Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nine Things I Love About Wisconsin

Family vacation this year found us in Door County, Wisconsin with my in-laws. My people inhabit the left side of the state, so my experiences in Eastern Wisconsin are limited at best. The long and the short of it is, I'm really looking forward to returning. Door County is beautiful, and we woke up every morning to the soothing sounds of Lake Michigan and a beach right in our backyard. I'm still finding sand in odd places.

To sum up our best food experiences, here's my Top Nine. It was hard to boil it down to nine - I could've done ten, fifteen, or even twenty. But I like nine, and top ten lists are best found in other spots. Enjoy!

1. Cheese
I love cheese - especially in curd form, and it's even sweeter if those curds are fried. Fresh cheese curds in a really light batter, fried to a golden crisp would probably be part of my last meal, if given the choice. Finding good ones in Wisconsin is easy - at the end of our trip we tried to see through the greasy haze and determine which ones were the absolute best. I look for a batch that gives you a variety of sizes of curds - from the teeny tiny ones (mostly breading), to the big ones (bigger than a big toe) that still have a little of that telltale squeak when you bite into them. My favorites this trip were from the stand at the Bailey's Harbor Fourth of July Parade - served with ranch, but perfect without. We finished off with a wedge of fresh Door County Cherry Crisp, and that may be coloring my memory somewhat. So good.

2. Beer

On our way up, we stopped for the night in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. It was a really beautiful spot to stay the night and welcome ourselves to Wisconsin and to vacation. Mineral Point is beyond lovely and the sun couldn't stop shining and the temps outside were absolutely perfect. We were too exhausted to do much other than smile at each other, take a dip in the hotel pool, and crawl into bed once the baby feel asleep. We were out like lights by 8:30pm. We did, however, make time for a beer run - and the best part about staying in Mineral Point was the brewery. Brewery Creek Inn is a brewery, an inn, and a restaurant, but we just grabbed a growler and sat outside on the lawn and enjoyed the sun. Their Amber Ale was delicious - mellow very smooth.

Brewery Creek Inn

23 Commerce St
Mineral Point, WI

3. Ice Cream

Ice cream is a vacation must - and while there are plenty of amazing spots to get both ice cream and custard in Door County, it was the whole experience at Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor that made it a favorite. Open since 1906, it was one of those spots where we had a pretty good meal that was made legendary by the addition of ice cream: creamy ice cream and homemade root beer served in frosty mugs by timeless teenagers. It was like stepping back in time...a very delicious time. The boy and I shared a enormous scoop of peppermint, while Dad had the sunset cooler - a float with lemonade and rainbow sherbet.

Wilson's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor
9990 Water street
Ephraim, WI

4. Fish Boils
A fish boil is something we really wanted to try this trip, and there are lots of spots in the county that are touted as having the best one. The Sandpiper Restaurant was mentioned a lot, and had the great advantage of being just minutes from our house. The meal consisted of fresh fish chunks (skin on, bone in) that had been liberally doused in melted butter, served with boiled potatoes, cole slaw, slices of rye bread and wedges of cherry pie. The whitefish was really fresh and the giant flaming pot of fish announcing that dinner was ready was truly impressive.

Sandpiper Restaurant
8177 Hwy 57
Baileys Harbor, WI

5. Skorpa
It sounds like an exclamation and crunches in your mouth like's skorpa! When at lunch one day, the boy made friends with a waitress who brought him a piece of toast sprinkled with cinnamon sugar which he happily devoured. When we told my mother-in-law about it she told us about skorpa, which is a treat made from old bread or sweet rolls and is perfect dunked into a hot cup of coffee, or shoved into the smiling mug of a giggling one year old. The best skorpa we had was from Grandma's Swedish Bakery and was made from their old pecan rolls. It was nutty and sweet with crunchy caramel-y bits. In a house with thirteen people, the bag lasted less than 24 hours. It is my new favorite cheer! Skorpa!

Grandma's Swedish Bakery
1041 County Rd ZZ
Ellison Bay, WI

6. Wineries
We tried a couple of different local wineries in Door County but had the most fun at Stone's Throw Winery, where they have a beautiful modern building complete with bocce courts out back. For $4 each, we sampled six different wines from their offerings and got our sampler wine glasses to take home. We also took home a few bottles of the Big Mouth Red and a dangerously drinkable Reisling.

Stone's Throw Winery
3382 County Rd E
Egg Harbor, WI

7. Goats on Roofs
When doing my nerdy food research for the trip, everyone mentioned Al Johnson's, or "the place with the goats on the roof." While they do indeed have goats grazing on the turf-topped roof, they also have smiling ladies waiting tables dressed in Swedish costume who made my son swoon and flirt and laugh. It's a total tourist destination, but the service alone was worth the stop for lunch. Also worth it was the giant pile of Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, and a pretty darn tasty cup of hot tomato dill soup with a grilled smoked gouda sandwich. The menu is huge, and the gift shop is adorable. It was hard to leave without a bib that said "Holy Meatballs!" in both English and Swedish.

Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant

10698 N Bay Shore Dr
Sister Bay, WI

8. More Fish
Fresh fish is everywhere up there. Yum. My favorite fish meal of the trip was at Stillwaters by the Bay in Fish Creek. It's a little spot with hot dogs and our second-favorite fried cheese curds of the trip, with nothing but al fresco dining. I had to try their Walleye Fish Reuben, which sounded like an awfully good idea and was. Served on rye just like your favorite reuben, it was topped with cole slaw instead of sauerkraut and the fried fish fillet was huge and flaky. I'm going to have to try to recreate this one at home.

Stillwaters by the Bay

3971 Main Street
Fish Creek, WI

9. Hot Pickled Brussels Sprouts / Pickled Anything
We are so going to have to pickle peppers this summer. We took last summer off from pickling, and after flying through the jars I brought home from Wienke's Market, I'm realizing how badly I've been missing having fresh pickled stuff in the fridge. We picked up a jar of Caraway Sauerkraut, Celery Dill Pickle Spears, and a jar of Hot Pickled Brussels Sprouts at Wienke's and this stuff is so good. The celery dill spears are crisp and sweet and I'm now a total pickled brussels sprouts convert. Really, what vegetable can't you pickle? Pickles are amazing. And Wienke's knows pickles.

Wienke's Market
292 County Rd S, North
Algoma, WI

(For more photos, click here to visit my Flickr page.)


Brian said...

Pecan Kringles are near the top of my "things I love about Wisconsin" list.

Алексей (rewritoff) said...

My people inhabit the left side of the state, so my experiences in Eastern Wisconsin are limited at best

scott said...

Al Johnson's wow I ate there once also. Love the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, anyplace here in KC where you can get comparable ones?

Sara said...

I'm not sure where to get Swedish pancakes in the area, Scott! Anyone have any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

This post appeared just before our trip to Door County this fall, so we tried the Sandpiper. This was our first fish boil but we think they have done what can be done with boiled fish, boiled potatoes, boiled onions and lots of butter. It's something we wanted to do and now we have.

Great photos, Sara!