Everyone needs a good diner in his or her life. Someplace that is comforting and familiar. Someplace with good, simple food and friendly service. We’ve been to this diner all over this country along highways and byways, in towns and cities. And if you are a diner fan, boy, have I got a spot for you to try.
A good friend of mine, and former music business colleague, from Los Angeles was recently in New York City for a trade show at the Javitz. It had been too long since we last saw each other, so we certainly made plans to reconnect while she was here. Another L.A. colleague now living in New York joined us. It was 17 years overdue.
We met in Chelsea, so deciding on a place to eat can be difficult with all of the great choices. We chose two finalists and ultimately landed at the newly refurbished and reopened Empire Diner (@Empire_Diner, 210 10th Ave. at 22nd Street, 212-596-7523, www.empiredinernyc.com). I had not been there since its revival, so the location was the perfect metaphor to reconnect with friends.
There is something so transformative about walking into Empire Diner, aside from the warmth on a cold winter’s night. Of course, the chrome accents, diner-style booths and black and white tiles transform you to a period of 1940s Americana, but for this writer, it was reminiscent of a time when I was discovering myself, restaurants and food in New York City, circa the late 1980s, early 1990s. And that’s a good thing!
New Executive Chef Amanda Freitag (@AmandaFreitag) knows a little something about New York City restaurants, having worked in many in between her staple appearances on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. She takes an updated, whimsical approach to the menu, which invites guests to share plates, big and small, of traditional, modern classics and unique, new bites.
We started it all with a couple of their en-route-to-famous cocktails, the pickled martini: jalapeno-infused vodka, pickled vegetable brine garnished with a pickled baby carrot. I die for a good dirty martini (with olive juice), but this little libation right here? Whoa! It’s something to kill for! Sweet, savory, briny, spicy, crispy and more.
Before the cocktails went straight to our heads, we made sure to order some small plates. I had to get the brussels sprouts with chili jam, the shishito pepper poppers and the chicken liver pate with herb schmaltz (chicken fat). All of these would turn out to be amazing—the crispy, fried sprouts tossed in that deceivingly spicy jam, umami pate served with perfect toasts and the right amount of that schmaltz and those poppers filled with freshly made smooth cream cheese and battered just on the tip lived up to its name—twice!
Of our trio, there would only be one who had to order a full entrée, as Monday night’s Green Plate Special was braised short ribs with pea potato mash, caramelized cippolini onions and jus. It was so tender and delicious I had to recheck the menu for the other six days of the week, and I am now obsessed with checking Green Plate Specials every week. I see it’s gonna be a serious problem.
My other friend and I opted for soup as our entrees. She got the soup of the day, celeriac potato, and I had to get the matzoh ball marrow soup because any good “goy” (non-Jewish) worth her weight must. The broth was perfect, and that decadent, petite bone filled with marrow took it over. And while I loved the fresh horseradish in the matzoh ball, it was a little too dense for my taste. More schmaltz please!
It was too late and too cold to stay longer for dessert, but any place with a daily selection of pies is alright by me. If not for dinner, I will return for breakfast for gravlax and rye (chickpea cream cheese? Really?), lunch for their fried chicken thigh sammy, brunch (be damned the wait) for eggs Sardou (j’adore a popover) and a Smokey Mary cocktail or for happy hour and dive into buffalo skate wings (reread that—kit’s fish prepared in the style of the traditional wings) and a Salty & Sweet boozy float (salted caramel ice, cola and vodka)!
Are y’all picking up what I am putting down? Empire Diner is back and soon will be open 24 hours, just like it was during some of my most memorable early food experiences in this city.
Thank you, Empire Diner! It was great to see you, Meredith and Michael. Let’s do it all again sooner than later!
Happy eating and thanks for reading!
Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations? Email her at kysha@iSCHOP.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SCHOPgirl or on Facebook www.facebook.com/SCHOPnyc. For even more recipes, tips and food musings, subscribe to her blog at www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com.