Wisconsin is best known for its beer, sausage and supper clubs. But Door County is best known for its fish boils. And it increasingly is home to healthy food, gourmet cuisine, and organic options.
Door County Fish Boil
A fish boil is a Door County tradition, created years ago as a way to feed lots of people fast. It’s made outside in pots over a wood fire and watching the “boil over” is a critical part of the experience.
We went to the fish boil at the picturesque White Gull Inn, the only Door County resort that offers a fish boil all year ’round. Unlike other fish boilers, Tom Christianson, the masterboiler at White Gull, does not add onions to his boil. He says there are other boilers who also add a layer of corn on the cob.
How is the food? Good, if a little bland. Whitefish is a very mild fish and because the “boil over” is designed to spill the fish oil out of the pot, it keeps the fish from tasting “fishy.” But boiled dinners are, well, boiled. Nothing but salt for seasoning. And be careful: the fish comes with the bones intact, the only way to keep it from turning to mush during the boil. The wait staff will help debone your fish, but there still are plenty of small, sharp bones left over, which makes the going slow and a little scary, especially if you’re feeding the fish to kids.
Healthy Food Options
If you’re looking for less traditional fare in this hotbed of dark, brooding supper clubs and heavy red meat, stop at Bluefront Café in Sturgeon Bay at the southern entrance of Door County. It’s owned by Susan Guthrie, who created a light, bright restaurant that serves lighter fare made with locally sourced organic ingredients. Guthrie, a breast cancer survivor will even share her recipes in return for a $25 donation to one of two cancer nonprofits in the area. Best bets: fish tacos, vegetarian minestrone soup, her signature salads and my fave, the Thai-inspired shrimp wrap.
The fare at the Inn at Kristofer’s in Sister Bay is owned by Chris Milligan and his wife, Terri, who is the chef. Her maple butternut squash bisque alone is worth a visit.
For a purer experience, try the vegan and raw food at the Greens N Grains Deli in “the purple building on the curve” in Egg Harbor. The restaurant is in the back of the natural food store.
This is the cherry growing section of Wisconsin (the vast majority of tart cherries are grown across the lake in Michigan) and the folks here do an amazing array of things with their yummy cherries—from turning them into wine to covering them with dark chocolate.
There are five wineries here, all of which offer free tastings and low-priced tours of their wine-making operations. We stopped at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market for a tour and tasting. I’m not a big fan of sweet wines, but this winery adds a hint of cherry flavor to even the dry wines. On a cold and blustery winter day, the warm, mulled cherry wine was a yummy comfort.
You can stock up on cherry treats to take home at Country Ovens, another family-owned business that offers Cherry De-Lite products. The best chocolate-covered cherries I’ve ever tasted. (Don’t miss the table full of products for sampling and ask for a sip of the cherry juice.) Country Ovens is technically not in Door County since it’s south of Sturgeon Bay. But it’s well worth a stop on your way from the airport.
Even AirHost, the lone restaurant at the Austin Straubel Airport in Green Baby (the closest airport to Door County), had surprisingly good food. I stopped for breakfast before my 35-minute flight back to Chicago and was pleasantly surprised. The fare is basic, but better quality cooking than you expect in an airport. Like everywhere in this part of northern Wisconsin, the service was friendly and efficient.