Empire Coffee opened quietly in early December, taking over the renovated-garage space from Lift Coffee. The bright space and an array of coffee and espresso drinks from local B & W roasters are the same. But with new owner/sisters Chrissy and Amy Kelsch behind the counter, and product design by Liz Otremba, the shop has a definite new identity.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the carefully curated selection of baked goods. At many shops, savory options are few, with sweet options missing that critical factor of crave-ability.
I’ve visited several times, and everything I’ve tried has been excellent. A daily quiche had an ethereal custard that contrasted nicely with sturdy winter vegetables, all in a perfectly flaky crust. There’s also a gluten-free frittata, plus a biscuit sandwich and savory muffins and turnovers.
On the sweet side, there’s a great version of a sea-salt chocolate chip cookie, and the weekend brioche was to die for. During a recent visit, I tried to get my eight-year-old son to split the blueberry tart with me, but felt lucky in the end to have cadged a few bites. I also really liked the orange poppy-seed scone I tried. The texture was light and biscuity, and had a perfect level of sweetness that highlighted the orange zest without overwhelming.
In addition to the coffee, there’s a good selection of Tea Source drinks, thoughtfully displayed in glass containers for seeing and sniffing, since sometimes a description isn’t enough to do justice to a glorious mixture like Evening in Missoula. Empire also is one of the growing number of spots to offer Gray Duck Chai.
Amy trained at the French pastry school in Chicago, and relocated back to Minnesota to start the shop with her sister Chrissy, who worked for many years at B & W coffee roasters. They joked about starting their own empire, and the name of the shop was born.
For those, like me, who were sorry to see Lift go, Empire is a promising and welcome new addition to the neighborhood. It’s conveniently near the 35W ramp, and it’s been busier every time I’ve gone. It’s also right next to the Diagonal Bike Trail, so if spring ever gets here (it’s coming, right? RIGHT?) Empire will be a perfect pit stop for the bicycling crowd.