So FINALLY I made over to Second Empire and let's just say I wasn't disappointed at all which is pretty impressive given expectations. After living in Raleigh for 6+ years, I had seen plenty of reviews and friends come here for dinner so I was just hoping to not be disappointed. And I've walked by Second Empire many times wondering what lay inside that big brick house on Hillsborough. And I'm glad to say that I finally know and it was an excellent dining experience with my two fellow bloggers, Kristen, Leigh and her husband Will...
Second Empire is really two restaurants in one. In the main house is a formal and antiqued dining space with multiple rooms decked out in period woodwork and decor. The Tavern at Second Empire is a more casual dining room with a separate entrance in back, a bar area along with two dining areas. A clubby, bricked dining space along with a atrium room which is more modern and airy. The beauty of the Tavern is that you have access to two menus if you're not interested in the more austere and proper main dining room. Prices on the Tavern menu are about $2 - $3 less for entree but not wildly different.
The bar at the Tavern is pretty small, maybe 10 seats or so with a classic look and feel. A good selection of liquors, a small selection of draft beers, service at the bar is attentive and old-school. Sitting at the bar and drinking my G&T, I noticed the substantial amount of waitstaff which you would expect at a place like Second Empire-Tavern. Classic white shirts, black vests and pants, definitely a traditional look. We're brought to a four-top in the atrium with a nice window view of the sidewalk We're given four menus, one for both Second Empire and the Tavern, one for wine-cocktails and one for cheeses. Our wait-person is extremely well-versed in the menu and specials, rolling through a long and extensive list of ingredients, nice job! I go with a pork shoulder spring roll for my app and a t-bone pork chop for my main.
Wine prices by the glass are pretty standard ($9 - $12) and I enjoy a glass of syrah with my meal. My pork shoulder spring roll arrives and it's a interesting looking app. Soft roll atop some jasmine rice stir-fry, it's got a nice balance of soft, crisp and tasty. Looking around the table and my dining-mates starters, you can see a common theme of fairly complex plating and presentation which you'd expect here.
Again, given the relaxed service here, it's a bit of time before the entree is brought out. Which is fine since we're hearing about fellow blogger Leigh Hines wedding reception that happened here at Second Empire! All the entrees are brought out simultaneously with a bit of flourish from the staff. I've got a perfectly cooked pork loin chop on top of collards, pureed squash and ditalini pasta, an excellent and satisfying dish! The flavors are all Southern but amped up quite a bit with extras, very enjoyable. Leigh has a nice scallop entree with lentils and pineapple salsa while Kristen goes with a citrus-rosemary swordfish, both look excellent.
And of course, after a 2 hour meal, who can skip dessert? We order up a pound-cake and baked alaska to share with the table and it's a great way to end the meal! When you talk about Second Empire, it mostly revolves around special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and more which is to be expected when you are a Raleigh culinary icon. The majestic front of Second Empire speaks to a different time and place, a bit posh, a bit dressy and in all honesty, not the type of place I'd usually frequent. But if you take a look at the Second Empire menu, the prices aren't that high at all. We're talking about the $24 - $30 ranges which may mean you shouldn't dine here weekly, but it's certainly doable multiple times a year. While I'm not sure if I'll ever check out the formal upstairs, I do think I'll be back again relatively soon. With its convenient location, interesting food and stellar service, the Tavern at Second Empire is still a very approachable and well-appreciated dining experience for this hungry guy! Bon appetit...
330 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
Second Empire - Reviewer: Ron Wen - Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars