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Maintaining Tradition at Sambo’s Tavern

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Ashimmer of heat seems to hover above the Leipsic River, which snakes just west of the town of Leipsic through Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge into the Delaware River. Watermen tie up at a dock to unload their catches: blue crabs. More often than not, they have an audience, thanks to the diners who’ve landed a prized window seat in Sambo’s Tavern. Some of the catch might wind up on their newspaper-covered table, steamed to a scarlet red and covered in spices.

The water-to-table authenticity is one reason Sambo’s has put little Leipsic on the map. Samuel “Sambo” Burrows, who grew up on a farm but became a crabber, founded the tavern in 1953. “He was a quiet man with a lot of personality,” says daughter-in-law Elva Burrows, who now owns the restaurant with her husband, Ike.

Ike and Elva have carried on Burrows’ legacy. Sambo’s is still open seasonally, generally late March through October, and it’s still a tavern—which means no children are allowed. “He said when people are going to eat crabs and drink beer, they have no business driving children around,” Elva says. “He was ahead of his time.”

For the most part, the crabs still come from Delaware waters. Some maintain that they’re sweeter than crabs from points south. But before you hold the table captive with your opinion, note that Sambo’s occasionally purchases crabs from other states, including North Carolina, when the blue crab is not running here.

While the restaurant still feels nestled in the past, there have been a few changes. It is now cash-only. (There’s an ATM on site.) Cheese or pepperoni pizza is new to the menu. “It’s nothing fancy,” Elva says. “But it’s good. People get it for dessert. Can you believe that?”

Elva will turn 69 this year, but she says the couple isn’t ready to retire. “We’re just still working,” she says. Longtime customers will be glad to hear it. Let Maine have its lobster shack. Delaware loves its Sambo’s.