Empire House offers comforts of home
By Teresa Winchester Contributing Writer | Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015 5:48 pm by The Daily Star
GILBERTSVILLE — Empire House in Gilbertsville is a hotel and restaurant, but it is also something more.
“We’re so glad we stopped. It’s fantastic and the people are wonderful, friendly, and warm,” gushed John Kelly of Franklin, who with his wife, Molly, happened by the Empire House Hotel and Restaurant in Gilbertsville on Sunday.
It’s been eight years since Sasan Khashaie re-opened the storied edifice at the intersection of state Highway 51 and county Route 8 in Gilbertsville. During that time, more has changed than painting it yellow and putting a patio out front. What had for five years been a dormant building has, from April through December, become a vibrant community center.
When Khashaie, known to Empire House habitués simply as “Q,” reflected on changes since 2007, his thoughts turned first to the menu. “We’ve gone from an everyday-style menu to specialize in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine,” he said. He credits his wife and Empire House chef Aileen, originally from the Philippines, for this transition.
“Aileen’s recipes add ‘zing’ because of her spicy mixtures,” he said.
When available, he buys local, organic products, purchasing vegetables at area farmers’ markets. He also uses local maple syrup, honey, eggs, shiitake mushrooms, Cornish hens and grass-fed beef. He also serves beers from Butternut, Cooperstown, and Ommegang breweries.
Music is integral to the Empire House experience, with live music by local musicians offered without a cover charge. The Woodshed Prophets, Tumbleweed Drifters, Fetish Lane, Sheila Geer, Becca and Brian make regular appearances, as do cellists David and Chelsea Gibson.
On Saturday at 5 p.m., the Morris Men, as part of their annual trek to Gilbertsville to perform traditional English dances, will occupy the auxiliary dining room for libations and song. Besides their dancing prowess, the Morris Men's performances include renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “Danny Boy,” “Hallelujah" and many other tunes.
“Everybody’s welcome to come and enjoy them — no purchase necessary,” said Khashaie.
The Empire House is a de facto community center for various occasions, having become a “go-to” location for birthdays, anniversaries, school reunions, weddings and wedding parties. In 2011, the Empire House was the scene of the Khashaies' own wedding, with many of the venue's regular patrons in attendance.
On Halloween, the Empire House is the place to be for those who like costume parties. Khashaie liberally distributes prizes for “best” costumes. “Red Carpet Night” allows those so inclined to dress to the hilt when Oscars are awarded. “Suit Night,” an innovation of Sasan’s son, Sasha Khashaie, provides a similar opportunity.
Khashaie allows civic groups, such as the Butternut Valley Alliance, Otsego Land Trust, Friends of Butternuts and others, to meet at the restaurant at no cost.
“We’re involved a lot in the community,” he said. If not fostering the civic spirit at the Empire House proper, the Khashaies are reaching out in the community. Earlier this month, the couple participated in the Epicurean Food and Wine Festival at the Otesaga Resort Hotel to benefit Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care. Every BVA Summer Harvest Festival in Morris finds them offering free samples from the Empire House kitchen. When the Major’s Inn Foundation holds its annual quilt show, they place reminders in guest menus.
“Q and Aileen have transformed the Empire House into a fantastic example of everything a business should be. They embrace the idea of a community-supported business by in turn supporting the community,” said Robert Eklund, BVA chair and New Lisbon town councilman, whose guitar-playing daughters Katie and Gabrielle sometimes perform there.
Khashaie allows local artists to display and sell works at the Empire House. Prints of New York landscapes by internationally recognized printmaker Frank Eckmair hang in the main dining room, underscoring the Empire’s own rural setting.
Visitors wishing to linger in this setting may reserve one of the rooms above the restaurant that the Khashaies have remodeled since acquiring the building.
“We have eight rooms and five baths. It’s a B&B-like feeling. There’s a lounge area for guests to enjoy coffee and toast in the morning,” said Khashaie.
Information on the Empire House is available on Facebook and at www.EmpireHouseFineDining.com.