Monday, July 24th, 2017 – Door County, WI
Because we went to sleep at a reasonable hour the night before, we were able to get a relatively good night’s sleep, even awaking at 5:30 am. The boys were still resting, so Emily followed suit as I laced up the sneakers and replicated my walk from the previous morning. I would have walked more, but today Emily and I were headed to Door County for a day of shopping, food, and fun. Grandma and Papa agreed to enjoy some alone time with the boys so we could return to the thumb of Wisconsin. We originally had planned to eat at SAP for breakfast but learned the prior evening that it wasn’t open on Mondays, so we grabbed a breakfast snack and hit the road.
With a two hour drive ahead of us Emily of course wanted to get a Starbucks for the ride. The first sign that we saw was on Richmond St. in Appleton. Little did we know that getting off on this exit would add twenty minutes to our drive and would yield us no overpriced coffee. Richmond St. was under construction but not until we got 100 yards from the Starbucks location. We did some convoluted backtracking to get back on the highway and we continued on to the next Starbucks that was 20 miles away in De Pere (home of my alma mater, St. Norbert College). We got a couple of drinks and shared some chex mix as we completed the remaining 90 minute drive to the base of Door County. What amazed us most about the entire drive up to Door County was that the roads were lined with wild flowers, providing a scenic backdrop to what is a fairly boring drive.
Door County is a collection of small towns that are roughly 5-10 minutes apart, and they all have an assortment of clothing and collectible stores, cheese/wine/cherry shops, and an assortment of dining establishments… and repeat. Grandma Tommy’s is one of the first travel eye sores that you come across that you just need to stop in. It is shaped like a huge red barn and contains many of the cheesy (pun intended) gifts that you will see along the entire route. We just enjoyed it because it had a much needed bathroom. Emily’s tastes have changed over the years and Grandma Tommy no longer has goods that meet her gift and decor needs. We hopped back in the car and continued north.
Our next stop was a place we visited the last time we were in Door County, Sweetie Pies. The small shop is an old rustic house sent on the most beautiful grounds that are covered with a colorful array of flowers. It’s hard not to stop just for the photo opportunities. After we captured a few selfies and photos of the flowers the aroma of the kitchen drew us through the front door. The amazing smells were accompanied by an assortment of pies that looked beyond delicious. We picked up a couple of cutie pies (small size), one cherry of course, and the other a chocolate chip pie. Had we been staying in Wisconsin longer there we wouldn’t have escaped that easy.
Up the road just a bit we hit the first of the larger towns that is our favorite, Fish Creek. Because we had an early dinner reservation at Wickman House in Ellison Bay (can’t even tell you how excited I am to eat there again!), we agreed that we should eat lunch on the earlier side to make sure we were hungry for dinner, one we have waited five years to enjoy again! We pulled out the smart phones and saw that most of the dining establishments in Fish Creek have pretty solid reviews so we selected the Blue Horse Beach Cafe, which was right across from the “beach.” I specifically put this in quotes because the beach area in Fish Creek would barely provide enough sand coverage for a LEGO figure. There was a nice grassy area that led up to the beach that many were using to set up chairs and grab some of the scarce Wisconsin rays. The restaurant was across the street from the water but we sat by the window which provided a perfect view of both the water as well as the downtown Fish Creek area. We shared a couple sandwiches and enjoyed a little downtime before gearing up to do some shopping.
Before hitting the stores Emily wanted to dip her toe in the “beach” waters, so we crossed the street and made our way down to the sliver of sand. Once she laid eyes on the water and the seaweed that awaited her toes, she quickly changed course to the shops on the main street. Emily was quite successful on her shopping spree in Fish Creek. She picked up some shirts for the boys, as well as some gifts at her new favorite store, Lake People. We also picked up some Cherry Chardonnay for Emily and a few fun BBQ sauces for me that were made in Door County. We took the long walk back to our car so we could walk by the water and the boats that were in the harbor. The weather could not have been more picture perfect for our day in Door County.
Back in the car we continued the route up the thumb of Wisconsin, driving through Ephraim and selecting our next stop in Sister Bay. The last time we visited Door County we had lunch at Fred & Fuzzy’s in Sister Bay which is located right on the water. The food left a little to be desired (and still does) so we grabbed a table and a couple cherry margaritas and enjoyed the view. I highly recommend a visit to this place but don’t expect any of the chefs there to beat Bobby Flay (unless it is at beer drinking). After our drinks we dipped our toes in the water (the quality of the water met Emily’s rigorous standards). There were a ton of people out enjoying the water and weather.
We continued on our route heading to the downtown section of Sister Bay and agreed to park and walk around. This is the home of Al Johnson’s restaurant, where the roof is made from grass and they have goats on the roof keeping it trimmed. You really have to see it to believe it. There is a large Scandinavian influence in much of Door County, and it’s really on display here! We took some fun photos and continued the walk up the street to check out more shops. On our walk back, we found another beautiful marina full of boats and a beautiful waterfront. We took some photos of the yachts and Snapchatted them to Hunter, who is a huge fan of overt displays of wealth.
With just a little bit of the thumb left to explore, we continued the drive up to Gills Rock, which is technically the top of thumb. There were a few more stores to explore (believe it or not). Funny story about the first shop that we went to. Emily was looking at the earring selection and saw a pretty pair that were custom made out of glass. She continued exploring the store, only to overhear another patron interested in the exact same pair. There, of course, was only one pair because they were custom made. Emily spent the rest of the time lurking around the store to see if the lady was going to buy them. She was even practicing her “sweep the leg” move that she learned from the Karate Kid in the event this lady bought them, and she would need to take matters into her own hands in the parking lot. We ended up leaving the store to explore the other shops in Gills Rock, and decided we would return before we left to see if they had been sold. Lucky for Emily, they were still there when we got back so she got her last souvenir.
The timing of the day couldn’t have been more perfect as we wrapped up in Gills Rock at about 4:40, leaving us just enough time to drive back south to Ellison Bay for our dinner reservation at Wickman House. Wickman House is run by Mike Holmes, who is the son of long-time family friends of my parents. In fact, Mike’s mother Jan was the maid-of-honor in my parents’ wedding, so they go way back. Mike spent some time working on set design in New York before making his way to Door County to get into the restaurant business, and we are sure glad he did. Our first visit to Wickman House was our last time in Door County in 2012, which was during their first season of business. The location and food was outstanding then and has gotten even better since. Wickman House is set back a-ways from the main street in Ellison Bay, which provides for a nice, quiet experience. They have a gazebo that has a bar serving drinks before you sit down to eat. The grounds are beautifully groomed and contain a garden that provides some of the fresh ingredients that are used in the farm-to-table style meals. Mike,of course, was there to greet us, like he does all of the patrons who enter.
We ended up sitting at the same table that we sat in the first time we ate there. There were so many delicious choices on the menu it was hard to decide. We started with a half dozen assorted raw oysters that were absolutely delicious. Mike brought out some homemade cocktail sauce that was the best I have ever had. We followed up the oysters with the Steak Frites, and the daily special which was a white fish dinner. The food was beyond description and the service was amazing. We could not stop raving about how delicious everything was. Mike kindly treated us to a lemon tart for dessert, which capped off the meal perfectly. After visiting with Mike for a bit and attempting to convince him and our fabulous server Patrick to open the southern branch of Wickman near us in Orlando, it was time for us to make the two hour drive back to Appleton. We said our goodbyes and hit the road. We took the back way out of Door County to see some sights that we hadn’t seen on the way up. The sun was setting gorgeously as we headed home, providing a picture perfect ending to our pretty perfect day.
Back in Appleton, we were greeted by my sister Sara and the kids who had arrived from Madison just prior to us. We stayed up a bit to visit and get caught up. The kids all headed up to the toy room to sleep/play on their devices. It was an absolutely perfect day in Wisconsin.