Door County, Wisconsin: an Unexpected Paradise

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

“Let’s go to Wisconsin!” said no one ever.

Okay, I’m sure that there are some people that head to the Dairy State for a nice little holiday; especially if they live nearby. And are really into cheese. I, however, coming from beautiful western Canada, never would have thought to venture off to America’s Midwest. After all, we have big skies, wide fields, and plenty of dairy at home – why make the trip?

Well, when I was asked to go to Door County, located on a little peninsula in the northeastern part of the state, I figured it would be worth checking out. I mean, at the very least I would meet some nice people and eat some really good cheese, right? Wrong.

Yes, there were ridiculously kind people, and really good cheese {like… everywhere}, but there’s a hell of a lot more to it than that. There’s delicious food {loaf of onion rings, anyone?}, damn good craft beer, and a seemingly endless number of things to do as you explore the region. In fact, if you’re into the outdoors, beer, and sweet folks {really all one needs in life}, Door County is definitely your jam.

Read on to find out where to eat, drink, explore, and relax, and then pack your suitcase {stretchy pants included – both for excessive cheese eating and hiking around some beautiful parks}.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

EAT
Let’s take care of the important things first, shall we? Grumbling bellies, fear not, this little place was made for big appetites. Every single spot seems to offer deep-fried cheese curds {something I had never even heard of before} as an appetizer; heavily breaded, or lightly enveloped in a coating of crumbs, they’re always there. Sitting. Waiting for you to eat them. But beware: you think burning the top of your mouth with hot cheese on pizza is bad? Burning your entire mouth with a ball of hot cheese is worse, so wait a few minutes before stuffing ‘em in your cheese hole. Patience, young grasshopper.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

If fried cheese curds sound incredible, the heaping loaf of onion rings at Coyote Roadhouse is all, “hold my beer.” It is a literal loaf of onion rings. While the method of making them is somewhat of a mystery to me {and, let’s face it. It’s a loaf of onion rings… let’s keep the mystery alive, okay?}, it’s pure magic. I’m sure the other items on the menu are delightful, but let’s not kid ourselves. We’re here for the loaf.

Yet another spot that would make Richard Simmons quiver and Gwyneth Paltrow shed a single, organic {gluten-free, locally-sourced, artisan, dairy-free, vegan*} tear, is Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour in Ephraim. This place is pure gold. It’s been around since 1906, and is famous for its soda fountain, jukeboxes, classic flame-broiled burgers, and kick-ass ice cream selection.

For some approachable light fare and pub grub, head to Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Grill in Sister Bay. This place is quite literally waterfront {tables and chairs are set up on a gorgeous chunk of lawn along the beach}, and there’s a palpable feeling of calm and happiness to the entire area. In fact, when you’re eating there, it’s kind of like chilling out at a beautiful campground with your closest friends. Drinks are flowing {especially their cherry margaritas, which are made with local sour cherry juice!}, you pick all night at delicious plates of food {those damn fried cheese curds!}, and watch the sun slowly disappear into the glass-like bay.

For dinner and a show, check out the fish boil at Rowley’s Bay Restaurant. The boil starts outside on the front lawn, overlooking the bay; and a local {92-year-old} man theatrically tells the story of the origin of the boil as the practice proceeds. He speaks of the people indigenous to the area {the boilmaster adds the salt and potatoes to the pot of water}, he talks about the explorers who came later on {the sweet onions go in}, and he spins the tale of the age-old tradition and the reasons behind it {finally, the Lake Michigan whitefish goes in}. At the end, the boilmaster throws some kerosene on the fire, resulting in a huge flare-up {for photo and climactic purposes, of course}. Not a big fish fan? No worries. The whole thing actually ends up in the restaurant with a huge buffet, so you can fill up on anything your little heart desires.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

DRINK
While craft brewing and distilling are taking North America by storm, Door County is a little behind in the trend. It’s not a bad thing, but the area is such a beautiful step back in time, they’re just now starting to catch up with the rest of the country. In fact, the village of Ephraim was dry since its founding in 1853 until April 2016. That said, you can get some seriously good hooch in the area.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County Brewing Company {and Door County Distillery, which I, unfortunately did not have the pleasure of visiting} are leading the way with some surprisingly stunning product. The brewery, in particular, is using traditional Belgian brewing methods {the area is quite heavily rooted in Belgian history}, locally-sourced ingredients, open tank fermentation {when applicable}, and is focused on emulating the feeling of community and maintaining the integrity of the practice. The new/old {new to them, 100-year-old building} space is made up of materials found locally {barn board, barn doors}, has a great assortment of games {Cards Against Humanity! Corn Hole!}, serves Wisconsin cheese, and has a great outdoor area that is filled with picnic tables, rotating food trucks, and it’s pupper-friendly.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

After you’ve visited the Belgian-inspired brewery, a stop at Stabbur Beer Garden {next to Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Poughkeepsie} is in order. As this place is beyond unique, a roundup of the highlights will do the trick: 1. There are goats on the roof {see the live goat cam here}. 2. The entire wooden façade and bar was hand-carved by Norwegian designer, Knut Stenerud, and his two brothers. 3. At Stabbur {and Al Johnson’s}, Scandinavian inspiration reigns supreme. From Swedish pancakes to taking a shot of pickled herring and a chaser of Aquavit, you’re sure to get a taste of Scandinavia in Wisconsin.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

For your morning caffeine fix, check out the Door County Coffee & Tea Company. They’re well-known {and loved!} throughout the area, and are not only famous for their on-site roasted coffee, but for their mouthwatering breakfast fare, too. If you go during the week, chances are you’ll have the opportunity to watch the coffee roasters in action {and maybe even get a tour of the facilities if you ask nicely}.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Lastly, if you're flying in or out of Green Bay, a stop at Badger State Brewing is non-negotiable. Their brews are delicious and impressively adventurous, and it's just a few minutes from the airport, so it's guaranteed  to start your trip off on the right foot - or finish it off on a tasty note. 

EXPLORE
As the county is surrounded in shoreline, it’s no surprise that water-based activities are among the most popular. Make your way along the banks of Lake Michigan on a kayak, into limestone caves carved by the water over centuries, and paddle on gentle turquoise coves that look more suited to the Caribbean than the Midwest. Lakeshore Adventures, based out of Bailey’s Harbour, offers cave tours, shipwreck tours, and even zip lining experiences for those who prefer to get their kicks on land {or, rather, in the air}.  

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

For more of a high-speed adventure, check out Door County Adventure Rafting in Fish Creek. Captain Matt, the owner and guide-extraordinaire, takes guests close to small deserted islands and beaches, abandoned lighthouses, and over top of shipwrecks {if you have an underwater camera, you’ll get some pretty sweet shots}. Pair all of that with some great tunes, and a vast knowledge of the area history, and you’ll have yourself an incredible afternoon.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Not all escapades in Door County are tour-based. Visitors and locals alike frequent the endless hiking {check out Eagle Trail at Peninsula State Park} and biking trails, enjoy the water via kayak, SUP, and canoe, or chill out with some outdoor yoga. Hell, if you’re intense enough, you can try SUP yoga. In Potawatomi State Park near Sturgeon Bay, Southern Door County, you can take in the viewpoints, stroll through beautiful wooded areas, or pack a little lunch and hang out at one of the many picnic spots. No matter what you do, you can’t lose.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

RELAX
The Hillside Inn in Ephraim truly is a step back in time. The building, established in the late 1800s, is right in the middle of the picturesque town, and is somewhat of a landmark in the area. It sits along the waterfront, and behind it are two stunning churches. To its right is Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour {ice cream is always a good idea!}. The town is perfectly walkable, with cute stores, galleries, and coffee shops within a few minutes of the inn, and for the more adventurous types, kayaks are available for rent just across the street.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

The inn itself has been in business on and off for over a hundred years {so it’s obviously haunted. Okay, it’s not, but I’m a sucker for a good story}, and is the perfect spot for those looking for some serious relaxation. With just five rooms, it’s geared toward couples and singles, but there are also two cottages for families or larger groups.

The entire place has been redone and decorated by the owner, Diane, who is quite possibly the most charming human on the face of the earth. Grab a coffee in the salon, sit down, and listen to her fascinating tales of her travels {breakfasts with giraffes in Africa, anyone?} and of the town, and you’ll be inspired both by her experiences and the fascinating décor {locally-sourced antiques, original items, decades-old newspapers...}.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

While the entirety of Door County is rather seasonally operational, the Hillside Inn is embracing the winter and all that it brings. Instead of shutting its doors at the first sign of snow, they’re offering an assortment of winter activities: snow croquet, carriage rides, cocoa by the fire… things that could make even the most dedicated of sun-worshipers enjoy some quality time in the cold.

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

So, all that said, apparently people do say, “let’s go to Wisconsin!” and now, I am one of those people.

Again, if you’re into outdoor fun, endless amounts of comfort food, kick-ass craft beer, and super kind people, it’s pretty much paradise. There’s so much to see and to do, so many adventures to go on, and at the end of the day, it’s so close to home {regardless of what part of North America you live in}.  

So, what’s next on your travel to-do list, pals? Should we head to the Midwest? I'll start packing...

 Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

Door County, Wisconsin - Stephanie Arsenault - Global Dish

 

*Disclosure: I have nothing against organic, gluten-free, locally-sourced, artisan, dairy-free, or vegan tears, OR Gwyneth Paltrow. I am simply petty, and used the aforementioned terms for my own entertainment and dramatic purposes. It was very important that I get the point across that this little juke-joint is amazing, and unfortunately, some terms {and person} were caught in the crossfire. Luckily, this particular crossfire is ice cream based, so it’s all good.