The Emporium Coffeehouse and Café
When I moved away from Ames, Iowa, a few years ago, I was royally bummed to leave behind my favorite restaurant in the universe, simply known as The Café. When I went there, I would have to sit with the menu (which changed on a seasonal basis to take advantage of fresh local produce) for a very long time before choosing my meal because there were so many things I wanted to try. They had fresh flowers on the tables, fabulous fresh-baked desserts, a complete coffee menu, and a nice selection of adult beverages. Classy place.
So, when husband and I were checking out Scottsbluff as a place to live, I was really, really excited to discover The Café’s western Nebraska doppelgänger: The Emporium Coffeehouse & Café. No kidding, this restaurant helped convince us that we could live happily in the panhandle.
I love that the restaurant is located in a repurposed residence in Scottsbluff’s downtown (1818 1st Ave). I love that guests get the red-carpet treatment on their way in.
I love the décor of the interior: the large-scale fruit-and-veg paintings, the blown glass ceiling lamp, and the high-class bathrooms (though there is only a single one-seater per gender, which can cause a queue at an establishment that sells plenty of coffee and wine).
While The Emporium is an upmarket restaurant and I always feel like I should be dressed up when I go there, it’s a very down-to-earth place. You’re as welcome there in bluejeans as in a business suit. In fact, the waitstaff have been known to wear ripped jeans while serving that caramel macchiato or pinot grigio. A very appropriate ambiance for western Nebraska, methinks.
One thing The Emporium has going for itself that makes it better than Ames’ The Café (other than the fact that it’s only about six blocks from my house, rather than 600 miles) is the lovely outdoor seating patio in the front. I haven’t yet eaten out there, but with the warming weather, I am really looking forward to it. (One thing I wonder, though: how to they manage to hang onto their café umbrellas in the western Nebraska wind?)
And now (drumroll, please) . . . the food.
As they say, life is short, so I will start with dessert first. Whenever I am handed the dessert menu, I always giggle a little inside. Perhaps I am uncouth, but I think it’s funny to have wine (not just port) on the dessert menu. I’ve heard that the crème brûlée is to die for (though they serve it cold à la American tradition). I believe that chocolate is a universal solvent for worldly troubles, so if you’re having a bad day, the über-rich chocolate-ganache bundt cake will dissolve your problems for the moment. But I’ve not tried that either. I just can’t seem to get beyond one of The Emporium’s cupcakes, which I describe as a Hostess Cup Cake for grownups. Eating one makes me feel like a kid again. (Pair that with a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich, add a little tomato soup, and I might just regress right back to third grade.)
Twice I’ve tried The Emporium’s soup-of-the-day, and they were both excellent. The salads I’ve ordered have usually been wonderfully fresh. Thus far, I prefer the variety of the lighter lunch-menu fare to the higher-priced dinner menu (too bad they don’t extend the availability of sandwiches and such into the evening).
I love that the fish-n-chips is served with malt vinegar (the way it’s supposed to be!) without even having to ask.
I love that you can order the Greek salad with gyro meat or with vegetarian falafel (though the falafel is not an option on the dinner version of Greek salad).
Whenever I’d get a burger craving in Ames, I would head to The Café for the best burger in town. I can’t wait to try The Emporium’s burger. Mmmm . . . juicy hamburger . . .
Are you hungry now? Yeah, me too.
You can save yourself some time and decide what you want to eat before you get to the restaurant by checking out The Emporium’s online menu. (Hopefully they keep it updated better than their front page, which in mid-April still had a Valentine’s Day special posted.) Looks like you may be able to learn about specials through their brand-spanking-new Facebook page, too. (Signing up as a fan currently gets you a free specialty drink.)
Every time I go into The Emporium lately, I see someone I know. Maybe I’ll see you there, too!
Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw