Oct 012011

by Denise Mattia

Visitors from the surrounding vicinity of Door County know it for its fisheries, its cherry orchards and its vineyards. They come here for its cool summer climate and to tour the area’s historical lighthouses, its maritime museum and for the wine tastings and culinary experiences.
A narrow peninsula to the eastern side of Wisconsin, Door County faces Lake Michigan to the east and Green Bay (from whence the Packers originated) to the west. The county boasts nearly 300 miles of shoreline, and ranks one of the top coastal regions in the continental United States. Known as Death’s Door, a translation from the French term, La Porte des Morts, (the door of the dead), the appellation was well deserved. In the early 19th century innumerable ships sunk in the straits between the northern tip and Washington Island.
The restaurants here always hit the mark of excellence. Many restaurants like the Log Denserve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located south of Egg Harbor (this name reportedly comes from an egg fight during a race to the finish by crews from Makinac ships as they entered an unknown harbor in 1862), this restaurant and lounge features country fare and specialty items. Entrees include homemade soup (Booyah, is a traditional chicken soup favorite) and a salad bar, fresh vegetables and a choice of potatoes or rice. The shrimp cocktail appetizer — a meal unto itself – is crisp and delicious and the entrees are equal to any food emporium around the world. One can enjoy a fresh wild Atlantic salmon served atop a light sun-dried tomato cream sauce or the Choice Angus Filet Mignon and Rib Eye steaks.A landmark since 1906, Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor features home-brewed draft root beer, juicy burgers with fries, sandwiches, specialties that include chili with cheese and garlic toast and the largest desserts imaginable in a soda-fountain setting replete with jukeboxes and memorabilia dating from World War I through the 1950s. Located in the village of Ephraim, an area settled in 1853 by Norwegian Moravians, the village boasts 30 historical sites, a dozen of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to ice cream Sundays, floats, banana splits, etc., Wilson’s cherry pie (a la mode, of course) is addictive.

Each year visitors and residents alike come to the Orchard Country Winery and Market in Fish Creek to see a spectacle of blossoming cherry trees. The Door County Montmorency cherries are freshly picked during summer harvest, where they wind up as tart cherry juice, plump dried cherries, cherry jams, fruity wines, pie fillings, and of course the Cherry Blossom fresh baked cherry pie. More jams and jellies, fruit butters, canned goods and bakery items are sold at the Seaquist Orchards in Sister Bay, the oldest farm market in Door County.

Much of the production of wines is from orchard fruit, fruit and grape blends, and pure grapes. Most are sweet and semi-sweet, but dry whites and reds are easing into the market. The Lautenbach family Dry Cherry wine is a pure fruit wine that’s dry with a tart finish, while the Black Cherry tastes of sweet Bing cherries. The winery is also noted for non-alcoholic fruit juices, fruit and grape blends and a red and white estate-grown grape wine, which bear the names of the family’s granddaughters.

At the Harbor Ridge Winery in Egg Harbor, owner Danny Stapleton created a new blend with Chardonnay, Traminette and Sauvignon Blanc. Called Mademoiselle, this elegant wine has a fruity taste, which when served chilled (not ice cold like beer) is luscious and smooth. His Knockin’ Heads Red is an easy-going blend of Cabarnet Franc and Satin Red. Not yet ready for consumption is a very special Cabernet. Dry and sophisticated with a slightly peppery perfume, this bright red wine promises to be a winner. Danny will let it sit for a while longer before bottling and naming it.

Next door, the Wisconsin Cheese Factory has the largest collection of cheese in Door County. Here the Best of Show was awarded to an exemplary Parmigiano-Reggiano, called San Vecchio.

The Door Peninsula Winery in the historic schoolhouse in Sturgeon Bay has year-round guided tours and free tastings. Chardonnay is often considered the queen of white wine, and the Schoolhouse Premium Chardonnay, which is barrel fermented and oak aged for six months, lives up to the reputation.

Since the 1900s, Sturgeon Bay has been home to shipyards, with fishing trawlers, Navy vessels and renowned yachts being built here. A tour of the refurbished John Purves tug, permanently moored opposite the Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society museum, reveals the mechanism behind the powerful little crafts. Inside the museum are models of boats and ships built in the bay, a working periscope and an exhibit featuring the raising of the George M. Humphrey, one of the largest ships to be salvaged.

Fire and light flares at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek where the traditional Fish Boil boil over wows diners.

Scandinavian in origin, potatoes and fish are boiled over an open fire and, when ready, kerosene is thrown into the fire, causing the fats and impurities to overflow the pot. The hearty meal is served with coleslaw. Still, the piece de resistance for desert is none other than … cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.

Cuisine isn’t just limited to restaurants. Robin Vallow, Innkeeper at Garden Gate Bed & Breakfast prepares wonderful, healthy breakfasts. She’ll also make sure her guests come “home” to a freshly baked cake. Door County has a lot more than cheese going for it.

For more information, contact Door County Visitor Bureau, phone 920-227-2156, toll free 800-52-RELAX. Visit Door County Wisconsin

as appeared in OffBeatTravel.com

Denise Mattia

About Denise Mattia

A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.

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