There’s more than the fragrant scent of cedar and Lake Michigan waves licking the 300 miles of shoreline on Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula. Long known for their cherry and apple orchards and the pies, wines and ciders made from them, Door County has emerged as a food travel destination. The county reflects the emerging trend of people seeking local, fresh and sustainable ingredients in the meals they eat, food products they enjoy and bottles of wine or other beverages they take home with them. The county has 2,000 acres of cherry orchards and 500 acres of apples across the peninsula.
With more than thirty fine dining restaurants and seventy-five casual dining options, one wonders if anyone even needs to cook at all while vacationing on the roughly 70-mile-long peninsula. Sure, Wisconsin’s supper clubs still thrive on Door County; there are eight. But a growing line-up of fine dining and casual restaurants abound, some featuring scrumptious sandwiches made from Door County Creamery’s goat and cow’s milk cheeses or seasonal ingredients grown on site in the gardens at Wickman House.
This is the first of two pieces on the many culinary finds in Door County, for both nourishment and inspiration.
Wickman House Farm-to-Table Cuisine and Craft Cocktails
Tradition meets sustainability at the Wickman House in Ellison Bay. With hospitality roots since since 1921, this welcoming estate, complete with gazebo and cozy dining room, brings people together over food thanks to the stewarding vision of owners Mike and Sarah Holmes. The menu features local, seasonal sourcing from the onsite gardens (since 2013) and upwards of nine area farms or fisheries. Dishes include roasted-to-juicy-perfection organic chicken from Waseda Farm and peak summer specialties like fried green tomatoes.
You’ll feel transported to an era when travel came at a slower pace and supper guests linger for a full evening experience. You’ll be drawn in by the creative craft cocktail list, featuring forty-five options. Wet your whistle with the Berry Fizz, with muddled berries, lemon, bubbles and gin and topped with egg white. During our visit, Mike Holmes was behind the bar donning his bow-tie and working his magic with the spirits, dazzling us with his peppery London is Burning, made with an apache pepper infused gin. Uptown, a Wisconsin-take on the tropical, mixes pineapple and sparkling rose with maple syrup made from the trees tapped outside.
Trixie’s Local Culinary Fusion and Sustainably-sourced Wines
Trixie’s in Ephraim, blends a modern global infusion twist alongside classic Midwest fare. While local whitefish remains a menu staple throughout the peninsula, at Trixie’s, whitefish pops up as ceviche with a southwest twist with roasted peppers, fresh lime, pickled jalapeños and topped with a scallion cilantro vinaigrette alongside tortilla chips. Fried mushrooms come served alongside a kale pesto, black garlic, black truffled honey and local Door County Creamery chèvre. Their miso ramen with chashu pork belly, pickled mushrooms and soy marinated egg topped what we’ve had at Asian restaurants in the big city. Who needs fried cheese curds when you can go for their saganaki, made with Wisconsin kasseri, or house-made burrata with confit tomatoes and gremolata vinaigrette.
“This is a smile wine,” shares our conversant server Gretchen as she expertly navigates us through their extensive curated wine list. Something with bubbles indeed is the perfect accompaniment for a dessert of pane cotta with a berry gastric, a sweet-and-sour sauce in which the sugar caramelizes and blends with vinegar and reduced to a thicker, tart syrup. Can’t wait to try making this with our raspberry crop next year. Many of their featured winemakers use traditional, organic or biodynamic methods. As author of Soil Sisters and spearheading the Soil Sisters event in Wisconsin, I loved the fact that they also often feature female winemakers.
If you’re going to eat out, it should be an experience. Trixie’s ambiance and convivial atmosphere is as intoxicating delightful as the creative dishes served up by the chef team of Erin Murphy and Matt Chambas, both of whom make everything in-house and from scratch. The small dining room simply radiates. Interior white walls and tables accented with one color, in this case pink, from the water glasses to the napkins and flowers. This glowing effect made us feel like we were dining in a warm and welcoming cloud. Plenty of ideas for us to try back at our homestead-and-farmstay Inn Serendipity, especially after the sun goes down on our front porch.
The Fish Boil Experience at Rowleys Bay Resort
“Consider yourself family when you come here because we want it to feel like home,” shares Jewel Ouradnik, owner with her family of Rowleys Bay Resort in Ellison Bay. She warmly welcomes guests to their regularly scheduled fish boils, which is as much a performance that culminates in an explosive fire as it is a meal of boiled local Lake Michigan whitefish, red potatoes and onions.
Upon arrival, dinner guests nestle outside in Adirondack chairs to be entertained by the spry 91-year-old Charlie Dickson as plays the part of Peter Rowley, the curmudgeon pioneer who first settled the bay in the 1830s. Take in the view of Lake Michigan as Dickson serves up wisecracks alongside history, narrating the story of Rowleys Bay, from its native American roots to settlement by Scandinavian immigrants. “Door County has over seventy miles of beautiful shoreline,” he offers. “I’ve only hiked it once,” he deadpans.
Meanwhile, the boilmaster, tasked with managing the fire and cooking the meal, adds ingredients, one by one, to the large iron caldron until he gets the fire roaring hot by stoking the flames with kerosene at the very end for the finale boilover. Fish boils are a Door County dining staple, and Rowleys Bay Resort joins numerous other establishments throughout the county offering the experience, though Rowleys Bay Resort’s fish boil also includes the county’s longest all-you-can-eat buffet and salad bar. If you’re thinking boiled fish is light on the seasonings, don’t worry. Ouradnik makes sure it’s served up with ladles of hot, melted butter.
Perched at the mouth of the Mink River and across from Newport State Park, Rowleys Bay Resort celebrates the “quiet side” of Door County – and all things retro and analog, including someone personally answering calls for reservations, most likely Ouradnik herself. It’s an idyllic place for a boiled fish dinner.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband and photographer, John D. Ivanko, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of Lisa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.