Fall is here, and though I’m happy about cute suede booties and the start of football season (Go Pack Go!), I’m bummed that Lunch on the Square is done for the year. There is just something about walking around downtown and eating outside that adds to my sense of Fort Wayne community. So, I was thrilled to discover Empyrean Cafe in the Foelinger-Freimann Botanical Gardens! They have indoor and outdoor seating, and their indoor seating is in an atrium, giving you the feeling that you are outside an surrounded by water, flowers, and ample natural daylight.
You may be familiar with Empyrean, the creation of Julia Fiechter (President, Co-Owner), Gary Probst (Owner), Renee Miner (Chief Event Designer) and Jeremy Miner (Director of Operations) located in the former Summit Club. I first tasted Empyrean’s culinary creations at a charity event I attended, and I was hooked immediately. Deconstructed potato salads, gazpacho shooters, and desserts made with liquid nitrogen – say what?! It was more than delicious – it was a culinary experience. The name “Empyrean” stands for the highest level of heaven, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The only downside was that you could only experience this heavenly culinary experience if you had them cater your event or befriended people solely for the purpose of attending their wedding held in the event space at Empyrean. (Don’t judge. It happens.) I literally spent years stalking them on Instagram and liking each and every picture and accepting every invite to an event they catered. So imagine my excitement at discovering they had an actual cafe where you could walk in and order whenever you wanted! (It was the same level as when I discovered that there is a wine for your cat, which is saying a lot.)
I chatted with Jeremy Miner about the concept behind Empyrean Cafe. Jeremy has been in the food and beverage industry for over two decades and started out as a dish washer. At the age of 14, he was second in command in the kitchen. By age 15, he was running a kitchen that served 400 people in a day and had the restaurant owner’s grandmother call the school for him and pretend he was sick so that he could prep the kitchen for the weekend. It was there that he devoured his first medium rare steak and realized that there is more to food beyond basic nutrition. It’s an experience that transcends mere digestion. Just like a song can bring you back to a particular moment of time, taste can unlock memories and create narratives of its own.
“If you can think it, we can create it,” Jeremy proclaimed. It’s like his mantra. His wife, Renee, is the visionary behind many of their culinary concepts. And boy, does she think big. From edible wallpaper, a women’s dress that serves drinks, and making food float, they are certainly up for the challenge! As Jeremy explains, “We are a new generation of foodies. Gone are the days where all people expect from a good meal is a juicy steak paired with a red wine.” Today’s diners want an experience. They want to go somewhere trendy and consume something with a story, an energy. Oh, and it has to photograph well and taste delicious too!
Empyrean Cafe was a way for Empyrean to bring its event food to street level so that everyone could have the opportunity to taste food that makes you think. They wanted to showcase what they are able to do and just as importantly, they wanted to utilize the space as their playground for menu development. The Cafe is a bit of a performance station where they can see what people love and play off of that to create even better concoctions. Their dishes at the Cafe are made utilizing the sous vide method as opposed to traditional oven cooking, which gives them more control over the end result and eliminates grease. My favorite dish to date is a buttermilk waffle with peppered bacon, peach preserves and a sous vide poached egg. The lemon tart is highly addicting, and the flat breads are wonderful. They have an all-in-one breakfast jar with chia seed pudding, seasonal fruit, house infused syrup and local honey that is a great start to your day. I even liked the quinoa salad, and I loathe salad! From breakfast to lunch, they serve it all. With the option for seating 100 at a time, as well as boxed lunches, it’s a great place for work meetings as well. For those on a time crunch, be sure to check their online ordering site.
Much of the quality behind the food Empyrean serves up comes from the fact that everything is made from scratch and in-house. From making their own simple syrups and bitters to utilizing their homemade herbs and veggies, they are better able to control every part of the process. They don’t cut corners. Their cold brew coffee is a 14-hour process utilizing organic beans from small farmers around the world that have a new and exotic flavor profile. At 1 drop per second they don’t just want it to taste good, they want to see eyes light up. It’s that a-ha moment. And when they see that, they know that it was all worth it, and you know that you are hooked! Head down to Empyrean Cafe to have your own a-ha moment.