Yoga Fuel: $5 Bowl of Oatmeal at Empire Café

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Christina Uticone
There is something about expensive oatmeal that just makes me cranky. Even steel-cut oats are relatively cheap -- and rolled oats are practically free -- so when I pay $5 for a bowl of oatmeal, no matter how delicious and no matter how fresh the fruit on top is, I am just kind of annoyed.

I know what you're thinking: Don't order the oatmeal. Let me say, proactively, thanks for the tip.

The thing is, I really like to eat as healthily as possible even when I'm eating at a restaurant, and at breakfast that often means opting for oatmeal. Oh yeah, and I freaking LOVE oatmeal. I feel bad writing this -- like I'm bagging on Empire Café, which I am honestly not trying to do; it's not like they invented expensive restaurant oatmeal. As a matter of fact I loved their version, and thought they cooked it perfectly. There wasn't a gummy bite in the entire generous portion, and the milk was super-hot, which was heavenly against the cold, fresh fruit. In fact, the portion was so big that I couldn't finish it, so I have no complaints there. I certainly got plenty of oatmeal for my $5.

Empire uses a top-quality brand of Irish oats (McCann's), and a review of the breakfast menu reveals that every item falls well below $10: dishes start at $3.95 (the oatmeal, a hot polenta cereal, or the Empire granola mix with fruit), with the most expensive being a fresh seasonal fruit platter with yogurt and honey roasted pecans for $8.25; every omelet and frittata is under the $8 mark as well. Taken as a whole, and taking quality into account, Empire has a menu that offers an overall value.

But it's tough to see the forest for the trees, when one of the trees is a $5 bowl of oatmeal.



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Empire Cafe

1732 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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29 comments
Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

I remember a few months back when McDonald's started selling oatmeal and they were blasted in the media for having the gall to charge $1.99 for it!

Fenterman
Fenterman

Can't wait for you to review a $5 milkshake!! =D

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

That will be better than most of the top 5 lists… <ducks></ducks>

Sarah Abrams
Sarah Abrams

Who says the oatmeal at Empire is healthy? It's probably loaded with butter and sugar. It's like trying to eat healthily at a steak house by ordering the creamed spinach.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Butter is not listed on the menu, and I didn't taste any. The oatmeal was not sweetened.

Butter, consumed in moderation, is not unhealthy. If it contained even as much as  1-2 Tbsp. that is as much as I consumed all week, as we do not cook with butter at home. I think I'm safe.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

It's not sweetened and butter isn't listed, nor did I taste any.

http://www.empirecafe.com/menu...

Butter, consumed in moderation, is not unhealthy. If there were even as much as 1-2 Tbsp. in the Empire bowl of oatmeal, it's the total amount I consumed all week, as I do not cook with butter at home.

Honey_Badger
Honey_Badger

Well, it does kind of make sense that food purchased and prepared for you by someone else is going to cost you more than it would if you cooked at home. That's the way it is whether you're ordering steak or oatmeal. The difference is just the expectation that oatmeal is "cheap" food. Eh, that's what Denny's is for.

Java Java's menu has a small bowl for $5.50, and it only comes with extra fruit if you ask for them. Forget about them adding milk. I believe the price of a large bowl will give you an aneurysm.   Barnaby's/Baby Barnaby's is more in line with your wishes, both offer oatmeal for $3, but it does not come with fresh fruit (unless someone inserts an eye-rolling Montrose joke here), and it's a small serving, compared with that at Empire.  Don't get me wrong. I love my oatmeal. I eat an insane amount of it daily. But if I'm going out for breakfast, I'm aware that I'll be paying more than "purchase price" for my oatmeal...or my egg whites...or my chicken...or my steak...or whatever I've ordered.

Bruce R
Bruce R

Yeah, but there's markup and there's markup.  See the difference? 

Honey_Badger
Honey_Badger

My idea of this markup: It pays for misc restaurant overhead and labor, cost of goods all food, and a rare GOOD restaurant bowl of oatmeal. If I'm going out, my total breakfast is under $10, and it was, say, a bowl-licking experience? I'd pay $5 for that oatmeal.

By the same token: The same cut of beef prepared at Golden Corral and at Taste of Texas. Will it cost the same? Doubtful. Will there be a difference in quality that makes one seem "worth" more, despite the fact that the markup is greater? My guess is yes.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

*sigh*

I get it. The bottom line is oats are SO effing cheap that ALL markup is annoying--I made it clear, again, in the article that I understand Empire did not invent this issue. I understand the whys and hows of markup--I've worked in lots of restaurants, and my husband has opened several restaurants as a manager and owned his own pizzeria (talk about mark up). Oats are SO cheap that ordering it in a restaurant will always be frustrating, knowing the true cost of the grain. Period.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I'm not sure if you're asking me or HB who sees the difference. All I know is, being wrong about my own opinions NEVER gets old! Thank you, HP commenting public!

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Hey Bruce, I'm so glad you are always around to mock me! ELL OH ELL!!

Bruce R
Bruce R

Hey Christina!  I am so glad you LIKED your oatmeal!  LOL!!

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I think I made it pretty clear that while I understand why oatmeal is more expensive in a restaurant, it doesn't take the edge off of paying for it when I know it costs pennies.

I was a bartender for 10 years. I get "markup".

Honey_Badger
Honey_Badger

Oh no, I got that. My deal is, considering what the markup also covers for restaurants, WRT overhead, labor, etc, $5 for a *well-prepared* bowl, complete with milk and bona fide fresh fruit is actually a great price. Next time I have breakfast at Empire, I'm totally going for the oatmeal!

And I love you too. Honey Badgers are funny that way.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Okay, then I guess we just straight up disagree.

I'll take your word on it about the cobra!

Honey_Badger
Honey_Badger

LOL, I think you're missing mine...for me, and speaking only for me, markup doesn't doesn't bother me. I'm not arguing with you, simply explaining my own position on the matter.  I'm a Honey Badger, remember? And what do we know about Honey Badgers and our level of caring? Also? Cobra is overrated. 

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Nowhere did I say it WASN'T worth it--if it wasn't worth ordering oats in restaurants I would have stopped doing it years ago--or that I wouldn't order it again at Empire. I seriously feel like my point was missed here.

Nor was my point that I couldn't afford it, or that I wasted my $5. My title clearly should have been "Oats are cheap til you order them in a restaurant, and then they're not. Which sucks."

Honey_Badger
Honey_Badger

LOL...I guess the "goddamn good oatmeal" part makes it worth it to me. Do you know how rare it is to get a gooddamn good HEALTHY bowl of oatmeal in a restaurant? Oh yeah, I'll put down fiver. ;)

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

It's goddamn good oatmeal. But oats are still cheap, and the price I pay for them at restaurants still pisses me off.

Bruce R
Bruce R

That oatmeal sounds almost as zesty as Ned Flanders Style Nachos.  Cucumber slices with cottage cheese.

Hey, who makes a good milk toast these days?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'm a sucker for Brasil's oatmeal: steel-cut oats, hot cream, brown sugar, dried fruit and fresh fruit. Although I'm fairly certain it's over $5, now that I think about it. Gah.

TQro
TQro

Yes, I love the oatmeal at Brasil's!  I also love it when restaurants serve it with roasted fruit, especially on our 1 cold day of the year.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

There's a place back home called Simply Crepes and they have a bowl of Creme Brulee Oatmeal for $7 (with banana & berries, add $.50 for gluten free!) that is HEAVENLY but not HEALTHY. I get it once every 3-4 years.

I write about school food for a client and so the reality of the cost of oatmeal has been on my brain lately.

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

I like the Perfect Oatmeal from Starbucks. It's like $3-something dollars and comes with packets of brown sugar, nuts, and dried fruit. Sometimes I bring a banana from home and stick that in there too. Tasty, and with their drive-thru, convenient! Serving size is decent too. 

CaptainObvious
CaptainObvious

Eat it at home. Save money??

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

You do realize that sometimes people go TO restaurants to eat, right? Also, I work freelance which means I occasionally have to take meals during meetings. Also, that I write ABOUT food, FOR this blog? If you want me to review my bowl of oatmeal from home, I'll pitch it to my editor and get back to you.

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