Address: 120 Walton St, Syracuse, NY
Neighborhood: Downtown (Armory Square)
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Traditional Bar Food, Creole, Tex-Mex
Restaurant Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 AM to 10 PM, Friday-Saturday 11:30 AM to 11 PM, Sunday 11:30 AM to 3 PM, 3:30 PM to 9 PM
Bar Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 AM to Last Call, Friday-Saturday 11:30 AM to 2 AM, Sunday 11:30 AM to Last Call
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Alcohol: Full Bar
With a serious burger urge in my stomach all day, I thought I would venture over to Empire Brewing Co in Armory Square. Located on Walton Street in what feels like a hip, underground bunker, Empire is notoriously home to the some of the best Syracuse-made beer in the city. Inside you get a cool view of everything going on at this place, from the chefs cooking in the open kitchen and the glassed-in brewing facility, to the bartenders serving freshly brewed ales and patrons of all ages enjoying themselves. On a given day, you can find roughly 6 to 8 styles of Empire's beer on tap as well as live music on Thursdays and Fridays with 1/2 price deals at the bar all day on Thursdays (1/2 price on Empire beers, 1/2 price on wines by the glass, and 1/2 price cocktails). Don't miss their Happy Hour too (or Hoppy Hour). Times are n/a so just call for details.
Not only is Empire Brewing Company the first business in Central New York to have 100% New York State produced renewable energy, they also pride themselves on using local ingredients whenever possible - such as Gianelli Sausage, Big Mama's Cheesecake, and Plainville Farms to name just a few. Yes, they deserve serious props for this.
The beer and wine selection are both good with a nice range of house-made beer selections and a good offering of New York State wines. If you're new to the beer at Empire (or have fallen in love with them already) they offer $15 growlers for getting beer to-go and a $10 "beer sampler" where you can try a small glass of each of their brews.
There's a lot going on with the menu. I was merely up for a burger and fries, but they really have a bunch of different dishes here - to the point where I think they could clean it up a bit. I liked the way it was designed and organized (small plates, big plates, etc...) but the concepts were conflicting and a bit confusing if you're trying to gauge what type of cuisine they actually offer. For example, they serve calamari, pizza, gumbo, burgers, Indonesian sauces, pasta dishes, burritos, ribs, and lobster egg rolls - among other things. Being proud to serve local ingredients is great, but I think they could fine-tune the genre a bit, just so the overall menu concept(s) seems a bit more concise and directed - rather than a jumble of different kinds of random foods.
India Pale Ale: $5
Bentley Burger (w/side of Fresh-Cut Fries): $9
Total Money Spent with Tax & Tip: $25.60
Without sounding like I'm tooting my own horn, I consider myself to be fairly well-rounded in terms of liking different kinds of beers. And yet I honestly have a hard time enjoying, much less finishing, any beer that I've ever had at Empire. There's something about their beers where they leave a very bitter, uncomfortable and lingering aftertaste in your mouth. And the IPA on this occasion was no different. Hoppy and citrusy, but with an extremely annoying bitterness that made it hard for me to want to finish it. Though, perhaps this whole issue is just a personal preference. At any rate, I did not like it.
Jambalaya: a rice dish with shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, and smoked ham seasoned with spices and topped with a homemade Creole sauce.
I wasn't really a fan of this. It was spicy an all but the flavors just didn't line up. The ingredients in Jambalaya are supposed to interlock and blend together (like a stew, for instance) and this just tasted like 5 or 6 ingredients thrown on top of each other with some spices mixed in. Not only that, but the rice was very overcooked and tasted mushy. And baby shrimps? C'mon. There was just no love in this (yes, you should be able to taste the love in Jambalaya). Also, cooling down the spiciness of this dish with their IPA didn't work for me and actually made the heat linger more. Empire should seriously consider putting beer pairings after each dish on the menu. For example, I think something like the Downtown Brown in this case would have accompanied the Jambalaya a bit better instead of the IPA. Not only would this suggestion be good in terms of taste, but it might give some initial thoughts to those who are unfamiliar with their styles of beer and what they taste like before ordering what they want to eat.
Pictured here is the Bentley Burger. Grilled, black angus beef with chipotle mayo, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions.
I have to say that I liked this burger a lot and it was a pleasant surprise after being fairly disappointed with my beer and Jambalaya. Juicy and perfectly cooked angus beef with the right amount of fresh lettuce, onions, spicy mayo, melted cheese, and a layer of large, creatively-cut pickles. No ketchup (I love ketchup on a burger) but they give you enough in a small bowl on the side for your fries so I was able to use some of that. I wasn't crazy about the fries. I think I expected somewhat larger cut fries - maybe even steak fries - but these were kind of a let-down. Fairly dry and bland. And for the record, I hate when fries have that weird breading on the outside (you know what I'm talking about). Something happened to American's perception of fries sometime during the early-1990's and I put the blame on Burger King. Give me some normal, lightly salted fries with the skin on and I'm a happy camper.
A few things of note...
Service was slow. It was a Sunday night, not incredibly busy, and yet it took a good 15 minutes to get the check after the waiter disappeared.
They also have a "Blues Brunch" menu served from 11:30 AM to 3 PM on weekends with breakfast pizza, breakfast fajitas, and other creative brunch dishes.
Overall, I love the decor of Empire, love that they proudly use local ingredients, love that they are keen about energy usage, and love that they make their own beer, but everything that I ordered fell flat - with the only strong point being the burger itself. I would go back for it again but would rather try my luck with a different beer, different side, and a different appetizer choice.
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