Gluten-free eaters now have a delicious spot on Broad Street to take their non-restricted eating friends.
The menu at The Empress is original and full of unique flavor combinations. Every item on the menu is gluten-free or vegetarian by default or can be made gluten-free or vegetarian by request, keeping everyone happy.
When entering, the hostess table is located in front of a wall lined with the restaurant's wine selection.
As you look to the left there are columns painted dark red, which are highlighted by the terracotta tile floors and exposed brick accent wall.
The artwork decorating the small restaurant has an oriental vibe with gold and black room dividers hung like paintings and a multicolored octopus that was a focal point for our table.
Seating consists entirely of half-booths lining the walls, and the one waitress working was nice and happy to give recommendations.
As for the menu, the appetizers include several items that may seem standard but come alive when you read what they entail.
For example, the arugula chopped salad includes aged fontina cheese, garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds and a red wine vinaigrette.
Any salad can be topped with chicken, seared rare tuna or duck confit for a unique and gourmet addition.
You may find fried calamari on the menu of plenty of restaurants or pubs, but at The Empress you will find sauteed calamari with a garlic butter and herb sauce and freshly baked accompaniments.
We decided to start with the bacon-wrapped dates in a local honey and gorgonzola sauce which was nothing short of heavenly.
The plate came with about 12 dates so each person in my party of five could enjoy several of the delicious bites.
The sauce was the perfect balance of sweet and strong flavors and I found myself licking my knife.
We also ordered the "Potato Roastie," which was almost like a hashbrown pancake with wonderful caramelized onion flavor, shaved manchego cheese and sour cream to round off the flavor palette.
The entrees available are equally as special as the starters. As soon as our second course arrived there was a moment of silence for everyone to take their first bite to see if it could compare to our appetizers, and then a chorus of "Oh my God" was heard around the table.
One of us ordered the espresso marinated hangar steak with smashed parsnips and a smooth cocoa reduction.
Two members of my party thoroughly enjoyed the buffalo lasagna, which is made with ground buffalo meat and not buffalo mozzarella as we initially thought.
The grilled scallops are another lovely choice with green bean and corn succotash and roasted fingerling potatoes.
I enjoyed the roasted acorn squash which was stuffed with wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, feta cheese and oats and complemented by roasted cherry tomatoes and a chutney of dried cranberries.
The dessert really sticks in my mind as an excellent way to end the meal.
Among the five of us we split the chocolate soup, which was like a cooled hot chocolate that came with grilled fruits for dipping. We also had the Coca Cola creme brulee, a creative twist on a classic dessert item.
And the star of the meal is something I never would have ordered on my own, but was convinced by another member of my group to order: A gluten-free crepe with apple pie filling in the center and topped with Greek yogurt and house-made gluten-free granola.
The juxtaposition of the warm apples and the cold Greek yogurt combined with the crunchy granola made this the perfect dessert.
My one complaint about The Empress is that the portions were just a wee bit small.
Considering the prices, however, with the most expensive item being the hangar steak at $14, the portions were understandable.
If you plan on taking the quarterback of the football team out to dinner then you might want to choose somewhere with larger dishes, but with an appetizer and dessert, I definitely left satisfied.
Contact staff writer Brigid Beitel at email@example.com