Rockfish Tacos, served at Dempsey's Brew Pub in Camden… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
Dempsey's Brew Pub isn't quite a home run. But it is a solid hit — rounding the bases and heading for home.
This newest addition to Camden Yards' eatery options, backed by legendary Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey, debuted on Opening Day this year. Housed in on the Eutaw Street side of the stadium, in the historic B&O warehouse, Dempsey's interior is a love letter to baseball, and the menu is a bar-food homage to Baltimore.
The restaurant is open only to ticket-holders during home Orioles games. On non-game days and when the Orioles aren't in town, Dempsey's is open to the public. Judging by the crowd — or lack thereof — during our recent visit, the public doesn't know that yet.
But given Dempsey's friendly service and capable takes on local favorites, like Old Bay-flecked crab dip and Berger cookie ice cream sandwiches, it's only a matter of time before tourists and locals are jockeying for tables.
With numerous TVs positioned throughout the restaurant and bar, Dempsey's is an ideal spot for away game viewing. When we arrived on a recent Sunday afternoon, it was the bottom of the fourth inning and the Orioles were up 1-0 over the Tampa Bay Rays. A few hard core fans, decked out in head-to-toe O's gear, sat at the bar, but otherwise the restaurant was empty.
Without a crowd, the newness of the space shines — literally. The surfaces, from the high-gloss floor to the spotless tables, sparkle. Baseball memorabilia covers the walls. At eye level, Dempsey's looks like any other brand spanking new Orioles-themed sports bar. But glancing up to the ceiling, we spotted rough wooden beams, dark with age, preserved since the days the space was a working warehouse.
Dempsey's bills itself as a brew pub and, true to name, offers four beers brewed in-house, held in large stainless steel kettles on one side of the restaurant. The beers — poured from taps cutely topped by Rick Dempsey bobble heads — are works in progress, explained manager Vince Vasquez. Unfortunately, during our visit, it showed.
We tried three of the four options ($3.50 per beer); each fell short of our expectations. The Rain Delay IPA wasn't hoppy enough, the Wild Pitch Wheat needed more wheat, and Rick's Red Ale was rich in color, but not in flavor.
Like the beers, Dempsey's menu is also receiving some fine-tuning, but happily, the food is ready for prime time.
We started with crab dip ($10), which arrived piping hot and covered with a thick and gooey crust of Old Bay-dusted cheddar cheese. The dip itself was a creamy, slightly spicy mix of backfin and lump crab, served with crispy pita triangles, also sprinkled with Old Bay, for dipping. All that Old Bay rendered a few bites overly salty, but for the most part, the balance between cheese, crab and spice was a good one.
Rockfish tacos ($13) are billed as an appetizer, but the three large soft tacos were enough for a meal. Chunks of fish, lightly dusted with flour and spices and quickly fried, were flaky and moist. Topped with shredded lettuce, thin slices of sweet peppers, drizzled with a spicy Old Bay-pepper aioli, and served with pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole, the dish put a tasty local spin on fish tacos. Our only complaint was the fish-to-veg ratio: We would've paid extra for a little more fish in each taco.
Dempsey's is operated by Delaware North Sportservice, the company that runs the concessions throughout Camden Yards, and the mind behind the menu is Camden Yards' executive chef, Josh Distenfeld. Despite the massive organization behind the operation, Distenfeld likes to keep things local whenever possible, including purchasing the beef for Dempsey's burgers from Fells Point Meats.
We tried the Dempsey Burger ($10), a satisfying, if standard, take on the traditional bacon cheeseburger. Cooked just to medium rare, as requested, the burger was savory, juicy, and a good match for the salty, crispy fries.
As we ate, a few more diners trickled into the restaurant, chatting with each other, the bartender, and a manager as he made his rounds. At our table, he stopped to chat, asking if we were local and encouraging us to come back with friends. Our waitress was friendly, too, and prompt with food and drinks (though admittedly, she had few tables to juggle).
Our meals were filling, but once we saw the dessert menu, there was no turning back. We absolutely had to order the duo of Berger cookie ice cream sandwiches ($5).
Arriving ice cold, straight from the freezer, the dessert is simple, but delightful. A scoop of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two Berger cookies, frosting side out. According to Vasquez, the kitchen sometimes experiments with different flavors of ice cream, but there's really no need to mess with the original. It's fantastic.