July 14th, 2009
Empire Cafe: All Roads Lead to This Empire
In 6 Words: Mediterranean, Cakes, Seclusive, Coffee, Retreat, Patio
Nestled behind purposeful shrubs and potted ferns on one of Houston’s main drags lays something of a Mediterranean-style haven, secluded from the wild world of Westheimer. Empire Café is a spot that you can take friends, family or first dates without having to worry that you’ll have a bad experience, meal or cup of joe. Continue reading and you’ll understand why it’s one of our favorite restaurants on Westheimer.
From the moment you arrive at Empire Café there’s something noticeably different from the rest of the area’s eateries. A vast parking lot sets it apart from the other establishments that provide nothing more than side-street parking. They have even expanded the lot and added a security guard to keep away the vehicular riffraff. For those unfamiliar with the ares this may be reason enough to take respite here.
As we walk up to the door we experience the buzz from this Mediterranean-styled cafe. It’s a favorite of many and rarely empty. Luckily, there are plenty of tables both inside and out to accommodate the young, old and hungry. They pack the place for weekend brunch and weekday lunch as much as the typically busy dinner hours in large groups or private dates.
We walk up to the counter grab a menu and go past the glassed case of cakes to the registers located on the far end of the main room to order. The menu consists of mostly Italian themed fare; pastas, pizzas, coffees and entrees all have a foothold in the boot-shaped country. Our particular orders are the Chicken Florentine, Milano and the one of the day’s specials – Shrimp in angel hair pasta – dutifully registered and exchanged for a number on a stick to display at our table for eventual service.
Though bustling, on this outing we find a table on the main patio easily around 8pm on this Friday night as the sky fades from rich yellows to oranges that match the interior fresco-styled walls of Empire Café. The humidity is always a constant reminder that you are on the Gulf Coast, you can’t help but imagine you’ve been transported elsewhere. The conversations by others around are so many that everything becomes a jumble of unintelligible buzz further enhancing the feeling of being immersed in the foreign.
Our party sits and chats idly about The Loop Scoop, sipping coffee and taking in the full experience with the street right behind our table barricaded by the greenery. A group has three tables pushed together to our right while a family hunkered down to our left and a couple – obviously on a first date – find a table in front of ours. None of these groups are extraordinary for Empire and all are welcome absolutely to its confines.
The food is delivered without fanfare and we extract the utensils and napkins from the clear, plastic container on our table. The dishes at Empire Café manage to walk the line between Italian comfort food and finer dining. The Milano touts ravioli stuffed with mushrooms along with the typical cheese. It is this Loopster’s second most recommended to the Empire newbie. My favorite dish here is the Chicken Florentine but usually comes with a casual, personal allegory about why it’s the only time I ever eat spinach.
We finish our meals and the plates are cleared by the staff as we go back inside for one last free refill from the self-serve coffee station. One of my first memories of Empire are the black t-shirts with white script on back proclaiming “Corporate Coffee Sucks.” I was an impressionable undergrad back then, but the sentiment still rings true. Why go to the local Seattle-based mega-percolator when this cafe is beckoning?
The crowd starts to thin as the clock approaches 10, though many seemed perfectly content with sticking around until the 11PM closing time. Empire Cafe recently expanded their selection at the bar and now serves beer, wine and hard liquor, so there isn’t much reason to leave if you want a casual drink to end the night.
Our night, however, is just getting started. We head for the door satisfied from the food and awake from the coffee ready to take on the rest of the night only forgetting one thing… We didn’t indulge in cake.
I suppose that just gives an excuse to visit again soon. Not that we needed one.
Where – Montrose (1732 Westheimer, Houston, Texas 77098)
What – Secluded Mediterranean Retreat With Plenty of Treats
Wear – Checkered Vans to Buckled Loafers
Who – Those That Love a Chewy Sugar Cookie Served With Coffee
How Much – $15 Will Feed, Quench Your Thirst and Sate Your Sweet Tooth
When – 7:30AM-10:00PM Sunday thru Thursday,
7:30AM-11:00PM Friday and Saturday
Web – http://empirecafe.com
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