6 things to try at the new Bay Area food hall

On Eataly’s opening day in San Jose, the excitement was palpable. It seemed like the line grew exponentially as the clock inched toward 5 pm Once the doors opened, hundreds of people rushed forward, as one — handing out chocolate and asking people if they love Italy — assured everyone that there was plenty of room inside. He was right. It’s a giant, three-story emporium dedicated to Italian food and drink.

First, here’s the setup: The first floor is where you’ll find the cafe, gelato and casual food sections. As soon as you walk through the entrance, you’re already in the pizza and sandwich line. Moving toward the register, you’ll see columns of thick, roman pizzas; paninis, some shaped like triangles, others in sub and bun form, all stuffed and ready to eat; and sides like marinated vegetables and pasta salads.

The second floor is filled with bottles of wine, approximately 1,200 different ones to try. Finally, the third level (and Eataly’s claim to fame) has the restaurants — La Pizza & Pasta and Terra — and the market. The latter is pretty impressive, with a deep, comprehensive selection of Italian food and goods. There are shelves of fancy extra-virgin olive oil, dried pastas and herbs; a bread area; a butcher; a cheese lab; a pasta lab where dough is formed and sprinkled with semolina flour; and a 360-degree deli and dairy section. (You can read more about the restaurants and sections here.)

The market alone is so dense that it would take days to explore completely, let alone the entire operation. But don’t worry your pretty little heart: I’m here with a few recommendations. I chose to ignore the sit-down restaurants in favor of the things you can grab and eat while you explore. Since there are so many imported goods, I also decided on items that Eataly either makes or packages in-house to not overcomplicate things.

With that, here are six things you should try when you visit Eataly:

Eataly Silicon Valley opened Thursday night to long, long lines. Soppressata pizza topped with dollops of house-made mozzarella and Mike’s Hot Honey.

Cesar Hernandez/ The Chronicle

Roman pizza

The Sopressata ($8.90) called my name. It’s on the mild side, with a thin layer of tomato sauce, dollops of mozzarella and an invisible squirt of Mike’s hot honey. The mellow sauce lets the salty salami and honey take most of the attention. When ordering, you’ll be asked if you want it fired in the oven or as-is, and surprisingly, I think this slice works just as well cold. If you’re looking to ditch the red sauce, the Mortadella E Burrata ($14.90) is a milky alternative. It’s covered with a generous, creamy mozzarella ball along with folded pink stacks of mortadella and pistachios. Since it’s Roman-style pizza, be sure to ask for an edge piece for optimal top-to-bottom crunch. Pro tip: Both pizzas go well with Calabrian peppers (see below).

Coppa panini from Eataly, the kind that Tony Soprano would get.

Coppa panini from Eataly, the kind that Tony Soprano would get.

Cesar Hernandez/The Chronicle

Panini

If you’re feeling a sandwich, go for the Coppa ($12.90) — or as Tony Soprano would say, the gabagool. (The person behind the counter didn’t care for this juvenile joke referencing “The Sopranos.”) Inside the sesame focaccia goes capicola, soft cheese, artichokes and mint leaves. The focaccia has the right amount of snap and oiliness, and it’s packed with sesame flavor. The mint, meanwhile, provides an herby zap of freshness that cuts through the noise.

Strawberry and hazelnut gelato on a cone.

Strawberry and hazelnut gelato on a cone.

Cesar Hernandez/The Chronicle

Gelato

In the back corner of the first floor is the gelato section, where you can sample a range of fruity, nutty, chocolaty and custardy flavors. In a moment of genius I thought, what if I flipped the script and paired hazelnuts with strawberry? That’s the kind of disruption Silicon Valley needs. I dug the tang of the strawberry contrasted with fragrant hazelnut, both in smooth cream. Eataly trusts Straus Family Creamery for the dairy, as it should. Get a cone ($6.90 for double) and make up your own reason for it, as if you really need one.

Calabrian peppers sleeping in blood-red oil.

Calabrian peppers sleeping in blood-red oil.

Cesar Hernandez/The Chronicle

Calabrian chiles

One of my favorite condiments to get at Italian markets is spicy, fruity Calabrian chiles ($10-$16). You could certainly grab an imported jar from the motherland, but I suggest you head to the packaged deli section (next to the cheese lab) and grab whole peppers, swimming in blood-red, capsaicin-rich oil. You can eat the peppers for direct heat or drizzle some of the oil onto pizza or pasta for a punch.

The deli section carries 48-month prosciutto.

The deli section carries 48-month prosciutto.

Cesar Hernandez / The Chronicle

Prosciutto

The cured meat section is not like your local Safeway. There are multiple options for all-star cured meats like prosciutto, arranged by age. I went for the one that was aged the longest, 48 months ($17-$25), just because it sounded cool. The pungent, fruity aromas escape as soon as you tear open the package. The ham is fatty with a slight chew, almost-sweet and salty. Grab a pack for sandwiches or a charcuterie plate.

Small tiramisu tray from the deli section with lush mascarpone topped with cocoa powder and espresso.

Small tiramisu tray from the deli section with lush mascarpone topped with cocoa powder and espresso.

Cesar Hernandez/ The Chronicle

tiramisu