Let's talk details — those itty bitty minutiae that add up creating a whole, the teensy weensy pixels comprising a big picture. The addition of pillows to a refurbished church pew provides that bit of back relief much needed after a tough day. Bone china, dainty in decoration yet sturdy, adds class to a burgeoning area of Broad Street. Perhaps the difference is amenities provided in the restroom that aren't your usual rough paper towel and clinical-smelling soap. One of these details alone would be considered a bonus, but when each component is strung together, it's a ground score.
The Empress isn't a looker. White tile flooring curiously devoid of rugs, combined with brick walls and black tables, produces a clean environment. Cafe accoutrements grace the front entrance for those on the run, people who want to pick up a hot coffee and the epic sharable portions of a savory scone or sweet. But you aren't there to look at the walls or scrutinize floor coverings. Warmth and welcome emanate from the owners and translate directly into their food; simplicity in dAccor fades, well, into the background.
Dinner service is intricate yet inexpensive. Recent nighttime meals of succulent and sweet duck medallions ($12) and grilled lamb chops ($12) are served with fiery sesame Brussels sprouts and a pancakelike horseradish polenta. An exceptional beef carpaccio is eye-popping affordable ($10) and splendid in its cracked pepper, black sea-salt dusting and partner of fine baby greens. Dinner is finely tuned with an amuse bouche of hummus and arugula, a plate painted with house-made sriracha hot sauce, or perhaps a surprise small taste of dessert wine to pair with a miniature dessert.
You would be remiss not to stop in for lunch or brunch (served till an admirable 5 p.m.). For the hour you have to yourself weekly, try the occasionally served special grilled cheese. Settle in for a relaxing moment with a light, crunchy house-made sourdough and fontina cheese masterpiece. If your palate leans toward something meatier, order one of the chicken panini ($8). Delicately sliced white-meat chicken and mozzarella make a happy couple when served on the same addicting sourdough.
On Saturday or Sunday, take advantage of an entirely different side of the Empress, when an easy-like-Sunday-morning vibe takes over. A breakfast crepe ($7) filled with asparagus, bacon, eggs, cheese and roasted red pepper matches a little sweet with a smidge salty. Green eggs and lamb, a whimsical combination of derby sage scrambled eggs and gamey lamb, are an innovative take on your average steak and egg ($12). You may miss a side dish (potatoes, maybe?), but the longing subsides as you wash down these brunch options with freshly macerated blueberry lemonade.
Dessert is a must-have, so save room or locate an extra stomach. Technically dead-on, the crA"me brA¯lAce ($4) is a favorite, the flavor changing daily. Salted caramel apple and Mexican dark chocolate have been recent options, both inducing swoons.
Expect the royal treatment at a place aptly named on all occasions, small things considered.
2043 W. Broad St.
Monday-Wednesday: 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m.,
Thursday-Friday: 6:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.