“Cafe” can mean anything. It can be all about the coffee. Or all about the sandwiches. Or all about overcharging people in an area (the Skyway, Dinkytown, etc.) where foot traffic is thick enough. The newly opened Empire Coffee + Pastry is all about the baked goods — the case is filled with compelling scratch-baked nibbles.
A notice on the shop’s Facebook page about a cranberry / walnut / father-of-the-owners-harvested wild rice muffin ($2.50) drew us in, and we really enjoyed it: it wasn’t overly sweet, it was moist without falling apart or being slippery / slimy, the tart cranberries were balanced with just enough sweetness to create a harmonious tension, the wild rice infused the whole muffin with a wholesome nutty, buttery crunch, and the nut pieces were small and evenly distributed.
The star of our visit, however, turned out to be Empire’s white cheddar, green onion, and bacon muffin ($2.50). Its light, moist texture recalled that of a well-made popover, and its scallion flavor was dominant without being harsh or overwhelming, a fine match for the cheesy and bacony notes that filled out the rest of the muffin’s flavor profile. The muffin’s bacon bits were small and delicate, crispy and lightly salty with just a slight kick of pork — totally in balance and terrific.
Our coffee drinks were competent without wowing us, tilting second wave with their milky / aggressively roasted natures. That isn’t a bad thing among all the precious single estate tomato soup-tasting fancy coffee floating around the cutting edge of coffee culture around here.
With its neo-Northeast industrial-tempered-by-light-wood-and-sunshine vibe and killer baked goods, Empire Coffee + Pastry has a fighting chance at becoming a daily go-to for its neighbors — one could survive the winter on coffee and cheddar / onion / bacon muffins alone.
Empire Coffee + Pastry, 451 Stinson Blvd, Minneapolis, MN; 612.331.3877