The Greasy Spoon Meets the Silver Spoon at Empire Diner

For decades, a sliver of Tenth Avenue in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood has been home to the city’s iconic Empire Diner. Since opening in 1976, the diner has undergone several incarnations. The new proprietor, Chef John DeLucie, reopened Empire Diner this spring. DeLucie is a big presence in New York’s restaurant scene, having done stints at The Lion, Soho Grand Hotel, Waverly Inn, and most recently, Bedford & Co. restaurant located in the historic Renwick Hotel. The chef says that he’s always been drawn to the nostalgia of the diner and loves historic spaces that can be revitalized and reimagined.

Given Chelsea’s rapid redevelopment, spurned by the creation of the Highline Park, it’s a miracle that the diner wasn’t bulldozed and turned into pricy condos. However, DeLucie knew the diner needed an update – but rather than knocking it down, he hired architecture firm Nemaworkshop to modernize the space. They restored and accentuated its original stainless steel panels and softened its interiors with wood paneled ceilings. The restaurant is charming – it’s a classic diner – and seats about 100 inside. During warmer months, the restaurant seats about 80 outdoors.

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The new Chef de Cuisine is Justin Neubeck, who offers a menu that, of course, has classic diner staples like burgers. But he’s also trying to refine New York diner fare, adding items like a yellowtail crudo with crispy quinoa to an assuming greasy spoon menu. Celery root soup with brown butter and crab, and braised beef short ribs with a horseradish gremolata also stand out as more thoughtful dishes rather than run-of-the-mill diner food.

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That’s not to say the comforts of diner food aren’t there. There are onion rings and French fries, but they’re made with Vidalia onions and the fries are herb encrusted. There is an attention to quality (and seasonality) that makes the Empire Diner seem more like a modern bistro. Chef DeLucie also brought in mixologist, Jenny Castillo, who created tipples like their ‘Salty Dog’, a concoction of pressed fennel and grapefruit juices. The diner is also open for dinner, should travelers find themselves at a loose end after attending nearby gallery openings.

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Empire Diner is located at 210 10th Avenue, New York, New York, 10011. For more information, visit www.empire-diner.com.

 

Words by Rocky Casale