O’s great Rick Dempsey really does go to his namesake restaurant at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The MASN sports analyst stops by Dempsey’s Brew Pub & Restaurant before and after most home games, says executive chef Joshua Distenfeld. “The cool thing is that it’s connected to Rick Dempsey,” says the chef, who oversees Dempsey’s and other ballpark food venues for Delaware North Companies Sportservice. “He’s a partner.” But the baseball-themed restaurant, which opened last year, isn’t just for those attending games. It’s a year-round, full-service operation with a chef-driven menu and specialty beers brewed in house like Rick’s Red Ale and Wild Pitch Wheat. “We’re finally picking up steam,” Distenfeld says. “People are realizing we’re open.”
During games, fans will find a selection of appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, and desserts. The soft pretzel with Maryland crab dip and Old Bay is a big seller, the chef says. But perhaps the most famous offering is the bacon-on-a-stick appetizer. Hunks of thick, smoked Hungarian bacon are skewered and dipped in an Old Bay maple glaze before being individually placed in beer bottles and served as a six-pack.
The dish got extra recognition when it was featured on Destination America’s United States of Bacon in February. We think it’s definitely TV worthy. The pork pieces taste like tender spare ribs and pair well with the sweet-spicy gooey coating. You’ll want to share these at the table.
On non-game days, the menu includes all of the above plus six entrees, when the kitchen isn’t so overwhelmed by the ballpark crowd, Distenfeld says. The emphasis is on local and regional ingredients for all the food.
On our visit, when the O’s were across the continent on the West Coast, we sat in the bar area with its blond woods, burnt-orange details, and player photos on the walls. The tall windows provide a great view of the stands, which are scenic even when empty.
Along with the bacon on a stick, we started our meal with ahi tuna, a beautiful plate of sliced ruby-red fish, lightly blackened and drizzled with chipotle aoli. With the plate’s small-salad garnish, this could be a meal. We also enjoyed the baby arugula salad, a cloud of fresh peppery greens in a honey-Port vinaigrette dressing with dabs of Danish blue cheese, toasted pecans, sliced pears, and Craisins.
Clearly, the day-to-day chef in the kitchen, Nicholas Argo, takes pride in his dishes. While Distenfeld may have devised Dempsey’s menu, it takes a behind-the-scenes talent to deliver the goods. This isn’t ordinary pub fare.
In addition to build-your-own burgers, the restaurant has a slate of signature burgers. We couldn’t resist the “Black and Orange,” and it was as delicious as it sounded with the mound of juicy beef covered with orange bell peppers, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese.
The entrees are worth a visit. The cedar-plank salmon gleams with an Old Bay glaze and is served with pencil-thin grilled asparagus and orzo. The combo was excellent except for the undercooked pasta.
There were no complaints about the beer-can chicken. The plump, bronze half chicken was brushed with the restaurant’s much-used (but appreciated) Old Bay glaze and was absolute comfort food with a pillow of Yukon smashed potatoes.
The desserts are wickedly decadent. The O’s Smith Island cake is a lovely rendition of Maryland’s official state dessert with orange icing holding the 10 white-cake layers together. The chocolate Stout cupcake was a bit dry, but the Baileys Irish Cream mousse filling, Jameson Irish Whiskey butter-cream icing, and side of vanilla ice cream quickly covered up that issue.
The restaurant may be more boisterous and lively on game days—and who doesn’t want to have a Rick Dempsey sighting?—but a visit to the namesake restaurant really works anytime.