Friday, September 23, 2011

THE HIGHLINER (The Empire Diner)

It  would've been hard to improve upon The Empire Diner for it's sheer diner-ness.  Luckily, when the old queen lost her reign and a new hierarchy took the helm, its landmarked status preserved the shiny, chrome dining car and all its trimmings, so that all the energies on renovation and improvement went straight to the menu.  And its a good thing, too; now you can eat at The Empire and actually enjoy more than just the nostalgia.

Two chefs have come and gone, and the third appears to have settled in and brought a little pizzazz to some old diner standards.  The brunch menu holds all day, and dinner adds a few more options starting at 5pm.  I went for an early brunch, and noticed vast improvement from its prior incarnation.  Granted, the Empire would never have offered an $18.00 omelette, but then again it wouldn't have ever proffered creme fraiche and paddlefish roe, either.  It's a big omelette, fluffy, and generously sided with home fries and toast with raspberry jam.   Other omelette options include such fillings as goat cheese, bone marrow croutons and clothbound cheddar, although you could go simpler with eggs any style, biscuits and gravy or a Benedict with your choice of salmon, bacon or pork loin.  There's a lot to choose from here, even some ethnic options like Chilaquiles, which were good but could've been a tad saucier, although the wispy-cloudlike poached eggs atop were expertly done and lubed things up as they released their silky yolks.

The appetizer we ordered could easily have stood in as a light main course, as well. A raft of
buttery poached spears of asparagus braced another one of those whimsical poached eggs, the plate (although slightly oily) littered with crunchy little nuggets of minced bacon and flecked with chives.
I love a joint that offers veggies at breakfast as well, so we sampled both some sauteed greens (which turned out to be collards, more stewed than sauteed) and wild mushrooms (WAY sauteed, almost desiccated but still pretty delicious, in a greasy, salty, hang-over busting way). I didn't have a hangover, though, so I would've preferred them a little less frizzled.

All in all, I was pretty happy with The Highliner. The food is by no means destination-worthy alone, but along with the historic address, completely sufficient. I would not at all be opposed to returning for dinner, too, to sample some of their evening fare. (The steelhead and the fried chicken look appealing, as well as some of the desserts: a rootbeer float with sarsaparilla ice cream- and to find out just what in the heck is "whey meringue" on the lemon pie.) No guarantees, of course, but then again there never is. Except for that The Highliner will ALWAYS be The Empire, as long as that chrome facade gleams.

THE HIGHLINER    210 10th Ave.     (between 22nd St & 23rd St) 

                                                               (212) 206-6206

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