Unexpected Attractions in Door County

Unexpected Attractions in Door County

Kyle Cherek is the host of Wisconsin Foodie.

Growing up in Wisconsin, my parents were always very good about being tourists in our own state. Our blue Caprice Classic station wagon zigzagged from Elkhart Lake to Lake Geneva, Horicon Marsh’s mid-autumn migration to the bluffs on the Mississippi. However, across the whole expanse of my youth’s travels there has been one place, Door County, the Cape Cod of the Midwest as it has been called, that eluded me.

Later, directing my own wanderlust, I determined that a person’s 20s aren’t meant for quaint gift shops, fish boils and cherry picking. Go to New York, go to Amsterdam, go to the beer soaked basement bar of Milwaukee’s Landmark Lanes, and “the DC” until you are actually, well, old. Thank God for the wisdom of friends. In this case they are named Tom and Jane. Through them I have Door County permanently placed as home to my “Best” Wisconsin Travel Memories.

Tom and Jane have a family home in Fish Creek, one of the little jewels that strings up the necklace of the Door Peninsula. They waxed poetic about why I should visit. They said the door was always open (only writing this now do I realize what an awful pun that is). These are friends that I trust, but dubious expectations lingered. Until I arrived. Their place has a sublime view from the top of the bluffs where, on clear evenings, you can see the lights of Marinette Michigan glisten across the dark bay. It is peaceful and the same time invigorating. Though I went somewhat unwittingly, here are some of the highlights of my first visit:

  • A true dyed-in-the-wool supper club with five lanes of bowling and a nonsensical grotto seen through the huge dining room picture window. Really?
  • Boating across the sun setting bay waters, in jacket, dress shirt and loafers for dinner as I like to imagine one of the Kennedy’s might have done in their Chris Craft. Can’t be. I’m a nice Polish kid from Waukesha.
  • The Bayside Tavern, one of the best townie dive bars you’ve ever been to, with their smells of beer always, great bands on the weekends, and it manages to coexist right next to a general store that seems to mostly generalize in the preppy and the nautical. How’s that happen?
  • Horse back riding across the afternoon and the open fields of the Midwest to a vineyard. Kinda feels like Napa, no? Except Napa has less cherry orchards.
  • Dinner at the Whistling Swan Inn consisting of three inventive, super current culinary courses, and they had Wilco on in the dining room whole time.
  • Brunch at a restaurant with goats on the roof? Live goats? Really, now you’re just making this up.

I went in expecting one dimension, quaint till it hurts/fish boil/pottery-glass gift shop/cherries galore kind of Door County. All those things are there to be sure, but so is a great deal more. Think of it like going from black and white to technicolor.

Unexpected Attractions in Door County

Suffice it to say, I was hooked. I’ve been back again and again. For Halloween weekends culminating at the Bayside’s costume contest (came in 3rd one year) and the crowded, crazy dance-fest that ensues after. Back for summer days and dips from the back of a boat in Nicolet Bay. Back for really great meals. For squeaky cheese curds and fresh caught Wisconsin Lake trout. Back to bring myself in sync with seasons, because they always seem to happen in Door County when the calendar says they should. Back for respite, for soul searching. Back to swim in clean, almost crisp, Lake Michigan waters that stay cooler deep into summer, but when they finally warm up, the warmth stays in your bones long into autumn. Back for a glimpse of my childhood where days seemingly go on forever.

My favorite Door County memory from my first visit is unequivocally getting lost while out on a run down those long ribbons of road along the peninsula. Dusk had turned into night and I had not a landmark or a street light to guide me. After what I clocked the next day as just short of 2 1/2 miles of near pitch black country road, a house glowed in the distance. I knocked, inquired after directions, a phone book was consulted, and the man rendered the verdict, “just across the road, you’re all but there.” As I turned to leave his wife came to door, hands full of flour from baking, wearing a Door County sweatshirt. “Glad you found us” she said. Yes, I was.

Kyle Cherek is the host of Wisconsin Foodie. He has been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Food Wars” now in its second season. Kyle is a born-and-bred Wisconsinite and sees the state as an amazing place full of history, craftsmanship, and artisanal dispositions, all of which are continually pushing culinary and sustainability trends forward. Connect with Kyle at twitter.com/KyleCherek.


This entry was posted in Things to Do, Outdoor Fun, Local Foods, Guest Bloggers, Summer and tagged Guest Blogs, Family Fun, Food / Drink