Empire Brewing Company

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Empire Brewing Company has made an impression with its garden-grown menu, green mindset and carefully crafted brews. And its location at the heart of Armory Square doesn’t mean its Cajun-influenced cuisine is too pricey for a night out with friends. The atmosphere is casual, cozy and modern, and the food has a kick. Above all, Empire is approachable; you don’t have to be a microbrew connoisseur to love this place.

When to Go: Empire’s business has picked up in the last couple years, and the Armory Square masses are flocking to its moderately priced, gourmet menu and innovative microbrews. Standard hours of operation are Mon-Thurs: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weekend nights are the busiest; the wait for a table in the 125-seat house might stretch up to two hours. The bottom line: No wait is too short to preview one or two of Empire’s signature brews at the bar.

On Tap: All the tap handles are embossed with Empire’s modern, lowercase “e” logo, and with the exception of four rotating guest beers from New York State breweries, what’s on tap is what Empire is brewing. Try the Summer Ale, Deep Purple (made with concord grapes) or Skinny Atlas Light (the cheapest at $4/pint). The bar also offers a wide variety of wines and cocktails, including Empire’s barley wine (its most expensive drink at $6-$8/glass). A new beer made with Thai basil from the company garden should be on tap soon. The bottom line: Don’t come to this microbrewery and skip the beer.

The Scene: Empire channels Armory Square’s historical charm with its exposed brick walls, wood beams and overall industrial feel. Being in the basement makes the atmosphere cozy and cellar-like (don’t worry, it’s wheelchair accessible). Diners can watch the line cooks at work in the open-format performance kitchen or peer through glass at the massive brew tanks. Ask the front house manager for a tour if he’s not too busy, and he’ll oblige. The bottom line: This place makes guests feel like they’re an integral part of the brewing and creating process.

Blue Plate Special: We’re in New York, not Louisiana, but who cares? Empire’s owner fell in love with Cajun cuisine on his many trips down south, and the restaurant’s menu is peppered with classics such as lobster bisque soup, the po’ boy sandwich, and the “big mamou platter,” which includes a little bit of everything for just $14: jambalaya, big easy gumbo, crawfish nola and blue corn bread. Most entrées fall within the $8 to $12 range (the NY strip steak is the priciest at $21), and the daily specials change based on what’s growing in the garden. The bottom line: Empire is far more than a brewery. Take advantage of its upscale Cajun twist because you aren’t going to find homegrown food like this anywhere else in Syracuse.

The Crew: The brewpub’s servers, bartenders and managers know their stuff, and they continue to learn more about the brewing process and Empire’s new beers as they spend more time on the job, so don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. And even if you’ve waited an hour for your table, your food will arrive promptly after you’ve had a few minutes to sample drinks and chat. The bottom line: Grill the server (figuratively, please); you never know what random fact about beer they’ll pull from the tap.

The Crowd: Because of its location in Armory Square, it’s in the midst of the Syracuse night scene. That means both students and members of the community mingle, although bar-goers tend to average in their mid-to late 20s and early 30s. Pint Night (all pints for $3) is on Thursday and usually includes live music, and Sunday brunch is paired with a local blues band, such as Los Blancos. The bottom line: The crowd varies depending on the entertainment and time of day, but most who come to Empire are just looking for a casual place to hang out.

The Deets: If you’re tired of Marshall Street’s pita places and sandwich shops, it’s more than worth the trek to Armory Square to find something with a little more character. Empire’s Cajun flavors, original beer and forward-thinking attitude (it was the first business in CNY to use 100 percent renewable energy) give it an edge. The New Yorker and The Food Network have hailed the brewpub for its quality beer and atmosphere over the years. The bottom line: If you need more convincing than The New Yorker’s blessing, go try it for yourself.


120 Walton St
Syracuse, NY 13202
(315) 475-2337

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