Earlier this week, Empire Biscuit opened at 198 Avenue A, near East 12th Street, and began peddling biscuits in every imaginable form (as a sandwich, slathered in gravy, or topped with an impossibly eclectic selection of spreads and jams); the demand was so great that owners Jonathan Price and Yonadav Tsuna ran out of major menu items and had to close early. They’re taking the weekend to regroup, but come this Tuesday, with an expanded staff and a bolstered inventory, they’ll officially be open 24 hours a day.
“It’s a 24-hour product,” said Price, of his biscuits. “We expect to be busiest on the weekends, of course, but during the week, there are people in the service industry who get out of work and want dinner at 2 or 3 a.m, and they don’t have a lot of options at that time on a weekday. So we’re here for them.”
Price and Tsuna chose to dabble in biscuits because they both grew up in the South, and wanted to pair a simple Southern staple with more complex flavors, like the redeye gravy they make with Blue Bottle coffee and home-cured tasso ham (according to legend, Andew Jackson coined the phrase “redeye gravy,” when he asked his hungover chef to make him “a gravy as red as your eyes.”) But they also believe the shop is the right fit for the neighborhood.
“New Yorkers expect to have access to regional American food that’s as good as it is in that actual part of the country,” said Price. “And the East Village is where small product concepts thrive. It’s achievable perfection, and it doesn’t cost millions of dollars.”
From 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. daily they’ll have a “biscuit happy hour” in which the two most breakfast-y sandwiches on the menu — featuring eggs, bacon, and ham — will be sold for $3.50. “If you’re up for work at that hour, you deserve a break,” said Price.
Neither Price nor Tsuna is a trained chef, so they hired caterer Karl Wilder to make their cuisine ideas a reality. He “brings some New Orleans” to the shop, according to Price, and made menu additions like the Muffuletta, a Louisianan–by-way-of-Sicily sandwich featuring a high stack of deli meats topped with a garlicky olive salad. Price and Tsuna have planned seasonal menu items for the next year, including about 70 jam recipes, from blueberry to the classic grilled corn butter.
The architect of the shop is a neighbor and 30-year resident of the East Village named Paul Gregory, who wandered into the unfinished space one day offering to help complete it. Kerry Bright of Bright Home Theater, two doors down from the store, has also helped and advised Price and Tsuna — so much so that they named a biscuit (The Bright Crew) after him.
You can try that and other biscuits when the store reopens for a bit this Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Once twenty-four-hour Tuesday hits, stop in at 4 a.m. and see which spread makes for the most satisfying drunchie.