If you’re in Watertown and you don’t stop by Dempsey’s Brewery Pub & Restaurant, you’re doing it wrong. Why? For one, owner and executive chef Sean Dempsey is South Dakota’s only certified Pizzaiola and is a member of the United States Pizza Team.
Need I say more? Well, I will. It’s one of the best, if not the best place for the most unique brick-oven pizzas (because did you just read what I said?!) and is the second oldest brewery in the state. On top of that, it has European medieval-inspired décor and incredible housemade root beer and cream soda.
So you can imagine my delight when I heard a sister location, Danger von Dempsey’s Pizza & Brewhäus, was opening in Aberdeen last year.
DID YOU KNOW?
The business has expanded into a hot dog cart business called Dempsey’s Proper Hot Dog Co. in Watertown, which serves New York-style hot dogs with a twist (try the Hot Dog of the Week).
I finally had a chance to come by for an early lunch on a Friday, which made me feel totally okay with having an 11 a.m. beer (TGIF). But we’ll get to that.
Dempsey greeted me and told me several times that, though he is the owner, general manager Michael Bacon is also an award-winning pizza chef. I was now even more thrilled.
The inside was a quainter, 82-seat version of Dempsey’s, with flags hanging from the ceilings and vibrant “Dempsey green” walls.
“We’ve got a cool little vibe, something that is different,” said Sean. “You walk in and it kind of blows you away because the outside of the building is a little rough and the inside is very bright and very colorful.”
Though they opened in 2019, Sean reminded me that it was a long journey to open the doors.
Roasted red pepper hummus, tzatziki dip, tandoori naan, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, cucumbers, green peppers, and fresh mozzarella balls.
Pork and vegetable baked crescent dumplings, served with Thai peanut sauce.
Fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, tomato, drizzled with balsamic reduction.
+TRIPLE BERRY SALAD
Blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, walnuts, feta cheese, and bed of greens (chicken may be added).
+EARL OF WALES
1000 island base, mozzarella, and Swiss cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut, kosher dill pickles, and balsamic drizzle post-bake.
+MORNING + SAIL BRUNCH PIZZA
Breakfast pizza. Bier cheese base, whole milk mozzarella, bacon, Italian sausage, prosciutto di Parma, and scrambled eggs.
“We’ve been trying for a few years now to get this off the ground and kept running into roadblocks, so we were just excited to finally get it open,” he said.
I’ve known Sean for years, and it was very on brand that soon after that comment he talked about more projects, as he usually is on to the next thing. Some included his hot dog cart business, a trip he was taking soon to Madison for a potential third Dempsey’s location, and plans for more windows at the front of the building and a patio at the Aberdeen location.
“We’re pretty good at making some weird stuff.” -DEMPSEY ON THE KAMIKAZE
When I asked him what they’re known for, he mentioned the Pizza of the Week and the Kamikaze, which is the “Chef’s choice” for putting together whatever they feel like. It could be “normal,” it could come out of left field (note: they ask that you set parameters like “not fish” or “not spicy”).
“We recently did a Proper Chicago pizza, which was basically a Chicago-style hot dog in a pizza,” explained Sean. “It’s basically just us coming around and doing things like, ‘How do we get ramen on a pizza, and how does that taste,’ and trying to combine the texture with the flavors. It’s a lot of experimentation.”
He also mentioned that the team tries to make everything from scratch, like the French Onion Dip, which he brought out first. It’s a secret recipe (I get why) and was served with enough tandoori naan for a family. I was solo, so I did the best I could, which was scratching the surface. The fried onions were the cherry (or literally the fried onions) on top.
Sean had also noted there were five salads on the menu and that everything was “fresh cut in the morning.” I tried the Atlas Grecian with tzatziki dollop, green bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, black olives, and tandoori naan on a bed of greens. The menu said you can add chicken, but I have zero idea how you would fit it into the dish and why you would ruin how beautiful it already was as-is.
PIZZA OF THE WEEK
Some of the most recent Pizza of the Week options have been Accident in Little China Town (garlic chili, soy sauce base, chicken, italian sausage, red onions, peppadews, shredded cabbage, and mozzarella cheese) and Peachy Keen (peach-infused EVOO base, mozzarella cheese, peaches, basil, prosciutto, and a peach balsamic EVOO drizzle).
I got to try the Nashville Hot Chicken with a Nashville Hot Sauce base, fresh mozzarella, bread and butter pickles, fried chicken, and fresh parsley.
I tried a few pizzas, like the Green Haven with a bleu cheese base, sirloin steak, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon, and gorgonzola crumbles. The one that was the most different for me was the Portland with a roasted red pepper hummus base, broccoli florets, tomatoes, red onions, Peppadews, green peppers, mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella.
Last, but not least, I ended my feasting with a Battle Axe Blue, which was more of a purple-hued craft beer. Hey, by then it was after 12 p.m.
I’ve been to Dempsey’s in Watertown and didn’t realize that maybe I was the one doing it wrong by not letting the talented team guide me to a crazy pizza experience. Also, I don’t think I can ever have grocery store French onion dip again. I’m a changed person.
It’s that branded Dempsey’s vibe but is unique to the location. There’s a restaurant side and a bar side, and I’ll definitely belly up when I’m around next to try some more brews (after 5 p.m.) and grab an appetizer.
These pizzas I speak of range in price, but some of the highest are $18. That’s nothing. And isn’t the storytelling aspect of eating ramen on a pizza priceless?
For the entire summer of 2020, the tomatoes I had with the dishes I tried were the reddest I had seen all season. The salad was one of the best I’ve had anywhere. And again… in regard to dips, I’m changed. In general, though, Dempsey’s pizza should be on everyone’s list to try as soon as possible.