and cavatelli. Her province is sandwiched between Lombardy and Tuscany with their exquisite wines, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Chianti. What could these two out of towners have to offer that wasn’t already available in the North End? I have to admit I was impressed and humbled by what I saw.
Our tour began with a brief speech by Mario Batali, an impassioned discourse on the importance of food in our society. It’s up to all of us, he said to maintain the purity of our food and to support small farmers and fishermen who practice sustainable agriculture. One comment he made stuck with me. Every time we purchase and prepare food, Mario said, we are making a political statement. I agree with that.
After an excellent espresso macchiato at the Lavazza café we were given a tour of Eataly. The architect designed the space with few straight sight lines. As one wanders through the twists and turns enjoying the sights and smells, different food stations suddenly appear. There is the Rosticceria where they roast meats on beautiful grills imported from Europe, the Focacceria with dozens of fresh baked breads, La Pescheria (fishmonger), La Macelleria (butcher), and many more.
Strolling through Eataly reminded me of shopping in the North End when I would carry my mother’s bags as we went from Rosario’s fruit and vegetable shop, to Andy’s for meat, Joe Bananna’s for, can you guess?, banannas and Giuffre’s for fish. Any new North Enders who want to experience what shopping in the North End was like fifty years ago have to pay a visit to Eataly. Yes, it’s an enclosed shopping mall with climate control and way too many tourists but the ambiance is surprisingly similar to what I remember about the North End.
I predict Eataly will have a tremendous impact on the way Bostonians shop and eat. It’s an urban celebration of Italian food and culture and will become a Boston landmark.
Buona Fortuna to Mario, Joe and their entire team.
In a couple of weeks, after all the opening kinks have been resolved, I plan on returning to Eataly with two noted North End gourmands and test the food. My guests will be Paul Passacantilli whose father, Al, owned the Blue Front restaurant for many years and Ezio Salimbeni, my grandson who has eaten pizza, mostly pepperoni, all over the world. We’re fussy about Italian food so stay tuned for our report.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.