The big red neon sign beckons customers who crave chicken-fried steak, waffles, a hot turkey sandwich with gravy and homemade desserts. Others are drawn to Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant for its delicious dinner rolls. About 6,000 are made from scratch each week.
Kirby & Holloway (656 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 734-7133), a fourth-generation restaurant, has sat along U.S. 13 in Dover since 1948.
It’s one of the longstanding restaurants that have drawn locals for decades and have weathered changes in consumer whims and the economy. Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic and The Boondocks in Smyrna—both popular places to get crabs—and Hall’s Family Restaurant in Wyoming are a few of the places where you can get a taste of down-home cooking in Kent County.
“They’ve sort of proven the test of time,” Delaware Restaurant Association CEO Carrie Leishman says of these restaurants. “They don’t go with the food trends of today.”
And especially during hard times, people go back to the places they remember from their childhoods. These are places where they can get comfort food at an affordable price, Leishman says.
John Dobry, concierge at Sheraton Dover Hotel, says Sambo’s is popular among NASCAR drivers and visiting media folks. The rustic tavern sits on an inlet on the Leipsic River. It operates from late March until the end of November. During the busy months, it’s hard to get a table on Fridays and Saturdays, Dobry says.
“It’s very popular,” he says. “That’s the place to go for Delaware blue crabs.” Owners Ike and Elva Burrows buy them right off boats that tie up on the dock out back. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser signs light up the place. You’ll also find a pool table and jukebox, and large picture windows in the dining room offer expansive views of the river and marshes. Delaware Today named Sambo’s Best Pub-Tavern Downstate and Best Crab Cakes Downstate last year. If you visit on a May or September race weekend at Dover International Speedway, you might wander in to find former NASCAR drivers Kyle Petty and Richard Petty cracking open some crabs.
Boondocks (825 Lighthouse Road, 653-6962), which also closes in the winter, serves crabs, steamed shrimp, hush puppies, chicken wings, fries, corn and clams. You can wash it down with a green rum-based drink called the Swampwater. Owner Pat Keeler displays her stained-glass art on the wall. Boondocks is a great place for true local fare—and an atmosphere to match.
Owner Jim Gray has run the 5,200-square-foot Kirby & Holloway for almost 30 years. Gray says he takes pride in his home-cooked dumplings and doesn’t buy anything already breaded. The 225-seat restaurant bakes its own bread—including 150 loaves of wheat bread per week.
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Four years ago, the restaurant took over Fleischer’s Bakery. The bakery’s German owner, Adell Fleischer, now in her 90s, still decorates the cakes. The confections are in high demand. All of the restaurant’s confections, in fact, are in great demand around the holidays, when locals flock to it for coconut cake. If you want a coconut cake during Christmas, place your order two weeks in advance.
The restaurant is open 364 days a year, closing only on Christmas Day. Gray says they have weathered the recession by keeping the prices reasonable. On a recent Saturday, a fried oyster dinner was offered for $8.99.
“You just can’t get a home-cooked dinner at these prices,” says Jim Hendberg, a regular at Kirby & Holloway. Hendberg has visited the diner every day for the past seven years.
His pal, Bob Robison, goes in daily for dinner and a bacon-and-egg breakfast. Kirby & Holloway’s good customer service from the restaurant’s 50 employees keeps him coming back. He’ll take the family diner over a chain restaurant any day. Some locals simply call it Family Restaurant because those are the dominant words on the sign.
Hall’s Family Restaurant in Wyoming specializes in home-cooked comfort food, including home-baked pies, hand-breaded seafood, meatloaf and sauerkraut chicken and dumplings. Dinner can be had for under $12.
The 150-seat restaurant attracts families, business people and seniors by sticking with the philosophy of making everything from scratch.
“If your grandmother didn’t have it in her kitchen, neither do we,” says owner Steve Hall.
Hall’s depends on its regular guests, mostly families whose kids they have seen grow up and go to college since Steve and his dad, Ray, first owned the restaurant 13 years ago. There are some regulars who eat there four or five times a week and others twice a day, Hall says.
“Families continue to go back to the restaurants that give them great service and great food,” Leishman says.
The shop had been around long before the Halls took over. Elwood Ennis returned from service overseas in World War II, then opened a variety store and soda fountain. His heirs ran it until 1970, then sold it to Stanley and Christine Anthony, who called it Anthony’s until 1988. The Anthonys sold it to Bill Ori, who changed the shop’s name to JW’s. And then Ray Hall, Steve’s father, bought it in 1997.
Located across from town hall, the 175-seat restaurant is open six days a week. It is closed on Sundays.
No discussion of Kent County restaurants is complete without mentioning the Smyrna Diner. The classic stainless-steel structure sat at 304 N. Dupont Blvd. for decades, a beacon to locals and a famous waypoint for travelers on U.S. 13.
Owner Sandy Margist may have given up the old trailer-style place in favor of a more modern restaurant at 99 S. Cory Lane, and daughter Jamie Compton may have taken over as the manager, but dishes like chicken and dumplings are still made from scratch, and the service is as friendly as ever. Best of all, it serves breakfast all day.
For more great restaurants in Kent County, visit delawaretoday.com/Delaware-Today/Delaware-Resources/Dining-Guide.