We've cherry-picked the best of Door County for you
Canadian freelance writer/photographer Johanna Read specializes in travel, food, wellness, and responsible tourism. She visits four to six continents annually, sampling local foods whenever possible. See her work in outlets like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, USA Today, Time Out, Reader’s Digest, on her website TravelEater.net, on Instagram @TravelEaterJohanna, and on Twitter @TravelEater.
They don’t call this little peninsula Cherryland USA for nothing. In the height of summer, cherries are everywhere in Door County — glinting in the sun on trees, their sweet perfume wafting from baskets in front of shops, and inside and atop almost every dish imaginable. Even outside of summer, products with dried and frozen cherries are on every menu and in every shop, and cherry souvenirs are plentiful. To maximize your trip to Cherryland USA, here are FoodTribe’s cherry-picks of what’s best.
Door County, Wisconsin
Door County is a 70-mile long peninsula jutting out between Lake Michigan to the east and Green Bay to the west. Sometimes called “the thumb of Wisconsin”, this peninsula has an ideal terroir for cherries thanks to the insulating winter snow, the tempering lake effects, the sunny summers, and the well-draining alkaline soil.
Door County is also known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, thanks to the peninsula’s resort-like, holiday atmosphere and its 300 miles of shoreline. Without any cherry pit stops, it takes about an hour to drive from the county line in the south all the way to Northpoint and the ferry to Washington Island. But with 19 cute towns and villages, 53 swimming beaches, 34 islands, 24 state and county parks, and countless cherry delights along the way, it’s pretty hard not to stop.
Cherries are, indeed, everywhere. Most of the orchards — 2500 acres of them — feature Montmorency tart cherries, which hold their flavor better once cooked or dried. They’re hardly what anyone would call tart, but the candy-red beauties aren’t quite as sweet as the purple Bings and other varieties also grown here.
Where to eat in Door County, Wisconsin
Cherries should be the highlight of all Door County dining, and you can eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, and for dessert at every meal.
For breakfast, indulge in the White Gull Inn’s cherry-stuffed French toast. It was named Best Breakfast in America by Good Morning America. Each piece of thick eggy bread is stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese (from Wisconsin milk, natch) and Door County’s Montmorency cherries. Of course, more cherries are sprinkled on top.
At lunch, visit Renard’s Cheese and Deli in Sturgeon Bay. Start with their Door County cherry salad sprinkled with dried cherries and candied pecans. Then have the Door County cherry chicken salad croissant or Renard’s cherry-pulled-pork sandwich. They also have several cheeses made with cherries, including Simon Says Cherry White Cheddar which is bathed in cherry wine from Simon’s Creek.
Mid-afternoon is the perfect time for ice cream. Who are we kidding? Any time is the perfect time for ice cream, especially when it’s made with the extra rich milk from northeastern Wisconsin cows. Perhaps the best is at Door County Ice Cream Factory & Sandwich Shop in North Sister Bay. They have an ever-changing roster of housemade super-premium classics and inventive flavors. Cherry fans will want Bordeaux cherry or simply Door County cherry, but there’s also regional flavors like Wisconsin fish boil (What? Keep reading...), Death’s Door chocolate, and Chambers Island fudge.
Another ice cream choice is century-old Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor. Here almost everything is topped with a cherry, as is proper at an old-fashioned soda fountain. For extra cherries, try the cherry berry delight, Eagle Harbor perfection with hot fudge, pecans and cherry topping, or a cherry phosphate. Door County Creamery makes gelato, including Amarena cherry, with goat milk from their nearby farm (where you can go on a tour complete with samples and meeting their goats).
Watch the sun go down at the beach at Fred and Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill in Sister Bay. Start with their signature Door County cherry margarita followed by Fuzzy‘s cherry chicken wrap, with chicken marinated in cherry juice plus dried cherries and cherry vinaigrette. Lake Michigan whitefish tacos are a favorite dish, as is smoked whitefish paté made from a secret recipe.
No trip to Wisconsin is complete without a fish boil. This Lake Michigan tradition is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach. While it’s debated whether it’s an Indigenous tradition or was brought over by Scandanavian settlers, no one can debate that the modern “boilover” is dramatic. In Ellison Bay, Rowley’s Bay Resort puts on a show. At the perfect time, the boilmaster adds kerosene to the fire boiling below his cauldron of water, salt, potatoes, onion, and whitefish. With a whoosh, flames rise high in the air and the pot bubbles over, ridding the cooked fish of its oil. A buffet is served inside, complete with cherry dessert.
Oh, and that fish boil ice cream? That’s vanilla with marshmallow “potatoes”, a peanut caramel swirl, and dotted with Swedish fish candy.
Cherry pit stops
There are plenty of pitstop opportunities along the length of Door County’s peninsula, including one where you can compete in a cherry pit spitting contest.
The state record for cherry pit spitting is an incredible 48 feet and one inch at the Cherry Pit Spit at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market. Anyone can give it a try to see how they measure up. While you’re there, pick your own fruit or watch mechanical harvesters shake 7,000 cherries from a tree in a few seconds.
For the grownups, Door County has several cherry concoctions. Door County Distillery produces Cherry Bluff Infusion Bitters, cherry brandy, cherry vodka, and even cherry moonshine. Island Orchard Cider makes award-winning cherry and apple ciders in the dry Normandy style from their Washington Island orchards.
The cute White Cottage Red Door shop, between Egg Harbor and Fish Creek, has a wide array of edible and non-edible cherry gifts and items for the home. They’ll even serve you a complimentary cherry mimosa to sip on while you shop. Pro tip: don’t miss their hot cherry doughnuts, available only on weekends.
When it’s time to return home, your last Door County stop should be at Country Ovens. This gourmet grocery store has lots of cherry products including what they call “the original Door County dried cherry”. Be sure to stock up on their delicious cherry performance drink that pro athletes use for muscle repair. It should help you recover from all your cherry eating and Door County explorations.