Monday, December 29, 2008

Review: Empire Brewing Co

Name: Empire Brewing Co
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
Parking: On-Street
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.

The order...

India Pale Ale: $5
Jambalaya: $6
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.

My rating of Empire Brewing Co:

Your rating of Empire Brewing Co:


Amanda said...

Empire Beer = Hot Dog Water. Definitely not a fan.

armorysquareguy said...

IPA's are SUPPOSED to be bitter and finish dry. Check the style guide-lines. Amandas comment is childish, she obviously doesnt know good beer. Empire has won multiple awards including MANY Great American Beer Festival awarards, which is not an easy thing to do. They also have won awards at the World Beer Cup, making their beer some of the best in the world. They take great pride and have alot of passion in everything they do. Its so easy to reveiw a place, and it is so hard to actually make it your living. I have read many of your reviews and you sound very arrogant. Why do you wish everything came with a raspberry vinagret dipping sauce? On fries? Now that is weird. If you are so knowledgable in food and drink, open your own place!!!!

JoeBass123 said...

hey armorysquareguy.

thanks for the comments. the beauty of having your own blog is for the mere fact that you can write whatever you want on it. this happens to be a blog about restaurants in the city of syracuse, so i took it upon myself to voice my own personal thoughts on empire brewing company.

i'm not reviewing places based on "taking pride in what they do" or "they've won awards!". i'm reviewing places on food, ambiance, location, affordability, concepts, portions, etc... i mean, technically, an employee at a mcdonalds restaurant can take pride in what they do, does that mean i'm going to write a review praising how great their service and maybe their shamrock shakes are?

as for not knowing good beer, that's a relatively judgemental comment to make. i happen to like beer in all varieties (pales, stouts, lagers, belgians, casks, etc etc...). i just don't like any of the beer that empire has offered post-2003. i'm quite aware of their past awards (most of which were awarded well before their recent reopening, by the way). imho, the place brewed WAY better beer prior to that (hence when most if not all of the "awards" were won). it's fine to disagree. actually, i'd like to hear your thoughts on what beers are good there, because i have yet to find any.

as for repeating the "raspberry vinaigrette" statement, i unfortunately didn't realize that i had made that exact comment in an earlier blog post. there are roughly 150 restaurants in the city that i'm going to be reviewing from here on out and i'm sure i'll get around to intentionally or unintentionally repeating myself at least a few times over that time.

again, thanks for the comments.

Amanda said...

Armorysquare guy, I never said I knew good beer. I never claimed to be a knower of all things hop & malt. However, I know what I like (Belgian whites) and know what I don't (heavy stouts). I'm sorry you felt my comment was childish; next time I'll use big, complex words so I don't sound so immature.

By the way, take this review for what it's worth - one person's account of a restaurant. A restaurant can't please everybody and this review didnt come close to slandering Empire's reign. You're quite defensive and I'm honestly curious as to why!

asdf said...

I realize this is a really old post and no one will probably read this, but I have to just mention that even though armorysquareguy (who clearly is associated with Empire) is way out of line he is at least right in his comment about IPA's. Complaining about an American style IPA being hoppy and citrusy is like complaining about a hefeweizen having strong yeast and bannana flavors - that's just the way they're made and that's what people expect when they buy them. I do have to agree though that Empire's beer is pretty subpar overall.

Josef Lorenz said...

the "hoppy and citrusy" remark was regarded to imply that IPAs are supposed to have this quality. not to imply that I was put-off or it was unexpected. it's mostly the uncomfortable aftertaste that i get with their beers in general that puts me off.