There are many reasons to love Empire Café: the sweeping patio, the sensual pin-up paintings decorating the walls, and the convenient location, just to name a few. But none of these are the reason I love it. I go for one reason and one reason only: the cake. I fell in love with Empire Café's cake many years ago when I took my first bite of the Tollhouse Chip: a velvety, moist yellow cake with rich, thick chocolate frosting and studded with big chunks of chocolate chips. I came back time and time again to get another fix, and even bought the whole three-layered $70 shebang for my birthday several years running.
Lately, though, Empire has not had my Tollhouse Crunch. I've often called before heading over or asked the counter staff about it, but all I get is polite shrugs and promises of next time. So I stopped going to Empire Café for more than a year. It was a sad and lonely time, and though I tried to fill the void with that crazy cupcake fad, it just wasn't the same. I recently decided to suck it up and head back to Empire.
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Monday night is my unofficial cake night, when Empire slashes the steep price tag (about $7) by 50 percent, which means I can get two pieces for the price of one. When I finally returned on a recent Monday, they still did not have my Tollhouse cake, but I sucked it up and perused the other options behind the glass case. Though several options appealed, I ended up choosing the yellow with chocolate buttercream frosting and the chocolate amaretto cake with glistening dark chocolate frosting and slivered almonds.
Both cakes were delicious successes. The yellow cake was extraordinarily moist and buttery, with a decadent spreading of milk-chocolatey homemade buttercream. It was the kind of cake that transports you to your fifth birthday, when your grandmother spent all day baking you a cake from scratch. It was nostalgic perfection. The chocolate amaretto cake was more modern, with its liqueur-enriched dark chocolate base and satiny ganache chocolate icing. The slivered almonds added a perfect crunch to the last few bites. Both cakes were superb on their own, but complemented one another. They also went perfectly with a cup of dark-brewed, organic coffee.