Empire Café is a both a laid-back, but often bustling, counter-service restaurant on Westheimer west of Montrose that has been serving students, self-styled bohemians, and a great many others since 1994 who want a good and good value meal. Though a big, cosmopolitan city, Houston is lacking in this type of comfortably hip, but worthy, informal restaurant. It is especially popular with many Inner Loopers, including a well-heeled older crowd, and Empire Café works well as a place for a full meal, or just a cup of coffee, a drink, and especially for dessert.
The daytime menu is divided among appetizers, salads, soups, more than a dozen pastas, sandwiches on spongy focaccia bread, frittatas (Italian-style egg dishes), omelets, pizzas, and heartier entrees. Appetizers include caponata (a spread featuring eggplants and squash) with focaccia bread, stuffed mushrooms, phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach, cheese and onions, z medley of dips served with pita chips, and grilled chicken strips. With the exception of the largest pizzas, most of the dishes are around eight bucks Pizzas with thick, doughy crusts are available with either the standard white flour or the whole-wheat crust in the individually sized 8″ and 12″ sizes. Called panini, the sandwiches are served on somewhat-fragrant focacc ie bread. There are ones featuring roasted eggplant, chicken, turkey breast and Portobello mushrooms.
Entrees include Chicken Parmesan, Chicken Florentine (chicken breast with spinach), a roasted half chicken, Chicken Parmesan, a braised pork chop, and grilled vegetables. Not really representative of these places, the pastas are mostly named after towns arid cities in Italy plus the island of Corsica that was once part of greater Italy. But nicely, these are served with a small green salad or a cup of soup.
If you need a cholesterol fix, both types of the egg-based dishes, the frittatas and omelets, are made with four eggs. Both are served throughout the day with herb-roasted potatoes plus another side dish which changes daily. All of the Italian espresso-based coffee drinks are offered plus a few drip coffees. Suitably, and conducive to continued lingering after the breakfast is finished, the house blend drip coffee is robust and very flavorful. In the morning, in addition to the omelets and frittatas, Inspire Cafe serves most the breakfast staples, tempered with some flair. These pack the place on weekend mornings. Their homemade desserts are also very popular, and some customers seem to visit just for these. The assorted and mostly tempting cakes and pies are usually served as a generous slice. If anything else, Empire Cafe is a great choice for dessert and a coffee at night.
1732 Westheimer (west of Dunlavy)
Houston, Texas 77098
Copyright Mike Riccetti. Adapted from Houston Dining on the Cheap, and used with permission.
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