Photograph by Thom Thompson http://thomthompson.com
Whether you’re day-tripping to Dover Downs, making a pit stop on your way to the beach or call Kent County home, there’s no shortage of great places to eat and shop—and the list is growing.
With Dover Air Force Base, the state capital and the area’s popularity with NASCAR fans—not to mention its placement smack in the middle of the state—there’s never been an absence of activity here. There are more shoppers to sell to and mouths to feed than ever before.
Plenty of retailers and restaurateurs have been happy to step up to the plate. Along Dupont Highway alone, it’s possible to find just about everything you could possibly want in eating and dining.
Dover Mall offers the biggest lure to those tired of dropping nickels into slots and more interested in dropping some Benjamins on a new outfit. The sprawling complex features anchor stores Sears, JC Penney, Macy’s and Boscov’s, not to mention the 14-theater Carmike Cinema 14.
Among the big stores, you’ll find just about everything a dedicated mall denizen could hope for. Victoria’s Secret, Old Navy, AÃ©ropostale, Spencer Gifts, Pier 1, Zales Jeweler and Wilson’s Leather all maintain storefronts here, and there are plenty more to choose from on any given lap around the complex.
But perhaps what you need is a bit more utilitarian. Home Depot, Lowe’s and 84 Lumber all maintain stores along this busy commercial strip, as do discount retailers like Target, Kmart and Wal-Mart.
For those who work up a hunger as they hunt for bargains in the mall, there’s a long list of food court choices such as Chick-fil-A and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and family restaurants such as Chuck E. Cheese and Ruby Tuesday.
Dupont Highway also serves as home to many of the nation’s most popular chain and fast-food restaurants, from KFC and McDonald’s to Applebee’s and Olive Garden. There is plenty to choose from, and most of it is a quick drive from lodgings and many of the area’s most popular attractions.
One of the biggest attractions is Dover Downs. With its combination of NASCAR events, harness racing and slot machine gambling, the complex serves as a year-round destination for locals and tourists alike.
But a lot of those folks are going to get hungry. When they don’t want to get too far from the slots or the simulcast races but still want to enjoy a little taste of luxury, many of them head straight for Michele’s Steak and Seafood on the second-floor balcony overlooking the hotel’s main lobby.
The 120-seat restaurant offers a full menu of expertly prepared steakhouse fare, including items like center-cut filet mignon and pistachio-crusted mahi-mahi, all of it sure to satisfy an appetite whetted by an afternoon with the one-armed bandits.
But don’t stop there. Exploring and discovering something new can sometimes be half the fun, especially when there’s so much to find.
“As far as the restaurants go, we do have almost every chain located here in Kent County,” says Michelle Robinette, director of public relations and special events for the Kent County & Greater Dover Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But we also have local gems to offer locals and tourists alike if you want to go off the beaten path.”
That’s where you’ll find treasures like the barbecue house Where Pigs Fly at 617 E. Loockerman St. With images of pork on the wing at every turn, this unassuming barbecue shack cooks up honest-to-goodness Southern-style ribs, chicken and pulled pork, not to mention hot wings, burgers and hot dogs. It even serves sweet iced tea.
Farther afield but keeping things down-home, there’s Helen’s Sausage House at 4866 N. Dupont Highway north of Smyrna, loved by truckers, bikers and road-food aficionados throughout the Northeast for its “big as your head” pork chop sandwiches and sausage links served just about any way you would want them.
For seafood lovers, Kent County takes full advantage of its location between the Delaware Bay and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Fresh crab, fish, oysters and clams populate the menu of many restaurants, but two standouts for the eating and the experience are Boondocks at 825 Lighthouse Road in Smyrna and Sambo’s Tavern at 293 Front Street in tiny Leipsic.
Both offer their own particular takes on the smash-it-with-a-hammer style of seafood consumption. The two-person seafood-and-sides extravaganza at Boondocks known as the Pig Out features a half-pound of steamed shrimp, six crabs, chicken wings, French fries and corn on the cob.
At Sambo’s the appeal lies in watching the watermen pull up at the dock outside. Their ware is then promptly cooked up and served at your table. “You can get fresh seafood right off the boat. It’s just a great dining experience,” says Robinette. It’s also a poorly kept secret that Sambo’s is one of the best places in the county to catch a glimpse of NASCAR drivers when they’re in town for races.
For a more upscale dining experience, Cool Springs Fish Bar at 2463 S. State St. in Dover boasts that it has the best food in town, and the locals seem to agree. “They serve more than seafood. You can get a great prime rib there, as well as fish or chicken or pasta dishes,” says Robinette.
One of the newer additions to the Dover dining scene is the World Famous Loockerman Exchange at the corner of Loockerman and State streets in Dover. It offers yet another great opportunity for dining and nightlife in the historic downtown. It joins W.T. Smithers on South State Street as a hot spot for those looking to go out but stay in the center of town.
The center of town has also seen a resurgence as a shopping district for people not interested in what the mall has to offer, says Helen Haughey, a local business woman who formerly owned Bell, Book and Candle downtown.
“The big thing about shopping in any town, but particularly in Dover, is that’s where you have to go if you want to find something that you won’t find anywhere else,” she says. “If you want to know what Dover’s about, you have to come downtown. All those kinds of stores, you’re going to find something there that you won’t find anywhere else.”
Some of those merchants include Animals to Wear, which features equestrian and animal-themed clothing; Bell, Book and Candle, which carries a wide variety of metaphysical books, herbs, cards and CDs; comics and collectibles store Superior Comics; gift store Forney’s Too and Beyond Dimensions Fine Art and Contemporary Gifts.
The downtown options offer a great counterpoint to the larger chain stores while ensuring that Kent County has a broad selection of all kinds of goods.
“We want to give folks options,” Robinette says. “Would we be happy for people to travel down to the main street and make their purchases from our local merchants? Absolutely. The more that builds up, the better. It just goes hand in glove.”
More Great Places to Eat
Betsy Ross Pizza and Restaurant
Liberty Plaza, Harrington, 398-4337 Serves subs, wings, pasta and sandwiches, but the best item just might be the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
825 Lighthouse Road, Smyrna, 653-6962 A classic of downhome-cooking and local seafood.
1570 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 678-0100 Inside the Dover Sheraton, serves American cuisine in an intimate atmosphere.
Cool Springs Fish Bar & Restaurant
2463 S. State St., Dover, 698-1955 Offers cutting-edge fresh seafood and beef served in a contemporary, stylish dining room. Don’t miss the honey bourbon salmon or the sirloin.
Corner Eatery@ 33 West
33 W. Loockerman St., Dover, 735-9822 Serves gourmet salads from Greek to grilled shrimp with spinach, a wide array of sandwiches, wraps, subs and burgers, coffee, espresso and cappuccino. Vegetarian options available.
528 S. Bay Road, Dover, 734-4575 Has a menu of more than 200 items, such as tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chilaquiles and much, much more.
Cozy Kitchen Restaurant
913 S. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 730-8868 A neighborhood favorite that offers everything from sandwiches to salads to omelets to broiled seafood.
Hall’s Family Restaurant
108 N. Railroad Ave., Wyoming, 697-7448 Lets you dine on home-cooked dishes like chicken and dumplings, fried flounder and crab cakes.
Hibachi Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar
691 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 734-5900 Offers Japanese cuisine and sushi in a casual atmosphere.
In Bocca Al Lupo
1960 S. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 659-2110 Serves authentic Italian dishes in a casual, family friendly atmosphere.
Iron Gate Restaurant
1151 Bay Road, Dover, 678-9666 Creates continental cuisine. It’s best known for its prime rib and seafood.
Kirby and Holloway Restaurant
656 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 734-7133 Offers classic American cuisine. Reservations are suggested.
La Ortolana Pizza and Ristorante
233 Old Camden Road, Camden, 698-1334 Serves subs, pasta, pizza, wings and calzones.
245 S. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 734-4575 Authentic Mexican food. There are lots of combination meals and more than a dozen styles of margarita.
1000 Midway Drive, Harrington, 398-7644