Door County restaurants have plenty of family appeal: cheese, cherry pie and simply prepared food. Foodie adults can dine well too, especially if they want to try lots of beer and cherry infused spirits.
The writer was hosted for this trip.
If local ingredients like cherries, whitefish and cheese curds excite you, Door County, Wisconsin, has plenty of dining experiences. Although fish boils and meat dishes dominate, there are vegetarian options too. Since I had a very active time in Door County, I was appreciative of the hearty meals.
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TravelingMom Tip: Most Door County restaurants offer take-out and have outdoor dining in warmer weather. Wisconsin winters are not really conducive to outdoor dining.
White Gull Inn Fish Boil
The Scandinavians who settled in Wisconsin brought the tradition of a fish boil to Door County. Using the local Lake Michigan whitefish, Door County restaurants build huge outdoor fires and diners gather outside to watch dinner being cooked.
The meal starts with small red potatoes cooked in a large cauldron over the open fire. Towards the end, fish is added. And just before dinner time, the master boiler tosses a bit of kerosene in the flames to burn off the fish oil. This dramatic conflagration stops all conversation.
The traditional Scandinavian fish boil dinner includes the fish and potatoes served with lemon and butter and a side of cole slaw. Dessert is cherry pie, with or without vanilla ice cream. My farro grain bowl with butternut squash and wild mushrooms showed that the White Gull Inn embraces fine dining trends as well.
The historic White Gull Inn, which opened in 1896, is the only Door County restaurant that offers a fish boil in winter. In summer, you can find a fish boil up and down the peninsula. White Gull Inn, a bed & breakfast in Fish Creek, has fish boils on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, May to October, and only on Fridays the rest of the year.
Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club, a Door County Classic
Dinner, bowling and old-fashioned cocktails are the draw at this supper club. Owned by a local family since 1964, the Sister Bay Supper Club has a fish fry using local whitefish or walleye Tuesday and Friday nights. There are steaks, ribs and roast chicken. For me, a vegetarian, there was a homemade veggie burger.
The supper club’s old-fashioned is not like your typical old-fashioned cocktail. It is made with brandy and is topped with Sprite. There are quite a few local beers on tap, including the Spotted Cow.
The Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club has fried cheese curds, a large kids’ menu and pizza. If you are bowling, you can get anything form the menu brought to your lane.
Melted Cheese: Renard’s Cheese
Renard’s Cheese stores in Sturgeon Bay and Algoma are the places to stock up on local cheese to bring to friends at home. The Sturgeon Bay location has a deli that serves tomato soup and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The honey truffle melt and spinach and artichoke sandwiches are for for adventurous cheese lovers. There are also cheese curds, pizza and macaroni and cheese.
If you haven’t had your fill of dairy, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream from Madison, WI, fits the bill. I found that the Spotted Cow ale cut the richness of my delicious spinach and artichoke sandwich.
Once your kids scarf down their sandwiches, they can burn off energy at the playground.
Renard’s is opening a new facility with factory tours. Post Covid-19, see how the cheese is made and sample plenty of cheese at the end. Factory tours are $3 a person. Green Bay Packers’ cheeseheads will probably make this pilgrimage.
We were able to safely sample the fudge after lunch at the store. a masked and gloved employee handed out bites of glorious peanut butter fudge.
Wake Up at Door County Coffee
In addition to specialty coffee and espresso drinks, Door County Coffee has a large breakfast and lunch menu. I had baked oatmeal made with dried cherries and fresh apples. It was served with a small bottle of warm milk. There are baked egg dishes, and toast with cherry jam. My friend and I shared the hash brown bake with cheddar cheese and onions. It was hard to let half of it go.
There are plenty of pastries to go, with cherry muffins and cherry cheese crown particularly appealing. The only non-dairy milk option is soy milk.
Wild Tomato Pizza
As a New York pizza snob, I was skeptical about the wood fired pizza at Wild Tomato. I need not have worried. The crust was excellent (there is also a gluten free option). Toppings were fresh and emphasize local ingredients. And since I’d had so much cheese, I tried the vegan cheese and vegan sausage, along with a wild mushroom blend. We also shared a cherry walnut salad with local goat cheese and local dried cherries, with a cherry vinaigrette. There are plenty of local beers, both bottled and on tap that pair well with the pizzas.
There are two locations, in Sister Bay and Fish Creek. We ate at the Sister Bay Wild Tomato, which has a waterfront playground steps away.
Coyote Roadhouse features a meat heavy menu with steaks, ribs, burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches. But there were plenty of vegetarian friendly options, from quesadillas with wild mushrooms to a grilled portobello mushroom on rye with Swiss cheese. I had the filling mushroom sandwich, perfect after all our outdoor activities.
The restaurant has a kids’ menu and a Friday night fish fry.
Beyond Door County
If you have additional time to explore, and your tummy wants more Wisconsin cuisine, try:
- Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market in Egg Harbor has local cherry juice and cherry pies.
- Door Peninsula Winery & Door County Distillery offers kids juice at tastings. And the fudge store offers samples.
Sadly, I didn’t have time for Al Johnsons Swedish Restaurant and Butik, a traditional restaurant with goats on the roof and entrees like Swedish meatballs and Lake Michigan perch, along with vegetarian vegetable hash and kid friendly chicken fingers or fish & chips. Nor did I get to try Chives, the fine dining eatery in Bailey’s Harbor that has a few kid- and vegetarian-friendly entrees. Next time!
And I think my return trip will be in summer so I can check out these Wisconsin restaurants: the tapas restaurant Parador in Egg Harbor, Wickman in Ellison Bay, Trixies in Ephraim and Taco Cerveza in Fish Creek.