Discover the Flavors of Door County
Photo credts: John Ivanko
Anyone craving a foodie road trip out of the city and into the countryside, but without the butter burgers and fries, can find their destination in Wisconsin’s Door County. Explore a budding local food scene that will tempt the most discerning of palates, from house-made burrata cheese to classic locally grown cherries, now showing up in a craft cocktail.
Sure, Chicagoans are well-versed with Door County as a family summer travel destination. It’s been that way for generations, and for good reason. You’ll still find that fabulous slice of cherry pie and quintessential Wisconsin supper clubs. However, a flock of new eateries, adeptly guided by food artisans, have propelled the peninsula’s foodie scene to one of refreshing diversity, paired with a commitment to local farms and sustainability.
Explore New Cuisine
“We wanted to create something here that showcases the amazing farmers and food artisans on Door County and the range of ingredients we can source locally,” shares Sarah Holmes, one of the owners of Trixie’s (TrixiesFoodAndWine.com), in Ephraim.
You’ll find fun culinary mashups on Trixie’s menu, too. Sure, local whitefish pops up on menus throughout Door County, and of course you’ll want to take in a classic fish boil. But Trixie’s mixes things up with a ceviche whitefish infused with a southwest twist, including roasted peppers, fresh lime and pickled jalapeños, topped with a scallion cilantro vinaigrette alongside tortilla chips. Try their miso ramen with chashu pork belly, pickled mushrooms and soy marinated egg for an Asian treat.
You’re in America’s Dairyland, so of course you need some cheese. But at Trixie’s, you can satisfy your cheese fix by taking it up a notch with saganaki made with Wisconsin kasseri, or sample their house-made burrata with confit tomatoes and gremolata vinaigrette. An extensive and well-vetted wine list showcases the restaurant’s commitment to organic and biodynamic growing methods, and also features women-run wineries to support the growing movement of female vintners.
If you’re craving more classic Wisconsin fare through a local food lens, check out Wickman House (WickmanHouse.com), in Ellison Bay. A sister restaurant to Trixie’s and located on a century-old farm estate, the menu roots in classics like seasonal fried green tomatoes and roasted-to-juicy-perfection organic chicken from Waseda Farm. A large garden plot out back inspires seasonal specials alongside working with a local network of more than a dozen area farmers, cheesemakers and fishmongers.
You might see owner Mike Holmes, husband of Sarah, behind the bar, wearing a bow tie and hand-shaking cocktails from his curated drink menu of 45 options, including the Uptown, a “Wisconsin meets tropical cross-pollination,” in which he blends pineapple and sparkling rose with maple syrup made from the trees tapped outside.
Stock the Pantry
Bring a cooler, as you’ll want to collect your own Door County ingredients to take back over the border. For cheeses, start with Renard’s Cheese (RenardsCheese.com) with shops in Sturgeon Bay and Algoma. The Renard family has been making cheese on Door County since 1961 and offers classics from cheddar to muenster, along with flavored spreadable cheese. Best find: Cheddar cherry, Renard’s award-winning cheddar infused with classic Door County flavor.
At Door County Creamery (DoorCountyCreamery.com) in Sister Bay, you can meet the newer generation of cheesemakers, Jesse and Rachael Johnson, who craft a variety of goat cheese along with gelato. Stop by the Creamery shop in town for your provisions. Be sure to check out their Farm Lunch Tour, which includes a personal, behind-the-scenes tour of the goat farm just a few miles outside of town, with plenty of Instagram-worthy photo ops with goats along with an on-farm cheese tasting. The tour wraps up back at the café for lunch where you can feast on their Chevre Torte, made with their fresh chevre, along with basil pesto, olive tapenade, tomato confit and topped with arugula.
Visit Seaquist Orchards Farm Market (SeaquistOrchards.com) outside Sister Bay for your Door County fruit fix. The Seaquist family raises a variety of fruits, including apples, pears, and the Montmorency Tart cherry, the ones you typically see in cherry pie filling.
“These cherries pack some great health benefits, including a natural melatonin which can help you sleep better,” explains Kristin Seaquist, who manages the farm market. Fortunately, you’ll find cherries in every form at this bustling shop, from frozen to dried to juices to dark-chocolate-covered treats.
Greens N Grains (Greens-N-Grains.com) is Door County’s natural food store, offering a well-curated small grocery, along with a café featuring vegetarian, gluten-free and raw specialties. Pick up homemade hummus wraps for your picnic and treat yourself to a refreshing smoothie or fresh-pressed organic juice. Island Orchard Cider (IslandOrchardCider.com) produces hard ciders with fruit grown on their farm on Washington Island. It’s the perfect rocky limestone soil and climate for French and American cider apples used to create these dry, crisp and complex hard ciders as they have in Normandy for generations. Try the tart and refreshing Brut Apple Cider.
Even the lodging in Door County can help you stock your pantry; that is, if these treats last to make it home. At Gustave’s Getaway (GustavesGetaway.com), a lovingly restored 1887 log cabin on an 80-acre farmstead, owner Annie Miller greets you at check-in with her homemade kringle, pecan rolls or other fresh treats made in her on-farm bakery. You can also stock up on her cherry preserves and hand-cut traditional sauerkraut to take home.
Green Your Trip
Alongside this growing local food movement in Door County, you’ll find a strong commitment to sustainability and stewarding this scenic natural landscape. Take your electric car for a spin on this road trip; there are charging stations throughout the peninsula. Door County has led the state in initiating places to plug in since 2014.
Even Door County classic destinations embrace the green mission. A must-do on everyone’s Door County itinerary is a stop at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik (AlJohnsons.com) in Sister Bay to both see the infamous goats grazing on the grass-filled roof and dine on Swedish pancakes with lingonberry sauce. Al Johnson’s is also a certified member of Travel Green Wisconsin, a distinction earned by championing green practices such as serving organic lingonberries and using a green sod roof that provides high insulation value.
Add in 300 miles of shoreline, five state parks and 11 lighthouses, all on a 70-mile peninsula where you can watch a sunrise and a sunset over the water without leaving the county. Door County is the closest spot to another world outside the city, just over four hours north of Chicago.
Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko are the authors of Farmstead Chef, Homemade for Sale, and Soil Sisters. They run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B, in Wisconsin. For more information, call 608-329-7056 or visit InnSerendipity.com.
Pickled-Cherry and Cranberry Salad
Think beyond the pie; Door County cherries make a flavorful addition to this tangy salad that’s easy to take to the office for a healthy lunch.
2 large beets
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup dried cherries and/or cranberries
¼ tsp ground fennel
¼ cup red-wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
6 cups mixed spring greens or artisan lettuces
6 oz bleu cheese or goat cheese
Thin slices of raw, shaved beets for added decoration (optional)
Cherry Port Vinaigrette
½ cup Door County cherry juice
(in the fall you can use apple cider)
2 Tbsp port or red wine
1 Tbsp honey
3 to 4 Tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
One garlic clove, finely chopped
⅓ cup olive oil [need symbol]
Salt and white pepper to taste
Salad: Prepare beets by preheating the oven to 350 F. Place beets on a large piece of foil and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover tightly with foil and roast until tender, about 1.5 hours. A paring knife should easily go through the beets when they are done.
When the beets are cool enough to work with, place them under cold water the remove the skins. You may need to use a paring knife to assist you with this. Cut into thin slices. (If the beets are large enough, you can use a mandolin to do this.)
To prepare the cherries and/or cranberries, combine in a saucepan with the sugar, ¾ cup water, ¼ cup red wine vinegar and fennel. Bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and use immediately or place them covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To serve, toss the greens with the cherries/cranberries and some of the dressing. Divide the sliced beets among 6 plates. Top the beets with some of the salad mixture. Finally, garnish with some crumbled cheese. Decorate with thin slices of shaved beets if available.
Cherry Port Vinaigrette: This will make more vinaigrette then needed. You can split the recipe in half or refrigerate the extra for later use.
Place the cherry juice, port and honey in a small sauce pot. On low heat, simmer until reduced to a syrup. Be careful, because this mixture can reduce fairly quickly. Let cool.
Place the reduction in a bowl and add the white wine vinegar and Dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and white pepper as needed. If the dressing seems to tart, add a bit more oil. If not tart enough, add a little more white wine vinegar.
Recipe courtesy of Terri Milligan (ChefTerriMilligan.com).