Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Empire Diner

Chelsea, New York City
212-243-2736

Review by Susu, MaceVindaloo, Rosie, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGril, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt

As noted previously, this diner has been an on-location set for many movies and television shows. It just has the "look" that you associate with Art Deco diners (the real kind, not the icky pink 1980s remakes that blight the universe), zinc surfaces, and the "Great White Way." Of course, old Broadway and the 1920s are long gone, but that's not always bad, since the Empire Diner restores the best bits of it and modernizes other aspects.

For one, this is a funky type of place, which might've been a hard-to-enter secret way back then. The neighborhood of Chelsea is revived and restored and there is a lot of money put in by private home- and apartment-owners. There are more children and dogs -- the sign of families living here. For a while, people did not want their children growing up in NYC and fled for the 'burbs, but they are back in force.

That gives this funky, fashionable 24-hour eatery an odd family feel. It's as if these kids have fashionable multiply divorced parents, and thus for every child there seems to be a big range of traditional seeming and "alternative" caretakers. The children are well behaved and seem very happy to be amidst adults. And since there is outdoor seating, noisy kids and dogs can be contained out there.

The night we were there was a massive thunderstorm and we enjoyed the panoramic windows and views of the outdoor seating and umbrellas being toppled over by the gale-force winds. The stylish waiters would run out in a panic! Our waiter was one of the "ennui-imbued" types who answered questions in a "I don't really know, but I'll state the obvious" manner you see in some movies; in fact, we suspect he was an acting student. That happens a lot in NYC; as one waiter told us, "You can't swing a cat in a restaurant in New York without hitting an actor!"

It was dinner time, but they serve breakfast all day (when one is open 24 hours, and when one caters to a night-time-living crowd, breakfast is theoretically anytime after you wake up, right?). One of us ALWAYS gets the sausage and bleu cheese omelette; another, who loves lox but is often denied that pleasure since she lives far from NYC, got a nova lox and onion omelette, a Jewish classic; another few ordered "Today's Hedonist Sandwich" -- lamb burger on ciabatta served with tabbouleh and hummus. Another ordered a plate of pigs in blanket (wiener pieces wrapped in pastry), quesadillas, and other appetizer items instead of main plates. That was okay with everyone -- it meant a bigger variety of things to share. The breakfasts are served with sliced potatoes, a sort of variation on lyonnaise, rather than potato chips. But without the oniions or the beef stock. Well, so it wasn't like potatoes lyonnaise at all ...

When you are at the Empire Diner, you MUST order a glass of orange juice. It's freshly squeezed in a big clunky machine as you order. It's a bit like a Rube Goldberg device -- you know, thing 1 happens, which knocks into thing 2, which drops thing 3 into thing 4, etc. The oranges drop from a hopper down a ramp into the squeeze chamber where they are squashed till they pop! The exuded juice drips into a cup and you get your juice. The pulp, seeds, and rinds get dropped into a garbage chute, if you watch long enough. But more than the entertainment, minute-old freshly squeezed orange juice tastes like nothing else and it'll make you swear off the stuff that comes in cartons. (Is that a bad thing?)

We did leave a little room for dessert, and opted for "The Empire Chocolate Pudding" which is described as dark, dark, dark but pudding! Even the youngest among us was charmed by this dish. Others ordered mango sorbet, and coffee -- not enough room for the pies and cakes on the hand-written whiteboard the waiter brought over and propped on the window ledge. It was all so good, we even packed up the leftover omelettes, and walked out happily into the dark and stormy night!


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