To answer the question that has been asked of me most often recently ... Yes, I, finally, have been to Eataly.
And it was awesome.
On a frigid Friday afternoon, a curt breeze blew me and a few friends into chef Mario Batali's temple to Italian culinary arts at 43 W. Ohio St. just steps off Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Carts of sun-ripened citrus welcomed me and the throngs of other shoppers.
While the orange-clogged celebrity chef certainly is the most recognizable of the partners, New York restaurateurs Joe Bastianich and Lydia Bastianich are part of the group that brought this culinary concept -- originally opened in Turin, Italy -- to New York and now to the Windy City.
I grew more impressed and more overwhelmed with each aisle I walked down. Shelf after shelf of bagged and boxed pastas in never-before-seen shapes, gallon-sized tins of sardines, the glass-enclosed brew room, equipment where you could custom-cure your own meat. What to choose first?
I needed to regain my focus and found ordering a glass of prosecco and a prosciutto and cheese platter helped me do just that. The second floor of Eataly features La Piazza, a sophisticated food court sort of spot where you can pull up a chair at the cheese counter, the oyster bar, the meat counter or at a standing table and order a little something to nosh on. Downstairs, you can grab paninis, gelato and Nutella creations. If you seek further sustenance, La Carne, Il Pesce, Le Verdure and La Pizza & La Pasta are stand-alone restaurants where you check in with a host and wait for a table. Then there's Baffo, Batali's signature fine-dining restaurant where tables are already booked several weeks out. Beginning this week, you can sign up for guided store tours and cooking classes.
So I left with a bag filled with Italian beer, funky-shapped pasta and strawberry-thyme jam. Cheeses, meats and gelato tempted me for sure, but I lacked proper refrigeration that day. Sure it cost me a little bit of money, but it was less expensive than a flight to Italy and I'm already planning a return trip when gelato will be in my basket.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at email@example.com or (847) 427-4524. Be fer friend at Facebook.com/DebPankey.DailyHerald or follow her on Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter @PankeysPlate.