Eataly’s Pranzo: A Lunchtime Gem Hidden in Plain Sight
If you find yourself walking through Madison Square Park or its environs and getting a bit peckish, there are plenty of options, but not all of them are ideal: it takes some fortitude to brave the line at Shake Shack, you might not be in the mood for chain restaurant fare, and Eleven Madison Park is just a bit too pricey. Invariably, you might find yourself wandering into Eataly, the sprawling 42,500-square-foot emporium of everything Italian located on the park’s western border. The marketplace is stunning, and a bit overwhelming in a good way. Just about every Italian food product ever made is available for purchase, along with fresh-made pastas, and the dining options are seemingly limitless. There’s a central "piazza" where you can eat some fresh-sliced prosciutto and drink some wine while standing, and a smattering of bustling restaurants. They tend to be loud and boisterous, though, and are located right in the heart of the market, surrounded by shoppers.
There’s a lunchtime oasis waiting for you, though, if you know where to look: Pranzo. Located near the 23rd Street exit, it’s a separate room entirely from the rest of the market, and by night it’s their culinary classroom, La Scuola. On weekdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., however, it’s a reasonably priced, sun-drenched, market-driven café that seats 35 and is one of the best weekday lunch options in the neighborhood.
In a really interesting move, every month Pranzo highlights the cuisine of one region of Italy while focusing on using only the freshest seasonal ingredients. In May, the menu highlighted the cuisine of Lazio, the region that’s home to Rome. Dishes include spelt fettuccine primavera with whipped sheep’s milk ricotta, pan-seared skate with broccoli ragù, and pan-roasted chicken alla diavola. The menu is small and focused, and quite affordable.
June’s focus is on the cuisine of Le Langhe in northwestern Italy, and July will highlight the cuisine of the coastal region of Liguria. They take reservations, which is certainly nice (even though it never seems to be too crowded), and the space can also be rented out for private parties.