Detroit’s latest restaurant Empire Kitchen & Cocktails is set to open tonight. The restaurant located at the corner of the Woodward Avenue and Erskine Street on the ground floor of luxury apartment building the Scott has been in the works for roughly two years. However, details of the self-described “American-style bistro and bar” remained vague until late last week. Eater spoke with Empire’s owners about the restaurant ahead of the opening to find out just what this spot is all about. Here’s a primer on the new restaurant invading Brush Park.
On the team: Empire Kitchen & Cocktails was developed by longtime friends and partners Michael Abrams and Brian Adelman alongside David Pittaway of BAC Holdings in Bloomfield Hills and operating partner and Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Aaron Lowen. Abrams and Adelman own the franchise rights to Five Guys Burgers in Michigan and own 31 locations across the state. In addition to the burger chain, Abrams previously operated sports bar chain Snooker’s Pool & Pub as well as Southfield-based restaurants McVee’s and Mr. Joe’s.
On the design: The 3,150-square-foot restaurant features a 30-foot long bar rounded out with a mix of two top and high top tables. Steps away from the bar is a slightly more formal dining area with leather upholstered booths and a mirror wall; the space will be used for larger parties as well as possible private dining buyouts, according to Lowen. Bottles of liquor line the entire back wall of the space that’s decked out in dark walnut tables and paneling. Outside there’s even more seating on that sheltered four-season patio running along Erskine Street. The indoor space is also surrounded by walnut and glass garage doors that can be retracted for an breezy outdoor feel.
On the kitchen: While not strictly speaking an “open kitchen,” Empire’s culinary team can be seen working from behind the bar or from windows on the Woodward-facing side of the restaurant. Among its stand-out features: a convertible wood and gas-fired marble pizza oven that can achieve temperatures up to 1,200 degrees. The marble says Lowen, was selected more for aesthetic purposes than functionality. “It costs a lot of money and it’s beautiful,” he says.
On the owners’ reasons for opening Empire: In a lot of ways, Empire’s owners were investing in the development of Brush Park as much as the food. “It was space-driven,” Abrams tells Eater. “I just thought the space was so good that I had to do something there.”
On Empire’s identity: Located below a luxury apartment building and close to the Little Caesars Arena, Empire’s owners say they’re aiming to open an establishment that’s attractive both to people in the neighborhood and to visitors coming down to the area for a game or concert. “It’s not necessarily just a hoity-toity, fancy, destination restaurant,” Lowen says. “It’s a place that this neighborhood, Brush Park can eat at two or three or four times a week.” Abrams adds: “We’re not like a lot of the places. We might be unique in the fact that we’re not trying to be unique.”
On the name: Empire’s owners say the imposing name could be considered a reference to Second Empire-style Victorian homes, though they admit they made the architectural connection only after coming up with the moniker.
On the food: In developing the menu, Empire’s team leaned towards dishes that were “more approachable” to suit the range of customers that might come into the restaurant, Lowen says. Diners can expect options like spicy Italian pizza with pepperoni and pepperoncini, grilled shishito peppers with lemon-garlic yogurt, spiced cauliflower with raisin chutney and yogurt sauce, and a spicy fried chicken sandwich with pimento cheese. Patrons looking for a splurgier meal can also find prime NY strip on offer for $45.
On the bar: Empire’s bar also aims for a middle ground with a variety of wines available by the glass. Bottles on the low end of the spectrum include an pino gris from Oregon for $35 but go all the way up to the high end with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon for $225. Plenty of beers are also available by the can or bottle. In terms of cocktails, look out for a short list of approachable drinks such as the smoked old fashioned with Rittenhouse rye, simple syrup, and angustura bitters.
On reservations and parking: Although they’re not required, Empire is accepting reservations through Reserve. The restaurant also offers valet parking seven days a week. For those who happen to walk in on a busy evening, the establishment keeps an enclosed outdoor dining space open for customers to grab a drink while waiting for a table.
Empire Kitchen & Cocktails is located at 3148 Woodward Ave.; open 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday (kitchen closes one hour prior to official closing and at 10 p.m. on Sunday though pizza will be served).
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