RESTAURANT REVIEW: Empire House
A show on the Food Network dubbed “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” features celebrity chefs gushing over their latest and most delectable repast. One of them might want to head down to the newly opened Empire House. Situated in Hillcrest a bit off the main scene, Empire House is a sheer delight filling an old house with smiles, laughter and wonderful food.
From first impression to the last, Empire House made us feel at home and fed us like a visiting relative who hasn’t quite warn out their welcome.
The building itself has been too many other restaurants to recount and none of them could quite get the right “mojo” to stick around. Well the curse is lifted. Empire House not only delivers great food but a cheery and engaging staff. The place itself is so nondescript and tight quartered that it is easy to miss. We only discovered it when a friend commented on a new culinary discovery.
The interior is small and seats about 40, with the narrow patio area accommodating about the same. The second floor is a banquet room for large gatherings and the cute, but tiny restrooms. The whole place is basically a house. The brick walled patio leads into a wood floored drab gray building. Empire House has a great rustic feel that is unassuming yet very welcoming. Just stroll in, grab a chair and relax.
Zero pretenses here and no uppity “do you have reservations?” Come on in and sit a spell.
The owners, Susie and Mandy, are former Starbucks employees who abandoned the coffeehouse shtick to create their “dream-come-true” restaurant. Ask for them and say “hey” if you can… their enthusiasm is infectious. You feel like you’re talking to dear old friends. This effortlessly charming demeanor is also apparent in the staff. We became enamored with our server, who was spot on and could not have been more delightful. We commented how “wonderful” she was. Her response, “No, you’re wonderful.” How sweet is that?
Even with this delightful love-fest, the real love comes out in the food and boy, does Empire House nail it. You pretty much have comfort food here with wonderful spins on old favorites and just a great sense of care and involvement in every dish. The lunch/dinner menu is a smorgasbord of great treats you’ll want to eat.
First and foremost are the cast-iron burgers. All are hand-formed, cooked medium in a cast iron skillet and just sensational. The aforementioned “Best Thing I Ever Ate” is undoubtedly the “combo burger”; a beast topped with house made pulled pork, havarti cheese and cilantro slaw on a sesame seed bun ($9). Add tater tots and you are set. Don’t you love that tater tots are back? The burger by itself, great. The pulled pork by itself, awesome.
Merge them together and you have heaven on a platter. Moist, delicious, flavorful, inspiring….the adjectives could go on forever, this burger was that good. There are several other tasty burgers to savor including a daunting “Man vs. House” comprised of fifty sliders (or casters, as they call them here). Eat them all yourself and you can take home a free t-shirt which will need to be an extra large after gorging on those eats.
Into street tacos? Empire House has steak, ahi, pork, roasted veggie and chicken. You can mix and match them if you like. All are served with garlic rice and beans. Big salads abound and we especially loved the Pear & Pecan with mixed greens, pear, red onion, citrus vinaigrette, toasted pecans and crumbled blue cheese ($7). Fresh, crunchy and bursting with flavor, this salad was a home run.
You can add chicken or seared ahi for an additional charge if you like. Hot sandwiches and haute dogs round out the menu. If you have the gusto, go for the T.J. Style Dog, a hot dog wrapped in bacon, topped with cilantro slaw, garlic aioli, with red and green sauce on a fresh French roll ($6.50). C’mon, no fair!!!
The ambiance is fantastic, the food is tremendous, the staff brilliant, and the prices are easy on the wallet. What’s not to love about Empire House? It certainly won us over. Breakfast and weekend brunches are also available for your dining pleasure. Enjoy!
The good – so many to choose from but the service was perfect
The bad – nothing about the restaurant but the typical Hillcrest parking issue