Diner's Notebook

He Smoots to Conquer: Empire Cafe proprietor Smoot Hull -- he of the long blond locks and the studied cool -- seems to be everywhere of late, plotting and planning and humming that expansion-mode song that every halfway successful restaurant operator loves to sing. He's busman's holidaying at the Daily Review Cafe on Friday night and talking about his new chef, Michael Frietsch, formerly of the Houston Country Club. He's dining on the screen porch at Ouisie's with shopping-center leasing king Larry Plotsky, leaning intently over paperwork for a regional American restaurant he intends to open this fall, allegedly within a minute's drive of the Empire. ("Ohio Grange" is the name he's been kicking around. Ohio? Go figure.)

Smoot has even been glimpsed down at City Hall -- discussing, at the invitation of the mayor's office, whether to locate an Empire coffee satellite in the heart of ElyseWorld. The mayor and mayorette, he confides, regularly swing into the Empire in their chauffeured town car for the soy-based coffee freezes to which they have become enslaved. Should we worry that our First Personages are partaking of soy concoctions? Nah. A sample of the drink in question (it's called a granita, if you must know) reveals that it is a very respectable driving-around drink. Think of it as a mocha milk shake, minus the guilt.

The Restaurant Grinch Speaks: I, for one, am sick of having to watch restaurant staffers spraying tabletops with industrial cleaners while I am in the middle of my dinner. Sure, I recognize the need for cleanliness -- but I am unwilling to concede that cleanliness requires the unsightly spectacle of oversized spray bottles and the unappetizing aroma of their noxious fumes. This reprehensible practice is by no means limited to downmarket dives. Within the past month I have endured mid-meal spray-bottle torture in a variety of locations ranging from the sophisticated Empire Baking Company to the homey little Jackson Hill Italian cafe, Patrenella's. On the charm scale, I rate Overt Spray Bottle Use right up there with Piling Chairs on Tables at Closing Time Even Though Patrons are Still Eating. Enough, already. You know who you are.

-- Alison Cook

Empire Cafe, 1732 Westheimer, 528-5282.

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Empire Cafe

1732 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77098



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