Dover Delaware: Doubling Down on Fun
By Kurt Jacobson
Those who speed by Dover, Delaware on their way to the beaches lose out.
Within the town of Dover and surrounding Kent County are several reasons to stop and explore. I had made that blunder on three previous occasions zipping past Dover. When I took the time to investigate, I found a region rich in history, small but scenic rivers, a massive casino, excellent food, and some of the best beer all year.
My explorations started with a stop at Dover’s Bavarian Bakery. Monika, the owner, is the real deal from Germany.
She and her brother run the place and are known far and wide for excellent Bavarian-style cakes, pastries, bread, and their deli sandwiches. Their delicious banana cake and coconut cake had me swooning in ecstasy.
Best Free Attraction In Dover
The Air Mobility Command Museum is a must see in Dover, Delaware. My tour guide was Don Hall who holds a wealth of aviation history to share with visitors.
The cost is free, and you'll see several aircraft and even some hands-on exhibits great for all ages.
Probably one of the biggest attractions in Kent County is Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. Size matters. This hotel and casino deliver lots of gaming choices, a luxurious spa, several restaurants, and the best hotel in Kent County.
It helps that Dover Downs Hotel and Casino looks out on the racetrack featuring car racing in mid-April to mid-October and horse racing from November to mid-April. Two NASCAR races are held each racing season and bring thousands of fans to Dover.
The 2019 schedule features races May 3rd-5th to open the season, then finishes October 4-6 with three special NASCAR events. Dover Downs International Speedway also hosts the Firefly Music Festival June 21-23 and has featured the likes of Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Mumford and Sons, and other top-name performers.
At Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, find more than 2,300 slot machines, table games, and an exclusive poker room with 18 tables. Check out harness racing from November through April while sipping a mint julep and cheering for your favorite horse.
The hotel features 500 well-appointed guest rooms, making it the largest in Delaware.
The downtown area is experiencing a revival thanks to Unlock The Block, a program by Downtown Dover Partnership. New businesses are often opening. The Caribbean Store selling groceries and hot food like curry goat, beans and rice from the islands at 313 W. Lockerman Street.
I visited on a Wednesday and was able to check out the farmers market downtown. Food trucks, live music, and farm-fresh fruits and veggies drew a sizable crowd.
The hot spot for lunch, dinner, and drinks downtown is 33 West Alehouse. 33 West is where locals and a few lucky out-of-towners find good pub fare and a large selection of craft brews from all over the US.
Their salads like the apple and arugula look and taste great with the option to add on shrimp and other delicious toppings.
Burgers and sandwiches are crowd pleasers here with the Korean turkey burger a tasty choice. Topped with sriracha mayo, Korean bbq glaze, pickled vegetables, and served on a pretzel roll, this is far from ordinary.
Paired with a seasonal pumpkin ale makes for a good combo.
A Taste of History
After my meal at 33 West, I headed for the First State Historic District a few blocks away. The Green, a square park reminiscent of similar parks in Philly, featured well-preserved houses from the 18th century. On the east side of the park stood the 1792-built State House.
Entrance to the State House was free. I was welcomed by two guides dressed in period costumes for a tour. The senate and house chambers look like they might have in the 1780s with the names of the senators and congressmen still on their desks.
Next up for my history lesson was a trip to the John Dickenson Plantation on the outskirts of Dover. This free museum is owned by the state of Delaware and was one of three homes John owned.
Originally built in 1740 by John’s father Samuel, the property stayed in the family until 1933.
After passing through several subsequent owners, the mansion was purchased by the Colonial Dames of America for $25,000. The estate opened to the public May 1956 after three and a half years of painstaking restoration.
My tour started at the visitor center where I watched an interesting documentary about John Dickenson. This famous patriot has been called the “Penman of the Revolution” due to his eloquent written opinions towards forming a new and separate country.
Volunteer guides dressed in 18th-century garb filled in some blanks the documentary hadn’t covered. One of those facts was the abundance of mosquitos. My guide Chris said, “The biting insects were so bad that John Dickenson reported a time that livestock died from the hordes of voracious bugs.”
I had walked some 150 yards to the house for my tour and hadn’t seen a single mosquito, but when I left the home to head back to my car, they appeared out of nowhere. I’ve seen plenty of hungry mosquitos in Alaska, but these were Kamikaze-like in their attack.
It would be wise to bring insect repellant if you visit during mosquito season because these bugs are hungry! It’s hard to imagine life 200 years ago before window screens and bug spray.
Checking Out Smyrna
The next tour was at the Historic Belmont Hall in Smyrna. This Georgian-style mansion was built in 1773 and is considered one of the most historic and treasured homes in Delaware. Spring or fall are good times for a tour, meeting, wedding, or party.
Belmont Hall funds repairs and upkeep through hosting such special events. If you want to visit Belmont Hall on your own, check out their website for tours.
After touring historic sites, I was hungry and thirsty. The Brick Works Brewing and Eats in Smyrna was just a five-minute drive from Belmont Hall. At the hostess station, I spied a sign providing a different type of history lesson.
The words Growler History pulled me in and I learned how this beer carrying device got its name in the 18th century. After learning about growlers, I took a seat at the bar and beheld 14 brews to choose from.
Meeting The Brewmaster
Justin Colatrella is the brewmaster and was on hand to answer questions. I quizzed Justin on his Octoberfest beer, and he said: “The Wait Octoberfest is the first beer we brewed and is so popular it’s on the list every October.”
I ordered a sampler of four-7 ounce servings of The Wait Octoberfest, La Luz Pilsner, Black Denaliah double IPA, and Ripped Van Winkle pale ale. The Black Denaliah was a thick-rich swirling trip down the beer barrel but a bit too dark for me. The Octoberfest was as-advertised, a smooth drinking crisp brew and my favorite.
The food menu was enticing, and I ordered the house-made guac and chips, a cup of the butternut squash and mushroom soup, and the Jamaica jerk wings.
All their menu offerings are made from scratch and taste like it. I loved the thick and creamy soup with its blend of squash and mushrooms in harmony.
My last day in Dover Delaware and Kent County provided just enough time to explore Milford. Due to a rainy forecast, my kayak trip on the Mispillion River in Milford was canceled.
To salvage the day with indoor activities, I toured the Parson Thorne Mansion, walked the scenic downtown Riverwalk, and ate lunch at Arena’s, a good place for brews and burgers.
My trip to Dover, Delaware was over, but as I drove home past the Air Mobility Command, my curiosity had satisfied. Next time I go to the Delaware beaches, I’ll know where to stop off for good food, beer, and baked goods on the way.
Kent County Tourism hosted this visit, but the opinions are the author's own.
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Kurt Jacobson lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent many years as a professional chef. Now he travels the world and shares his stories here and on other travel websites.