The arrival of Eataly Dallas — opening on December 9 at NorthPark Center in Dallas — would be a huge deal even if it weren't happening in 2020, a tumultuous year for everyone but especially the food & beverage industry, which has unfortunately been decimated by the coronavirus.
We'll be picking up those pieces indefinitely — but for now, Eataly Dallas is a tiny ray of hope that life might be normal again one day and we can still have nice things.
Eataly was founded in Turin, Italy, in 2007 as a mega-shopping and eating experience, with restaurants, bakery, wine shop, and retail store, all promoting the awesomeness of Italian food. The name Eataly combines two words "eat" plus "Italy."
Dallas is the seventh U.S. location and the 41st location worldwide. On December 9, it'll open at 12 pm, but regular hours will be 9 am-10 pm, and until 11 pm on Fridays-Saturdays.
Here are some notes on the Dallas store, gleaned from a media preview visit on December 7:
Size. The original Eataly in Turin is huge at 170,000 square feet, which is overwhelming. For the U.S. stores, they've sized down. Chicago is 60,000 square feet, but most — Las Vegas, New York — are at 40,000 square feet.
Eataly Dallas is 46,000 square feet — a little smaller than a typical supermarket (50,000 square feet). That space is broken into two floors, with the market and various to-go counters on one floor, and a restaurant on the second floor. So it feels manageable.
The layout is clever and intuitively designed. There's a "street entrance" from Boedeker Street, on the western-most side of NorthPark Center, that puts you into the market.
The other entrance is inside the mall. If you walk by the storefront from the mall, you see a gelato stand, coffee, and to-go foods; you might almost think Eataly is a gelato shop. Eataly Dallas is the first location in the company to organize this way by bringing together all take-away counters, providing the option for a quick lunch and a pit stop for mall workers on lunch break.
They've also created some really nice spaces. There's a lot of soothing tan stone and casual-but-classy tan pillows and pale wood seating in the restaurants. The second floor has a patio that, despite the mall location, feels magically like it's somewhere else, with a sunny Western exposure and a view overlooking a canopy of trees. This is the place to have a glass of sparkling Franciacorta and say "ciao" when your friends join you. It's truly transformative.
It's big on breadth. They don't have everything, but what they do carry has multiple choices. The release lists 10,000 local and Italian products such as pastas, pizzas, meats, breads, oils, cheeses, sauces, wines, olives, dried mushrooms, crackers, teas, coffee, desserts, chocolates, imported canned goods, aprons, and rare spices.
For example, in observance of the Xmas holiday coming up, there are more than 30 kinds of panettone, including varieties not found elsewhere in Dallas-Fort Worth such as black cherry and caramelized almonds or candied pear and chocolate.
There is a ridiculous selection of things like olive oil with more than 100 bottles; five kinds of proscuitto, some aged longer than others; and pasta — shelf after shelf with different shapes and manufacturers.
It's not a place if you just want to grab whatever olive oil is on the shelf, but if you're sick of the same old boxed pasta shells, you'll find the assortment at Eataly inspirational, and possibly educational.
This vast selection turns a visit into a field trip, where you can invest hours exploring products you've never seen or items you can't find anywhere else. In that respect, it's reminiscent of Central Market.
Provenance. The food sold in the market falls broadly into two categories: imported items from Italy that are more shelf-stable (whether that's cured meats or canned and bottled goods); and perishable things that are locally sourced. For example, the meat market features Wagyu beef from A Bar N Ranch in Celina. So you've got Italy or Texas.
The wine selection is all Italy with more than 400 bottles on site.
There are three restaurants, two on the "main" floor: a place doing pizza and pasta, and a place doing pasta. Two pastas, two experiences. La Pizza & La Pasta does Neapolitan pizza and pasta from Gragnano, Campania; and Il Pastaio does housemade regional pasta dishes.
The third restaurant, Terra, is a more upscale place on the second floor rooftop with a wood-burning grill, wine list, and smoked cocktails.
At the preview, the Eataly Dallas team offered samples that included a charcuterie board with meats and cheese, and two kinds of pizza including pizza fritti, a Neapolitan-style snack in which you deep-fry discs of pizza dough, an offering exclusive to the Dallas location. There was also polenta and mushrooms with grilled steak; and pasta with tomatoes.
The food emphasizes simplicity, with a hyper-focus on ingredients and suppliers. To wit, there was much discussion about where they got the tomatoes on the pasta dish.
The continuous counter. Running along the perimeter of the market is a counter with stations, sort of like what they're doing these days at Whole Foods Market, with the Park Lane Dallas store being a good example, where there are hot food stands next to a deli next to a dessert case. But Eataly's setup is more visible than Whole Foods' traditional deli-style counter where you can't see what's going on back there.
The stations at Eataly include a bread counter (they'll be baking around the clock, says Eataly VP Dino Borri); thick-crusted Roman-style pizza by the slice; hot and cold take-away meals; pastries, gelato, and a café.
Eataly Dallas is the first in the company to bring all of that into one continuous counter, which they say creates a more fluid shopping experience.
COVID-19. COVID precautions include limited contact between diners and employees, seating dividers, tables spaced six feet apart, and sanitized tables, chairs, utensils, and menus.
Dallas is the only city where Eataly has a store opening in 2020. Given the pandemic, the debut is anticipated to be less over-the-top as usual, with measures in place for controlling crowds and minimizing the number of guests inside. To that end, they're encouraging people not to grand-slam them at the opening. Come but don't come right away!