Flaky. Buttery. Melt in your mouth biscuits. Moist, fresh and warm from the oven.
These are all words that describe what a great biscuit should be. Empire Biscuit has none of these qualities. I arrived, brimming with hope but after it was over, I left with a dry taste of disappointment.
After hearing about the recent press of how they completely sold out of biscuits within hours of their grand opening, I bought into the hype and decided to check it out with Sammy. We made our way to a CitiBike kiosk with 5 bikes and he proposed a bet - if there were more than 2 bikes with a red light, he would pay for dinner. The first bike dock was red. Great start for me. Next two weren't. Our hearts raced as we walked to the last two remaining bike slots. Both red.
As Sammy let out a primal scream toward the November sky, I began thinking about the golden fried chicken patty sandwiched between a flaky buttery biscuit that we were trekking to consume. We pedaled along the FDR, each revolution carrying us closer to the grand prize.
When we arrived 20 minutes later, we did not see the endless crowd out the door waiting eagerly for the buttery biscuits as reported. In fact, the line was only six deep. There was an excitement in the air as there was a film crew from CNBC interviewing co-owner, Yonadav Tsuna. The exterior and interior of the restaurant gave off a Momofuku Noodle Bar vibe - clean, zen, and lots of unadorned, yet beautiful wood.
The menu is laid out with 3 main sections: sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, and custom biscuits. For those of you who can’t make up their mind because you want to find the optimal combination (me), the back of the menu has a few pre-selected options. We ordered 2 sandwiches: Scotch Egg and the Fried Chicken as well as 2 preselected options: The Fancy Pants and The Bright Crew.
After taking a few photos, I was ready to collect on my bet. We started with the fried chicken. The breading and fry on the chicken was great. The spice mixture took me back to Delhi as it reminded me of masala, turmeric, and coriander. However, the white meat was dry. The crunchy pickled carrots were a nice touch but the meat could have used more sauce.
The biscuit itself was a disappointment. Cold and dry like cardboard. I can forgive service hiccups and logistics during a restaurant’s first few weeks but if you’re going to serve one thing and one thing only, make sure it’s the best damn version ever. My favorite biscuits are from Clinton St Bakery and Cracker Barrel. Perhaps my expectations were too lofty to be met. I've also heard of the Portland biscuit mecca called Pine State Biscuits that I tried visiting in May (but they were closed).
Next was the Scotch Egg which was better than the fried chicken. The yolk that oozed out masked the dryness of the biscuit. The crunchy batter on the egg was excellent and the whole grain mustard provided a refreshing tartness against the savory sausage meat.
Our third biscuit was The Fancy Pants - foie gras butter with preserved lemon and cabbage jam. I couldn't get past the overpowering sourness of the lemon to even taste the foie gras butter. It could have easily been regular butter or chicken pate butter. In the words of the great Gordon Ramsay, "Damn, what a shame."
By now, Sammy and I were crestfallen. The bet that I had won actually felt like a loss. Luckily, the last biscuit was a hit for me - The Bright Crew with oxtail and brown sugar jelly with arugula and fennel butter. The meat was juicy and tender, reduced and flavorful with the consistency of Mighty Quinn’s pulled pork. I could have had another spoonful of it easily. The brown sugar jelly was a nice sweet touch. Unfortunately, the biggest weakness was still the biscuit.
My initial thought was that perhaps we didn't order the best items with the right toppings.
Then I realized, the problem wasn't the toppings. I will probably come back in a few months and give it a second chance to see if they have improved the biscuit recipe. I’d also like to try the biscuits and gravy.
Oh, and I'm also never betting on food again.