There’s nothing old fashioned about the Empire Diner

When it comes to dining out, most people choose where they’re eating by two criteria. One factor is how “in” it is, and the other is how good the food is. And while I do appreciate a well-lit social media post with a snappy #hashtag caption from the latest “it spot” in town, I’d rather enjoy my time in a place where the food is the focus. Instagram posts aren’t even a factor.

Empire Diner exterior

Located on an unassuming corner in downtown New York is the Empire Diner. Since opening in 1976, it’s been a welcome addition to the neighborhood, offering delightful dishes coupled with unpretentious service. In partnership with the team behind Cafeteria Group and chef/proprietor John DeLucie, the full-service restaurant prepares menus of classic American fare for DeLucie’s fans; locals and non-locals alike.

While many visit the restaurant for their all day menu (BLD, it’s all good), I’m a fan of dressing up for dinner.

If possible, visit when the weather is warm. The hinged windows open outwards, and the humming of the city mixes in with the breeze. A palate of white with sweeps of chrome envelops the space, while hanging globe light fixtures, octagon-shaped tile flooring, wooden benches and caramel leather seating, and a curved bar with swiveling stools adds to the vintage vibe.

Empire Diner interior

Before making any decisions on the meal, take time to scan the cocktail menu. The High Line Honey (BarSol Pisco, sage infused honey, lemon and bee pollen) is fresh and just sweet enough for a hot day, while the Old Friend (Woodford Rye, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Tempus Fugit Gran Classico) and the Drunk Monk (Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition, Cynar, citrus soda and orange oils) are good standbys.

While the bar snacks (deviled eggs), salads (bloomsdale spinach) and small plates (sweet pea toast) look tasty, the mac & cheese with black diamond cheddar and parmesan bread crumbs is a customer favorite. Just gooey enough to form strings on a fork while pulling the pasta away from inside the dish.

Empire Diner MacnCheese

Skimming along the mains and past the ricotta gnudi (lamb’s quarters, parmesan reggiano) and braised beef short rib (wilted spinach, horseradish gremolata, and natural au jus), the sautéed sea scallops (farro, almonds, spring herbs, citrus emulsion) are a zesty/salty combo while the sourdough pretzel pried chicken (with mustard hot sauce) is a new take on a southern standard.

Desert? Always! Settling on the s’mores torte (toasted marshmallow, dark chocolate mousse, honey graham ice cream) takes the camping classic and is gone in a matter of minutes.

Empire Diner SmoresCake

After several plates, it’s time to top things off with a glass of chilled Moscato D’Asti. The sweet bubbles burst on the tongue and – almost – wipe away the sins of enjoying a good meal. There’s a delicate balance of combining comfort food with today’s gastronomic trends without coming across as #thirsty. And, no matter how you see it, the decor may look retro, but there is nothing old-fashioned about Empire Diner.

About The Author

Steven Carver
International Editor

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