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First Look: Foodease

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 10, 2011 3:00PM

Downtown worker bees and residents, rejoice! Your quick, inexpensive food options are about to multiply. We heard about Foodease (ok, the name isn't great) back in July, when the story broke that Lettuce Entertain You was planning a new retail/quickservice venture in Water Tower Place. Foodlife, their current upscale riff on the mall food court, is staying but the Foodlife Market, off to the side, will be closing to make way for the new 5000 square-foot Foodease. We got a pre-opening construction tour on Friday, and here are the highlights.

Steve Hofferth, the corporate partner for Foodlife, Mity Nice and Foodease, showed us around the new space. It's still a bit of a dusty mess, but he assured us that they would make a late October opening. He declined, understandably, to set an exact date. Patrons familiar with the Foodlife market will find a lot of familiar items, all of them supersized and upscaled. Patrons will enter through turnstiles and grab baskets, rather than trays, in keeping with the grab-and-go retail aesthetic. A huge double salad/hot bar will take up most of one side of the main room, and a large retail freezer will serve up gelato, ice cream and frozen LEYE branded products (mostly Wow Bao and Big Bowl).

New to Foodease (and not found in Foodlife) is the market sandwich stand, where patrons will be able to get made-to-order sandwiches with high-quality Boar's Head meats and homemade bread. A sushi bar and a hot deli area complete the back of the space, dominated by a large open kitchen. Off to one side is the expanded wine retail space. Hofferth was particularly eager to point out the affordability of the wine - 200 different wines, starting at $5. He also hinted at some amazing, end-of-month wine "fire sales" where Foodease would clear out its selection at super-low prices.

Much of the rest of Foodease seems pretty standard, if high quality. Soups, coffee bar, retail space, new Coke Freestyle machine for soda. The much-hyped Chocolate Room is more of a large Chocolate Closet, but the selections are undeniably exciting. 50 different brands of chocolate will be for sale, including local favorite Truffle Truffle. A trail mix bar at the back of the room will have 30 different mix-and-match snack items. The highlight of the new space is a 12-seat wine bar, which will serve cheese, charcuterie and wine by the glass.

Unlike Foodlife, Foodease will play host to special events, like book signings and chef demos. This will be a welcome opportunity to get a little entertainment during lunch, though we're a bit worried about traffic flow - the existing Foodlife is already crowded enough. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the current Foodlife Market space is going to become a new M Burger. In other words, the Mezzanine level of Water Tower Place is about to become one of the most popular quick food destinations in Chicago.