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Have you ever been on a bike and thought, “I should really eat some calories to make sure I don’t get too skinny”? Me too! Which is why this Spokies-sponsored review takes us to Plaza District fave Empire Slice House.
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Mayhaps you have heard this old saying, which surely came from Aristotle or Plato:
“Pizza is like sex; when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad...it’s still pretty good.”
Not to disagree with the greats of philosophy, but I disagree with the greats of philosophy. The gulf between sex and pizza is wider than a slice of New York-style pie.
1. Between the two, pizza is the only one it’s acceptable to enjoy in public.
2. No one complains when you fall asleep right after eating pizza.
3. Sharing a pizza with several coworkers rarely leads to a meeting with HR.
4. And it goes without saying that any brothel offering a by-the-slice window ought to be avoided.
I will give the Pizza=Sex people this one: I’ve never known anybody who went looking for bad pizza or bad sex, and while I certainly cannot help you at all with the latter (seriously, have you seen me?), I can definitely help you find the former (again, have you seen me?).
But for that classic slice, so wide you have to fold it to fit it in your mouth, belongs to New York. And in OKC, that usually means Empire Slice House.
Oh, Empire! When it first opened in the Plaza District, the reaction was so intense you’d think people had never even heard of pizza before. There are people with Empire Slice House tattoos. Let that sink in. Now try to wash it off. You can’t! Those are permanent!
And while I’ve yet to have ink injected into my skin to show my love, I cannot deny that Empire makes some of my favorite pizza.
Even in its new digs, just down the street from the original, Empire retains its weird, funky style. The walls are covered in torn up art. Ellie the Elephant still greets guests. And those topping combos never cease to blow my mind.
You know I had corn on a pizza there once? Corn. And I think ribs. That was a weird pie, but then you look at some of the combinations on the regular menu and think, “I guess this is just how they do it.”
Pizza is one of the rare foods that doesn’t really need an appetizer. You just jump right into it most of the time. But don’t sleep on Empire’s app menu.
Garlic knots ($6) are exactly what it says on the tin. Freshly baked knots of dough, glazed in garlic butter and covered in parmesan cheese. Last time I got them, they were a bit tougher than I prefer, but the flavor was still on point.
Andre the Giant Meatball ($14) is also pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a one pound pork meatball, covered in marinara and served in a bowl of marinara, just in case you aren’t getting enough sauce.
The trick here is how tender it is. Giant meatballs are tough to do well without making them just...tough. A meatball shouldn’t have the texture of a meatloaf (and, frankly, a meatloaf shouldn’t be as tough as most meatloafs). Andre doesn’t have that problem. Cut yourself off a slice and you’ll see how it falls apart in your mouth. What a delight.
When it comes to pizzas, which are the main event, after all, Ghostface Killah ($24) is the craziest pie on the menu. That’s just my opinion, but since this is also my website, I’ve decided it’s a fact.
The listed ingredients are ghost chili marinara, pepperoni, poblano, and BBQ potato chips. When it comes out, it’s like someone has crushed a bag of BBQ Lays and sprinkled the resulting crumbs on top of your slice. And I LOVE it.
Oh, baby, the heat from this thing is weird. I’d think ghost chili marinara and poblano peppers would light it up, but it’s actually pretty mellow. The heat is more like a pop of flavor up front, making way for the textural combo of crunchy chips with stringy cheese and meaty pepperoni rounds. This is one of those combinations I would never have put together myself, but thank god somebody at Empire did, because it’s delicious.
Over the years, I have eaten every different pizza on Empire’s menu (RIP Brussel Westbrook!), and while I have my favorites, I feel confident in saying that absolutely none of them could be considered “bad pizza.”
You’ll always have your standards, like the pepperoni pizza ($22) and the cheese ($20), and you can build your own, but it’s hard not to be swept away with choices like Fungus Among Us, Foghorn Leghorn, or Uncle Buck.
Doug E. Fresh ($24) is a white pie, but don’t go in expecting alfredo sauce under the cheese. It’s a garlic olive oil base that is shellacked with melted marinated mozzarella, decorated with roasted tomatoes and basil.
It’s kind of like a margherita pizza except the marinated mozzarella gives it a serious depth of flavor and this...weight. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say that all that richness just sinks down to the bottom of your stomach and it’s like, “Another slice? Nah. I’m full.”
Seriously, I love Doug E. Fresh, but nothing makes me appreciate the way red sauce cuts through the weight and richness of the toppings like a white pie.
See, Empire knows their stuff. That’s why you get absolute monsters like Rocksteady ($23). Gorgonzola and bacon are heavyweight flavor fighters and red onion is no slouch, either. Flavors that big have to be paired together for balance, or else they’ll completely overwhelm all the other toppings. That’s why, as a coup de grace, they add a drizzle of balsamic reduction. All that unctuous gorgonzola and bacon will coat your mouth so you don’t taste anything else for the rest of the day. But balsamic vinegar cuts through it all like a samurai sword. That’s masterful pizza craft.
I wouldn’t say I have a complaint about Figgy Stardust ($25) per se, but I do have a suggestion: more pesto.
On this pie, the red sauce is replaced by a basil-almond pesto, which lets you know this is going to be another punch-you-in-the-mouth-with-flavor kind of pizza. On top is marinated mozzarella studded with cubes of roasted chicken, slivers of baked ham, and—as the name suggests—figs.
If I had my druthers, there’d be less chicken and way more pesto. But the interplay of the sweet figs against the ham is perfection.
Some of the pizzas are just putting silly names on beloved classics. Teflon Don ($26) is a textbook supreme pizza, but done up really well. Notorious P.I.G. ($26) is your meat lover’s pie writ large. But what sets Empire apart is how they can cater to people who like pizza the way they’ve always had it while also appealing to flavor junkies that are always looking for the newest, weirdest, most-wonderful way to make pizza even better. Ghostface Killah is proof of that.
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