Empire Slice House is the newest culinary addition to the NW 16th St Plaza District.  They offer a reasonable facsimile of New York style pizza in several traditional, and not so traditional, styles in a clean, modern space.  Not bad seeing as it was a laundromat in it’s past life.  And with walls plastered with posters ranging from INXS to Chuck Norris’ foray into the Cop/Dog genre, “Top Dog,” and pizza names like MCA, Doug E. Fresh, and Notorious P.I.G., there’s little doubt that the interior decoration came from the mind of a fellow Gen-Xer.

I’ve seen reviews about bad service, but in all my visits I’ve not experienced any problems.  The only service related problem I had was how long it takes to get a slice.  In NY you can walk in and have a slice in your hand in less than 3 minutes if there’s not a line.  At Empire I wait an average of about 15 minutes after ordering, once even longer.

The problem seems to be that they are handling both the full pie orders and the slice orders in the same queue.  The result being that if you put in your 1 slice order behind 5 full pie orders, you have to wait for those pies to be made first.  Perhaps, at least during rushes, they should consider having one person run the a full pie/custom order queue and someone else run a slice queue (or one talented person could run both).

As for the food, everything I’ve had has been very good.  The house salad is a tiny bit on the small side, but is perfectly dressed and the drunken goat cheese mushroom caps were very tasty.  The slices are the right size for a slice house (8 slices out of an 18″ pie) and the toppings are well balanced with the exception of, in my opinion, the cheese.  It could use just a touch, but not much, more.  Maybe an extra 2 or 3 ounces per pie would do it.

Now let’s talk about what makes a pizza, the crust.  The crust at Empire is good, but it could be great and it wouldn’t be hard.  The taste is just about right, that’s not the problem.  The problem is that it’s consistently just a little undercooked.  If they’d just turn their ovens up just a little bit, they could turn out a really great product.

Regarding price, most of the menu is about what you’d expect for a trendy neighborhood like the Plaza District.  The slices are just about perfectly priced at $3.25.  Where it gets a little our of hand is on the full pie prices, with some priced all the way to $23.  That’s getting a little out of line, guys.

There was one glaring omission from a place calling itself Empire and trying to be a New York slice house.  I’ve been around.  I’ve been to several places in New York including Ray’s Original Pizza, Famous Ray’s Pizza, and the REAL Ray’s Pizza on Prince St in Little Italy (now sadly closed and reopened as The Famous Roio’s Pizza).  In all these places there were always three shakers on the table.  Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder.  Empire’s missing the garlic powder.  I know it’s not an Oklahoma thing, but it would cost them almost nothing to do and I bet most people that try it will like it.  Plus, who knows?  It could become something for which Empire is known.

Now for a few… let’s not call them complaints, just notes.  Empire:

Your shakers suck.  You can get almost nothing out of the shaker side and instead have to use the pour side and risk dumping way too much.

Your water/soda/tea glasses are way too small resulting in your wait staff having to spend a lot of time refilling.

I know you’ve got this whole can motif going on (a “nice set of cans.” I get it.), but canned beer should be served with a glass (or at least ask if they’d like one) and fountain soda is MUCH easier to deal with and is MUCH more profitable.  You will have an increase in consumption due to refills, but when you’re filling a glass for less than a nickel, who cares?

You should include a cheese slice on your slice board all the time just like the pepperoni.  I was with someone the other day who ordered a pepperoni slice so she could pick off the pepperonis and eat it without.  I know she’s not the only one.

Push the “pink sauce” more.  It’s great, but I wouldn’t have known that if a waiter hadn’t brought me a sample of his own accord.

Ok.  Enough of my unsolicited advice (however, that is kinda what I do here). Bottom line:  Empire Slice House is really good and is teetering on the edge of great.  Let’s all hope they tip the right direction.

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