A trip to Dempsey Bakery is like putting one foot in the past and the other in the future. The sign with its Established 2011 notation in combination with the red-and-white-checkered floor lend a retro feel. The white walls and sleek chairs foreshadow a modern gluten-free menu that provides a welcome leap forward for those of us who maintain a gluten-free lifestyle. How comforting is it to know that you can walk in, grab anything, and not have to worry whether you'll accidentally wander outside the bounds of a GF diet? Well, as many of you know, that can sometimes be as comforting as the smell of baking bread.
Never been here before? You'll be quickly adopted by a member of the extended Dempsey family. They will explain, recommend, and encourage you to taste. Since we agree that gluten-free food is made to be tasted, we get started immediately.
So what is there here to sample? Nicely displayed in open wood shelves are huge loaves of Everybody's Bread and White Bread. Baguettes fill a basket on the counter and are joined by Nana Bread, Pumpkin Bread, and Monkey Bread arranged in multiple levels. A bread slicer behind the counter means you can have uniform slices for sandwiches if you prefer.
In another area, freshly baked Hot Dog and Hamburger buns cool along with Wrye-Not Bread, small loaves of Herb Bread, and large White Rolls. Those all look pretty, but I just sampled the sweet, sticky Monkey bread so I'm primed for a Hot-Milk Cake sample which proves to be a gateway sweet. I'll soon consume a taste of the Brownie with mint-chocolate icing, a White Cupcake with delectable strawberry cream icing, a Snickerdoodle, some Nana Bread, and some other jelly-roll looking cake that was filled with icing instead of jelly. Oh yeah, I snuck in one more bite of Monkey Bread while waiting for a chunk of Baguette.
That may sound like a lot to you, but I didn't even ask for an Iced Shortbread Cookie, a Chocolate Cupcake, an Iced Chocolate Ho-Ho, an individual sized Strawberry Cheesecake or the Chocolate Rolled Cake.
In all that munching and comparing with my gluten-eating companion, the standouts were the icings and the Snickerdoodle cookie. The cookie was crunchy on the outside, had a bit of chewy on the inside, and its perfectly balanced flavors would rival a gluten filled version. We also enjoyed the Monkey Bread as evidenced by my inability to stay away from it.
Not as pleasing was the White Bread. While it had a high rise and a wonderful brown, crunchy crust, the inside left me with a slight aftertaste I did not like. I should note that if you were slathering it with some kind of spread or barbecue sauce, you probably wouldn't notice.
The white cupcake eaten by itself needed a bit more flavor. Perhaps a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla would suffice. The crumb was moist and dense as is often true of gluten-free cake. Luckily, the strawberry icing swirled on top was quite tasty.
The Nana Bread smelled wonderful and tasted good. The texture was toward the gummy side. Maybe reducing the tapioca starch, eliminating the xanthan gum, or adding a bit of almond flour would improve the texture.
One thing I can emphatically say about the Dempsey Bakery folks - they're generous with the samples. Another thing I can say is that it concerned me when a number of those samples were offered with a verbal disclaimer that something hadn't come out quite right today. This creates a quandary for me. I love the friendliness and enthusiasm the staff has for the products and the customers. I like it that they want to include us in the process, but only to a point.
When I'm standing in a bright and cheery space with bright and cheery people taking a few bright and cheery moments away from work, I really want to be handed something perfect or tasty enough that I don't care if it looks perfect without a lot of hoopla. My suggestion would be to deeply discount the "seconds" in a bin in the corner, or repurpose them into croutons to top your soup or take home to your Caesar salad.
Now let's put all the fallen bread and gummy pizza crust in the past, look forward to the yummy Snickerdoodles in our future, and be grateful that there is now a 100% gluten-free bakery in LIttle Rock.