//Written by Caryssa Lim //
I love places that give you an opportunity to experience food in multiple ways. In an era where supermarkets are the most common option for grocery shoppers, nowadays there are few locations where you can get fresh ingredients and have a tasty meal while you’re at it. While some supermarkets offer deli and “grab and go” options, the offerings at these places are usually sadly lacking in both taste and variety, and there’s also no place for you to sit down and really enjoy your meal while you’re there. Luckily for Chicagoans, at the Chicago French Market and the city’s newest addition, Eataly, both shoppers and diners alike can immerse themselves in an extraordinary food experience.
For those who are unfamiliar with the French Market and/or Eataly, they are both essentially spaces that encompass several different types of vendors, almost like indoor farmers markets. As one might guess from their names, they also both focus on a different specialty of cuisine. However, the similarities between the two pretty much end there.
Let’s start with Eataly. Mario Batali’s prized Italian food emporium opened its doors to the hungry masses of Chicago at the end of 2013, and business has been booming ever since. Take a step into the space, and it’s easy to see why: with two stories’ worth of shelves and displays stocked full of breads, pastas, and sweets, Eataly immediately grabs you with its polished and sophisticated atmosphere. The first floor houses the infamous Nutella Bar, its walls stacked high with the wildly popular hazelnut spread. After the amazement of having an entire bar specialize in Nutella wears off, take a further look around and you’ll discover flavors on flavors of gelato, quality coffee, and a gorgeous dessert bar that is as delicious as it is pretty. Scattered along the first and second floors are also cookbooks, kitchen supplies, dried pasta, and various other goodies that you didn’t even know you needed until now.
Breads are like diamonds to me, which is why the second floor of Eataly actually may have made my heart stop for a few seconds. The escalator takes you right to the heart of the second floor, and immediately upon arrival the smell of freshly-baked bread will waft through the air. The bakery is joined by various stations specializing in fish, meat, vegetables, paninis, and wine. During my visit, the cheese shop immediately caught my eye, and I could sense the freshness of brie and gruyere. My stomach, though, led me directly to the pizza and pasta station. Joined by my good friend and fellow food-lover Joy, I decided to order the traditional mozzarella and mushroom Funghi pizza, as well as ricotta-stuffed Ravioli with Lemon Butter and Pistachios. The thin-crust pizza was topped with crisp mushrooms, and the mozzarella was unbelievably fresh. The star of our meal, though, was definitely the ravioli. This ravioli was unlike any I have ever eaten: each bite was composed of sharp ricotta complemented by subtle, tangy lemon butter, with a surprisingly unique finish from the pistachio. We knew that gelato was the only way to properly end a meal at Eataly, so we ordered two scoops of tiramisu-flavored gelato to go and headed back on the Red Line. The best part? It was so cold on the way back that our gelato didn’t even melt.
Visiting the Chicago French Market on the other hand was a completely different experience for me. The French Market is rustic and down-to-earth, and combines a farmers market’s fresh produce with quality food vendors. Located inside the Ogilvie Metra station, the Market rumbles every few minutes like an earthquake as a train leaves the station. Compared to the monolithic Eataly, the French Market is much smaller, only one story tall and taking up a small fraction of the space of one of Eataly’s floors. The main difference between the French Market and Eataly is that the Market is an aggregate of several different independent vendors, while Eataly’s separate stations are all owned by the emporium. In this way, I think that Eataly offers a more unified dining experience, in that everything is purposefully positioned to go together. The Market however does offer more variety, with two different patisseries, several options for coffee, two separate markets for fresh produce, and countless food vendors from which one can grab a sandwich or a cup of soup.
At the French Market, I had to walk around three times before finally deciding what I wanted to eat. Among the many options were Vietnamese food, sweet and savory crepes, gourmet grilled cheeses, and truffle fries that came in large cones. I chose to eat at Little Goat Bread, a little sandwich shop that’s an outpost of Stephanie Izard’s renowned Little Goat Diner just a few blocks down from the Market. I ordered “The Beef” sandwich, and it was stuffed with kimchi, rare roast beef, and mustard aioli, and I must say that it was heavenly. The combination of kimchi and roast beef in a sandwich really surprised me in a great way and gave the sandwich a lighter, fresher feel. I left the Market with my arms laden with a bag of clementines, baked bread, and an iced coffee for the Green Line trip back to Hyde Park.
Though the Chicago French Market and Eataly are similar in premise, in all other aspects these two places could not be more different: one is more sophisticated, a place where I would treat a friend for their birthday; the other, I could see myself stopping by at after spending a day downtown. Despite their differences however, both Eataly and the French Market provide great food experiences, each with distinct identities and atmospheres, and I will definitely be returning to both places in the future.
Written by Caryssa Lim