The long wait for Eataly Chicago is almost over. At a press preview today, basically the entire Chicago dining media showed up to take a tour of the Italian mega-mart at 43 East Ohio Street in River North.

Along with the actually useful information—the 26 photos that show you what to expect when you can get in there, soon—here are a few thoughts on the space as we await its opening at 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2:

  • It’s big but not cavernous. The spaces are divided up among stations—pizza here, seafood there, bread, mozzerella, wine, etc.—so you don’t really feel overwhelmed by its tens of thousands of square feet. There are maps posted, at least, to help you navigate.
  • That said, the layout could make for some congested shopper traffic when the place is packed. It’d be no surprise to find the furniture rearranged a bit once the management sees how shoppers actually shuffle through the space.
  • There are different restaurants, but, at least in the way it was presented to the media today, they didn’t have any of the formality of a typical restaurant. It didn’t seem like, for example, you’d ask for a table for two and sit down to order. It seems more like a food court, with seating areas set up to share food from whichever counters you’ve ordered from.
  • The pizza was quite amazing. Mario Batali, on hand to help lead some tours, said that this pizza style—Neapolitan—in no way figured into the Chicago/New York pizza wars.
  • You have to imagine this would be perfect for a family staying in a River North hotel. It’s a big indoor public space with something for everybody. You know how everyone hangs out and drinks while they shop at that North Avenue Whole Foods? Same idea here.
  • It should also make sense for Chicagoans, even if they only rarely go in. If you visited Eataly, say, only once every few months for some amazing bottle of olive oil, you’d be very happy to have that bottle in your kitchen, and you’d be happy to go back to try a different one next time. (But maybe at, like, 2pm on a Tuesday, when you can actually enjoy the place without fighting a crowd.)

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