Recipes of the Past are the Taste of Tomorrow

By: Adam Lansdell

Vintage menu items make for modern favorites at Empire Italian Chophouse

While many eateries aim for the latest and greatest, one of Bay City’s top restaurants is essentially a time machine: taking a page out of the history books to create a unique experience today. When stepping foot into owner and chef Rich Abila’s Empire Italian Chophouse, you’re transported back to the post-war 1940s.

Since opening in June, the owner of the fine-casual dining experience has worked diligently to create a one-of-a-kind experience that bringing groups together for a taste of authentic Italian cuisine within the walls of its wholly novel setting – a most original and unique venue from 1947 that’s complete with its original bar, décor and lighting fixtures.

“The restaurant that used to be in this building was called Empire Steakhouse – so we wanted to bring that back to life while also bringing over some of our favorites from Café Cremosi back in the day,” Abila said. “Most everything is original. The chandeliers are 100 percent intact and in mint condition, which is pretty impressive. We were even able to find a book of matches on eBay that had photographs of the original dining room and bar area on it.”

The restaurant embodies its theme in many ways, from placing the era’s most popular colors on the walls to resurrecting recipes of old for its menu. Visually, guests will be hard-pressed to miss the over-the-top, luxurious nods to the 1940s, including the plush variety of 6-foot-tall white ostrich feathers that inhabit the center of each table.

Despite an emphasis on theme, Abila makes it clear that food and drink selections do not play second fiddle. As a veteran chef, having previously worked in the kitchens of many of the state’s most renowned fine-dining establishments, Abila is serving up signature delicacies that area guests have come to know and love. These include his fabled cremosi sauce and an ever-popular selection of fresh seafood, prime cuts and Detroit-based wines.

As always, the quality of each meal served and the service provided is of the utmost importance. But with Empire, Abila aimed to create a restaurant that was more accessible for all, including families and those with dietary restrictions.

“Being accessible to families is sort of where we were lacking (at Café Cremosi) before. Now our menu features everything from margherita pizza and macaroni to spaghetti with meat sauce. So there’s a lot of a lot of different things that are kind of open for the kids,” said Abila. “We’re also working to ensure our food can be prepared gluten-free to accommodate everyone. Most of our meals here are either baked or cooked from scratch and sourced from fresh ingredients and can be prepared gluten-free.”

Empire Italian Chophouse is serving up a unique experience and atmosphere that you likely won’t find elsewhere and has proven that it’s committed to improving its food and drink selections – and service to match. This spring the restaurant will expand its offerings by unleashing an entirely ’40s-themed lunch menu – complete with the era’s most popular drinks, dishes and desserts.

To learn more about Empire Italian Chophouse, visit