Restaurant review: Get your Irish on at Dempsey’s

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From the March 13, 2014 edition

Kiss me, I’m Irish. Not really, but I figured that sounded better than, “Kiss me, I’m totally tomahawked on green beer.”

Anyway, you’re bound to hear some form of that unconvincing cheer when Monday brings a cavalcade of all-day wobblers celebrating National Give-Me-A-Reason Day, aka St. Patrick’s Day. Ain’t life grand?!?

And if your revels find you crawling along our fair city’s March 17th Downtown parade path — or even not — you could do a helluva lot worse, SPD party-wise, than ambling less than a mile past the parade’s termination at Vets Memorial to Dempsey’s, i.e. Downtown’s best “Irish” pub.

Long, dark and handsome, Dempsey’s is a kitsch-restrained, Emerald Isle-infatuated tavern where nearby courthouse warriors go to relax among vintage touches galore. In fact, Dempsey’s seems straight outta Central Casting with its wooden floor, brick walls that are replete with legal things, plus black-and-white photographs of politicians and Hibernian heroes and a classic-looking bar rimmed by old timey black-and-white tiles.

After ordering beers (mandatory Guinness supplements four Ohio-sourced taps; $5/pint, or $4 during Dempsey’s popular happy hour), try some above-and-beyond sliders on well-toasted mini-rolls (3/$8; $5 during HH). I tried and liked both the fried chicken — extra-crispy, peppery batter encased thick and juicy white meat hunks — and the I’m-serious-these-rock, high-grade grilled bolognas with spicy pepper jack cheese, Dijon mustard and pickle relish.

For full-sized, cuts-above sandwiching, try the Turkey Melt ($9). Served with a side — like nifty sauteed squashes with red pepper — it arrives on buttery and crisply griddle-toasted bread. Impressively, it featured actual turkey (non-deli-style) flavored by a surfeit of fresh and creamy cole slaw whose mild oniony bite was sharpened by Dijon mustard. Good stuff.

No-corners-cut meat also distinguished the terrific breakfast-anytime, sober-up-specialty humbly called Hash and Eggs ($9). Below my over-easies were veritable boulders of crisp-edge-roasted redskin potatoes and singularly tender, slow-roasted and keenly seasoned corned beef. Had the spud-to-brisket ratio been 2:1 instead of 4:1, I’d probably go eat a plate daily.

That same unbeatable, melt-in-your-mouth corned beef awakened Dempsey’s Guinness Stew ($5). Served as a special during an amusing monthly “practice session” — i.e. SPD warm-up parties Dempsey’s hosts on the 17th of every month — it was soup-thin and light on the Guinness, but with carrots, potatoes and a fine salty broth, was still homey and comforting.

A more ambitious special was a tilapia and crab roulade entree ($15). Attractively presented, it was three upright cylinders of fresh-tasting tilapia, each wrapped around a crab cake-like, real crab and seasoned breadcrumb center. This came with an unremarkable side salad, plus an “herbed butter sauce” that would’ve been better had it actually been a sauce instead of a partly melted compound butter. Perhaps it was only “practice session” ready.

For dessert, you gotta go with Dempsey’s cinnamon-kissed, signature Jameson Bread Pudding ($5.25). Almost as much cooked fruit chopped into thick chunks (pie-like apples and strawberries) as it was compressed buttery bread, the warm and soothing confection was flattered by a caramelly and hooch-inflected sauce.

Hell, if you see me at Dempsey’s on SPD — or any other time — I’ll gladly share that with you. But if you’re one of those amateur hour imbibers who can’t drink all day without acting like a spazzy child, I’ll just as gladly leave you under the table. And I don’t give a flying shamrock whether you’re Irish or not.

Photos by Tim Johnson