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The Badger State Part 3: Door County

Updated: Feb 9


Door County, Wisconsin sits on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. This picturesque place has been referred to as the "Cape Cod of the Midwest."

Door County has over 300 miles of shoreline, making it the county with more shoreline than any other in the United States.

Door County is situated between the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. As such, I got spectacular, water-front views almost everywhere I went during my visit.

And when I didn't, I saw beautiful fields, under bright, blue skies.

Fish Boil Preparation

A few must-do things I was told about, both before and upon my arrival, were to attend a fish boil (more on this later) ...

Cheese Curds

... and to try some cheese curds. Since Wisconsin calls itself "America's Dairyland" (it's even on their license plates), I figured I would jump right into the dairy, upon my arrival. So, my first adventure in Door County was to try some cheese curds.

Cheese curds, are young, fresh cheddar that has not undergone any aging. You will know if the curds you are eating are fresh because they squeak when you bite into them. They can be eaten different ways, but one of the most common preparations is deep-fried, which is the way I experienced them.

These salty, squeaky, nuggets are very rich. I could only stomach two, which worked out just fine because I was sharing them with new friends and Door County locals, who were giving me the scoop on what else to do on my visit.

Upon their recommendation, and in their company, we headed to Dal Santo for dinner. Dal Santo serves northern, Italian food, in the heart of historic, downtown, Sturgeon Bay.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Cheesecake with Fresh Blueberries

After dinner, I took a walk to the shoreline to see the sunset. Then, I headed to bed, eager to get an early start the following morning.


Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant

I started my second day in Door County, at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, a place that had been highly recommended. If you visit Door County and have a hard time finding the restaurant, just look for the goats on the roof.

Yup, you read that correctly. There are actually live, goats on top of the roof.

Eggs and Sausage

And inside the restaurant, you will find very yummy food. Come prepared with both patience and an appetite, because the wait is usually very long and the food is very good.

Swedish Pancakes

Whatever else you may order, try the Swedish pancakes. Al Johnson's is after all, a Swedish restaurant. Swedish pancakes are made with an egg-rich batter. They are soft and fluffy and much lighter than American pancakes.

They are wonderful with syrup, of course, but I suggest the traditional accompaniment, which is jam. Al Johnson's makes a delectable lingonberry jam that I slathered on my pancakes, along with some butter. So good!


Washington Island

From breakfast in Sister Bay, I drove to Ellison Bay to board a ferry to Washington Island. The ferry ride was lovely and provided gorgeous views.

About 30 minutes later, our ferry docked on Washington Island. Washington Island is a 35-square-mile island that lies off the tip of the Door County peninsula. The island is home to only 700 or so people year-round, but the summer months brings lots of tourists such as myself.

A great way to experience the island, is on the Cherry Train. Hop on the open-air tram and settle in for a two-hour, narrated, tour of the island, including several stops.


Schoolhouse Beach

Our first stop was at Schoolhouse Beach, which is accessible via a short walk through a beautiful, grove of trees.

The beach itself has crystal, clear waters that are perfect for a swim.

Instead of sand, there are smooth, limestone rocks littering the shore. This beach was very unique and tranquil.


Stavkirke

Stavkirke

Our second stop was at a stave church. The majority of stave churches are in Norway, but some can also be found in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Imagine my surprise to find one in Wisconsin.

Stave churches are wooden churches with vertical posts, decorated with both Christian and Viking symbolism. This ancient style of construction was popular in Norway during medieval times. Construction for this church began in 1991. In 1995, it was dedicated as a Christian house of worship.

Overhead, there was a model of a mackinaw schooner, suspended from the rafters. These sailing vessels were popular for fishing and transporting goods.

The church and the grounds were incredibly peaceful. I could have wandered around much longer, but the Cherry Train was leaving so, I took one last look around the church, and boarded.


Farm Museum

Next, we went to the Farm Museum. Housed in nine buildings, on a large property, are collections of farm tools, machinery, implements and more, dating from 1870-1940. A few examples can be seen below.

Tractor

Cultivator

Working Loom

Chickens

There are also small, farm animals, including these chickens ...

... and these goats ...

... who acted like the first meal they had eaten in their lives consisted of the apples I tossed them from this nearby tree.

Close by, there was a lavender farm through which I wandered for quite some time, taking in the relaxing scent of the flowers. That concluded my tour of Washington Island. It was soon time to board the ferry to head back to Ellison Bay, and then it was on to Fish Creek for dinner.


Fish Boil

Dinner was at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. The White Gull Inn is a historic, country inn that has been open since 1986.

Among the other amenities, the White Gull Inn hosts a fish boil that draws locals and tourists alike. Door County fish boils have been alluring crowds for more than 70 years and I was told the place to experience one of the best, was at the White Gull Inn.

So, what is a fish boil? It is a unique epicurean event and tradition that was brought over by early, Scandinavian settlers. The basics of a fish boil begin with a very large pot of boiling, salt water, to which a generous portion of potatoes and sometimes other vegetables are added. Then the star of the evening, a large amount of fresh, Lake Michigan white fish, is dropped into the pot.

At this point, the boil master will add kerosene to the fire and boom, you are in for a fiery extravaganza that you won't soon forget.

Traditionally, the fish is served alongside coleslaw, ...

... and bread.

The fish is garnished with butter and lemon. It's a simple preparation that showcases the freshness of the Lake Michigan catch.

The grand finale is a slice of Door County cherry pie. This was quite a way to end my last night in Door County. The fire was exhilarating, the communal nature of the boil was warm (both figuratively and literally) and the food was simple, yet satisfying. If you've never been to a fish boil, or you are interested in standing next to flames that shoot more than ten feet into the air, this is an event worth attending.

On my final day in Door County, I spent the morning walking along the shore and taking in the beauty of Lake Michigan one last time.

For my final meal in Door County, I stopped at Burton's on the Bay, to meet a new friend for a bite.

Steak Bites

Marinated Steak, Grilled Crostini, Poached Garlic Aioli, Cowboy Butter

The food was good, the company was great and the lakefront view was beautiful.

And then it was time to say goodbye, and head to the neighboring state of Minnesota (more to come on that at some other time). With that, the sun set on my time in Wisconsin, a state which surprised me pleasantly with its beauty, history, warmth and hospitality.

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