When Italian food emporium Eataly (of Batali and Bastianich fame) opened last fall, I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. Everything that Mario Batali touches is fantastic. Molto Gusto is one of my most frequently consulted cookbooks, and—even after dining at the likes of Blue Hill and The Herbfarm—I still count the meal that Chris and I ate at Del Posto several years ago among my top five. I knew, without even walking past the place, that it would be filled with fabulous food.
I also knew, however, that it would be filled with fabulous, glutenous food, which is why we didn’t actually get around to visiting until a couple weekends ago. It seemed self-torturous to walk through a place stocked with top-notch pasta, pizza, and bread, not being able to so much as touch anything without experiencing that immediate compulsion to wash my hands. But after spending an entire afternoon there, I am so glad we went.
I’ve heard a lot about how GF-friendly many of Batali’s restaurants are. They don’t advertise it, but some even offer gluten-free pasta upon request. While visiting with Sarah in Austin, she raved about the gluten-free pasta and accommodating service at Esca. And really, the notoriously orange-clogged Italian chef’s awareness of g-free shouldn’t come as a surprise. Italy is pretty well-known for being educated and capable in handling gluten-free dining due to a fairly high incidence of Celiac disease in the country.
So, in hindsight, I almost feel silly. It only makes sense that Eataly would be considerate of gluten-free as well.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a massive section of the store dedicated to gorgeous imported pastas, and those piles of handmade spaghetti, fettuccine, and ravioli are the real deal—not to mention all of their stunning fresh-baked breads. There is also a restaurant that serves only pizza and pasta, with no indication of any GF options. But truly, that’s all okay.
Tucked back behind the glutenous pastas, past the butcher counter and before the olive oil, is a single, tall, bookcase-style shelf full of Schar products (ask the bread lady for directions, she’ll help you kindly). The Schar company originated in Italy and they make excellent gluten-free pastas. Along with Bionaturae (also Italian), they’re my favorite brand for authentic taste and mouthfeel. Eataly not only carries Schar’s pasta, but their bread mix, crackers, and more. And just a reminder: fruity extra virgin olive oil, true San Marzano tomatoes, and sweet balsamic vinegar straight out of Modena are all naturally gluten-free. You can do some serious shopping here.
As for dining options, with the exception of I Panini and La Pizza & La Pasta, take your pick. The menus are full of simple, seasonal ingredients and, while there are certainly items that are off-limits to the gluten-free (see Chris’ entree below), a quick mention of your needs to your server will ensure that you are fed safely. Chris and I ate at the veggie-centric Le Verdure. We started by splitting a plate of grilled asparagus and spring onions topped with a fried egg. It was fresh and sweet, richened by the thick swathe of runny yolk.
For his main course, Chris ordered the fritto misto—a platter of vegetables, breaded and fried. I ordered the insalata primavera, composed of coarsely chopped bibb lettuce, spicy slices of radish, sweet snap peas, tangy pickled rhubarb, chopped pistachios, and shavings of fiore sardo, all doused lightly with an orange marmalade vinaigrette. It was refreshing and fantastic. And if you go for lunch like we did, don’t be shy. Order a glass of wine. You’ll see that everyone else has too, and you won’t regret it. The Bastianich Friuliano that I sipped with our meal was round yet crisp, surprisingly light in spite of its deep straw color.
We were too full for dessert, but gelato is always an excellent gluten-free option. If you’re in the mood for something more along the lines of cake, though, the Pasticceria offers clearly-marked GF confections. The little hazelnut cakes looked killer. And don’t even get me started on how many different imported chocolate-hazelnut bars/concoctions they had—it was like a glimpse into my own personal gianduja heaven.
On our way out, we stopped by the salumi and cheese counter and selected three different cheeses and a few slices of salami and sweet sopressata to take home. Dinner that night was salumi e formaggi, roasted fava beans from Eataly’s produce market, torn chunks of baguette picked up at the Chelsea Whole Foods, and a bottle of Bastianich Sauvignon blanc. It was lunch the next day as well.
If you’ve been avoiding Eataly for fear that you’ll walk out hungry and sad, there’s no need (or if you just plain haven’t been yet–go!). It’s certainly not a store for those who have to eat gluten-free, but they do an admirable job making it navigable and enjoyable in that respect. If we lived in the neighborhood, I’d find reasons to shop and eat there regularly and am happily looking forward visiting again.