Dearest readers - are you familiar with Westword? If you don't live in Denver, it's a local weekly. A local weekly who just informed my culinary school that they are looking for a new restaurant reviewer/food blogger. I am completely sure that NO ONE else would possibly want that job, because doesn't it sound just awful? Therefore, I'm going to take one for the team and apply. The worst that can happen is that I'll be mocked on the front page. I need a sample, though, so here's a restaurant review. I'm considering it my introductory review because obviously they'll want to hire me and they can just publish this one, right off the bat. Also - is this blog starting to take on an 'Emma will try anything' vibe? Oh well - how can you learn what you're capable of if you don't apply for jobs you're not qualified for?
I'm a suburban girl right now, I freely and semi-proudly admit it. I grew up in the mountains west of Boulder, and have only lived outside Boulder county when I was forced to by my choice of college. I'm toying with the idea of moving to Denver - it would be nice to be closer to lots of food, bars, and derby practice - but right now Louisville is my home sweet home. Louisville, if you're not familiar, is the best place to live in the whooole country, which I'm sure is only mildly related to my presence there.
If I were to move to Denver, though, there are things about Louisville I would miss. I would have a wealth of delicious options at my foottips (cause I would walk, get it?)... but I wouldn't have The Empire.
The Empire recently celebrated it's one year anniversary - something of a feat for restaurants on Louisville's Main Street, where if you're not the hour-long-wait-for-brunch Huckleberry breakfast joint or the perpetually empty Double Happy Chinese (how do they stay in business? No, really? I have theories and none of them have to do with chinese food) you're in and out faster than the occasional nail salon that pops up. The Empire is the brainchild of Brendan McManus, who worked for the Big Red F group of restaurants and therefore is the only man the boy would ever consider leaving me for, and Jim Cohen, the man that makes food so delish even Julia Child was all "hey baby, how you doin?". Ok, she probably didn't say that, but she did name him one of the best chefs in the country and have him as a guest on the first episode of Dining with Julia.
Let me recount for you a few of the meals I've eaten there.
Date #1*: The first time I'd been. We sat in a table in the center of the front part of the long room. The restaurant is divided into four parts: the front has small tables along each wall, the middle is the bar and lounge - full of deep squishy black couches, and the rear is lined with booths and a room for parties. I was facing the always packed bar, watching Leah-the-tall-blond bartender work. The drinks are not crazy - Leah does not call herself a mixologist and the most complicated drink on the menu is the Pepino (gin, St. Germain and lemon juice). What the drink menu lacks in length, it makes up for in quality - the cherry bourbon is infused in house and the Manhattan will disappear before you realized what made it quite so delicious.
I didn't order off the drink menu on this particular evening (I'm kind of a lightweight and tend to avoid liquor on dates (I can hear the boy laughing from four miles away)), but their list of wines by the glass is long enough that everyone except the serious oenophile will find something, and the bottles range from casual Australian whites to Silver Oak Cab Sauv.
We started with the bacon wrapped almond stuffed dates. They're simple food, done without a lot of embellishment, but they are as delicious as they sound. At $8 for four dates, they are not the most cost effective way to start your meal, but they are absolutely worth every penny. They can be a little sticky, but the sticks they're served on double admirably as toothpicks. Since we'd started the meal with bacon, we moved right into what is one of The Empire's signature dishes - coal miner's mac and cheese. It's made with pancetta unless you request otherwise, and is absolutely delicious as long as you eat fast - as it cools down it gets a little heavy, because they don't skimp on the cream and butter. For those of you who aren't into heart attacks, no worries, the portion is small. It's actually ideal for a kids meal as there is no kids menu available.
From there the menu can go one of many directions. You can continue to share, as I did on that first date, and go for the spicy grilled pizza. It comes in one flavor - pepperoni - and isn't the thing to order if you were craving pizza when you came in. It's rustic, crunchy, and not the most consistent thing on the menu, but if you're nibbling your way through an evening it can be a strong contributor.
*The evening ended pleasantly but I liked The Empire considerably more than I liked the date. We did not go out again.
Date #2**: ...
Ok, I have the date above to get through (liked the man less than the restaurant AGAIN) and my wonderfully fantastic first date with the boy, and I'm bored. I read a review by the current reviewer and his was about 2000 words - I'm at like 900 if you count the intro. However, he probably spends more time writing them. Right? RIGHT?
I hope you weren't bored. I may finish this later... or I may not. I'm sure I'd be more motivated if I were being paid for it.