You may have to hunt.
The original Empire Coffee is in a neighborhood you wouldn’t expect to find a hip cafe. This part of Northeast is more industrial-industrial, than industrial-chic. And with the straightforward Middle Eastern Deli Zakia next door, you wouldn't be holding out hope for ambiance at Empire. But inside, this location is both open and bright, well-worn and buffed smooth at the edges from happy use.
The second, newer location is even more of a hunt. This cafe is also in Northeast, but tucked in the Highlight Center at the periphery of the maze of artist’s lofts near Central and Broadway. (This will be ground zero for caffeination during Art-A-Whirl).
Once you’ve found it, you’ll be glad you did. Both cafes are run by a pair of sisters, one of them with a serious pastry education. The sweets toe the line between fine and fun, where oatmeal cookie sandwiches are comfortable nudging up against croissants. The sandwiches are not the kind languishing beneath sweaty plastic, but instead arrive on freshly baked pretzel buns and flatbreads.
That oatmeal cookie thing is a cream-filled monster, and a chocolate pecan bar is like your mom would have made. You know, when she had the time to do more than break and bake cookies for your entire first grade class.
And that’s the difference at this little place. It looks and feels like somebody curated every little thing, unlike the other kind of place where a bored barista seems to disdain you for existing.
Aside from that, it’s a cafe, one that serves up coffee drinks the way all Americans have come to expect them. The beans come from local specialty roaster B&W, and there’s also kombucha on tap for when you’re overcaffeinated, which you may come to be while lingering here.
With Thanksgiving approaching, know that Empire also makes pies to order, and we can think of few other hip cafes that offer such a sweet, down-home service.
So find Empire if you want cool surrounds, but warm treatment and eats. And don't we all want that?