Dempsey’s entered the downtown scene just last year, but it’s got a real forever-there feel. The restaurant is comfortable in its own footprint: the big, raw brick wall is filled with old photos, and the wood floor is filled with chairs and tables.
The staff seems comfortable too. There’s no schtick or song and dance, just some painfully earnest servers who take orders and deliver baskets of edibles –starting things off with dewy-soft, warm bread.
You gotta love the bread there. The rolls are closer to Grandma’s than to artisan conceptual experiments. The little pats of butter melt right into achingly soft white bread for a sublime start.
The menu offers a traditional salad selection. The Caesar ($6.95) is a generously dressed combo of the conventional romaine, parmesan and big crunchy croutons. The House Salad ($5.95) comes off as a similar sort of creature with a palatable mix of romaine and iceberg with some cucumbers and more croutons in the mix.
Beyond the salad department, diners can move into one of two eating motifs: “Small Plates” or full bore with the “Dinners Selection”.
For the small plate crowd, it’s worth knowing that presentation isn’t a big thing at Dempsey’s. You’re not going to gaze at the rapturous beauty of your Fried Chicken Sliders ($8.95). An order will yield three buns topped with big crinkles of fried chicken and an artless slather of barbecue sauce.
One bite, and you’ll know that real beauty comes from inside. Dempsey’s fried chicken could stand on its own, with the juiciest-white-meat-ever coated in crackling crumbs. The sauce and bun just make easier to eat without utensils.
There’s also ubiquitous Angus Beef Sliders ($8.95). This version is certainly okay: what you see is what you get -a thick little burger with cheese on top, and a pickle on the bottom.
The Buffalo Mozzarella Bruschetta ($6.75) is prettier than the sliders (for the visual crowd). The fact that the mozzarella is of good quality, and uncommonly silky makes this dish a winner.
If the discussion so far has been centered on traditional dining choices, that should establish some reasonable expectations for the dinner menu. It’s built around classical steaks and seafood. The Pan Seared Salmon ($17.25) comes with a really interesting (in a good way) sauce. It’s thick and creamier than expected, with great big capers rolling around on top.
While the Ribeye weighs in at 18oz and costs $46.95, more modest appetites would do just find with the 7oz Filet ($32.95). It’s a good steak: pricey, but steak is pricy everywhere in 2013, sad but true.
The dinner items come with sides and the vegetable ones are especially nice. The sliced zucchini and the green bean options are cooked to a softness that doesn’t undermine their freshness. They’re also bathed in butter: bonus points.
Dempsey’s isn’t trying to create a food revolution or anything particularly fancy downtown. It offers plenty of palatable options for good eaters, and it’s open early everyday for breakfast at 7am. The lunch menu has lots of popular sandwich items, and the restaurant’s small plates and dinners are served in the evenings until 11pm.
You can find Dempsey’s at 346 S. High Street.
For more information, visit www.dempseysdowntown.com.
Photos by Mollie Lyman of www.fornixphotography.com.