During the warmer months, the rooftop of Eataly’s Flatiron location in New York City is home to Birreria, an Italian beer garden that features plenty of custom-brewed beer. But when the weather turns cold, the space is roofed over and it turns into Baita, a pop-up restaurant modeled after a ski lodge in the Italian Alps with an enticing menu of hearty Piemontese fare, including some specialties that you can’t find anywhere else in New York. I recently had the opportunity to dine there at the invitation of the restaurant and will definitely be returning whenever I’m in need of a warm retreat.
Heaters are dotted along the retractable roof, faux-sheepskin rugs are wrapped around the columns, and vintage Italian ski posters are hung on the walls. In one corner a chef cooks polenta, and along the bar crowds sip house-brewed ales like the Body Massage Machine milk stout; Cornelius, a cask-conditioned cream ale with mesquite smoked malt; and Vera, a cask-conditioned wheat beer with blood orange, lavender, and buckwheat. There’s also a nice selection of hot and cold cocktails, mulled wine, Dogfish Head beer cocktails, and Italian wines.
The food menu is hearty and rustic, ideal fare after a day of hitting the slopes or trudging through a wintry mix. There’s a nice selection of salumi and cheeses from northern Italy including speck, Raschera, and Robiola. Those who prefer their cheese melted can indulge in a puddle of warm, melty raclette served with your choice of pickled vegetables, potatoes, and ham; and if you prefer it deep-fried, you can sample the “sciatt,” crispy beer-battered Piave cheese. Spiedini di manzo e bagna cauda, two skewers of grilled Snake River Farms wagyu beef drizzled with seasoned olive oil, is also a simple and flavorful snack.
Polenta is a northern Italian staple, and it’s highlighted front and center on the menu. It’s made to order and served on a wooden board, and available in four varieties: with roasted pumpkin, thyme, and Parmigiano-Reggiano; with salted Sicilian anchovies, butter, and sage; with sweet Italian sausage, onions, roasted maitake mushrooms, and fontina; or with red wine braised Snake River beef shank. We opted for the beef shank, which was actually lighter than expected thanks to being simply diced and stewed with mirepoix in a light sauce and served atop cheese-free polenta, but it was still hearty and delicious.
Other Piemontese specialties are highlighted throughout the menu: canderli in brodo, fried rye bread dumplings studded with fontina and speck in a rich and tangy broth; strangolapreti, housemade bread and spinach dumplings with butter and sage; and fricando dama Bianca, braised veal shoulder with potatoes, fontina fonduta, and housemade rye bread. Other offerings include lasagna with Swiss chard, escarole, and spinach; beer-braised pork shoulder with apricot glaze and celery root; housemade baccala with spinach and whipped potatoes; housemade pork and veal sausage with polenta and sauerkraut. It’s a great primer on the cuisine of northern Italy: no tomatoes, plenty of rye bread, braised meats, dumplings, and potatoes, and hearty to the max.
Each region of Italy has its own unique style of cuisine, and there’s no better way to be introduced the cuisine of the Italian Alps than in an Alpine ski lodge. If you can’t make it to one in Piemonte, then the one on the roof of Eataly in New York City will do just fine. Baita will be open through April this year, one month longer than last year's stay.