This popular Midwestern culinary destination puts sustainability high on its list of priorities
By Misty Milioto
Located on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Door County is affectionately known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. This popular getaway (in May through October) also is known for its long shoreline, fresh fish, numerous parks and outdoor activities, and an entrepreneurial spirit that has given birth to many locally-owned and operated shops, restaurants, distilleries, and breweries. In fact, in the late 1600s, French explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson declared the region “a kingdom so delicious.” Over time, Door County has become one of the Midwest’s favorite culinary destinations, with cherries — both sweet and tart — appearing as the star of many dishes.
Door County also boasts robust sustainability practices, including a partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an organization dedicated to land protection. Initiatives include the creation and promotion of Door County’s seven Leave No Trace principles (such as sticking to trails and respecting wildlife); access to research, training programs and educational programs; and working with land managers to create Gold Standard Sites.
Additionally, more than 20 establishments in Door County — including inns and resorts, restaurants, retailers, and attractions — are part of the Travel Green Wisconsin program (a state-sponsored sustainable travel green certification). These businesses purchase local fruit, vegetables, fish, and other food staples — along with organic cleaning and recycled paper products — to support local businesses and lessen their environmental impact. Their efforts are further carried over into waste reduction, as well as water and energy conservation practices. In one year, Door County’s Travel Green Wisconsin establishments saved more than $17,000 in energy costs and reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 207,000 pounds.
Other sustainability initiatives include the Door County Green Fund (invests in environmental education, funds land preservation, protects native species, and supports other types of green projects); an electric vehicle charging station mini grant program (awards in the amount of $1,000 are available to any Door County business, nonprofit organization, or government entity that wants to add or upgrade its public-use electric vehicle charging infrastructure); Care for Door County (a program that invites locals and visitors to aid in the protection of the area’s culture and ecology); and the Door County Land Trust (to preserve, maintain, and enhance lands that contribute significantly to the scenic beauty, open space, and ecological integrity of Door County).
Where to Stay
The Landmark Resort
Recognized as a Travel Green Wisconsin business, The Landmark Resort offers 16 suite types (from one bedroom and one bath to three bedrooms and two baths) with views of either the woods or Green Bay. All suites feature fully supplied kitchens, free WiFi, flatscreen televisions, and a balcony or patio. The Landmark Resort also is home to Carrington, an upscale-casual restaurant with a full bar and award-winning cuisine. Try the walleye piccata or the Carrington ribs served with cherry barbecue sauce. The resort features four heated swimming pools (three outdoors and one indoors); whirlpools; steam rooms; tennis, pickleball, basketball, and shuffleboard courts; a fitness center; a park with playground equipment; and nature trails. 4929 Landmark Drive, Egg Harbor, 920.868.3205, www.thelandmarkresort.com
White Gull Inn
Another Travel Green Wisconsin lodging option, The White Gull Inn features rooms, suites, and cottages that are open year-round. Located in Fish Creek, one of Door County’s most beautiful communities, the inn offers accommodations with private bathrooms, most with fireplaces, and many with whirlpool baths. There’s also an onsite Travel Green Wisconsin restaurant that offers some of the best breakfast in the county (try the Door County cherry-stuffed French toast), plus candlelight dinners and traditional fish boils (more on this in a bit). 4225 Main St., Fish Creek, 920.868.3517, www.whitegullinn.com
Westwood Shores Waterfront Resort
Yet another Travel Green Wisconsin resort, Westwood Shores Waterfront Resort offers 38 suites — all with breathtaking sunset views of Green Bay — plus private bedrooms, living, and dining areas, and complete kitchens with full-sized appliances. The resort also features an indoor pool, a seasonal outdoor pool, a whirlpool, a sauna, and a fitness room. 4303 Bay Shore Drive, Sturgeon Bay, 920.746.4057,www.westwoodshores.net
Where to Eat & Drink
From locally grown lavender to fruit orchards and Lake Michigan fisheries, the agri-tourism industry works closely with local entrepreneurs to create fresh cuisine; cheeses; and wine, beer, and spirits. In fact, Door County’s wine making, distilling, and brewing scene has been expanding rapidly, putting the peninsula on the map for being a pioneer of drink.
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant
This authentic Swedish family-owned restaurant has not only an amazing menu but also a herd of goats that graze atop the restaurant’s sod roof. Located in Sister Bay, Northern Door County’s largest village, Al Johnson’s is a Travel Green Wisconsin restaurant that has been a dining destination for more than 50 years. Breakfast is served all day (with items like Swedish pancakes with lingonberries), and the lunch menu features dishes like pickled herring, homemade Swedish meatballs, and Lake Michigan fried perch. Next door, Stabbur at Al Johnson’s is a family-friendly outdoor beer garden serving an expansive menu of draft beers, wines, aquavit shots, and handcrafted cocktails. After dining and imbibing, be sure to stroll the 1,900 feet of public waterfront, featuring a beautiful beach and marina, shops and galleries, and cozy coffee shops. 10698 N. Bay Shore Drive, Sister Bay, 920.854.2626, www.aljohnsons.com
Old Post Office
The fish boil tradition first began as an economical way to feed large groups of hungry lumberjacks and fishermen. Local churches and restaurants eventually picked up the tradition, featuring freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish, potatoes, onions, and Door County cherry pie. The fish boils at the Old Post Office in Ephraim have become a dining tradition, putting on quite a show with the fish cooked over an open fire just as it was done 100 years ago by the Scandinavians who settled on the peninsula. 10040 N. Water St., Ephraim, 920.854.4034, www.oldpostoffice-doorcounty.com
Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor
Also located in Ephraim, this classic Door County landmark (since 1906) features an old-fashioned soda fountain, ice cream specialties, home-brewed draft root beer, flame-broiled burgers, and jukeboxes. Be sure to order the cheese curds on a bed of fries for starters, then end with an ice cream soda, sundae, or extra thick malt. While you’re here, be sure to get a selfie at this Instagram-worthy spot. 9990 Water St. S., Ephraim, 920.854.2041, www.wilsonsicecream.com
K.K. Fiske Restaurant, Granary Saloon & Coop Hangout
Washington Island, Wisconsin’s largest island (at 36 square miles), is dubbed The Crown Jewel of Door County. It’s located north of the tension line (the line marking the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole). Hop on the Washington Island Ferry Line (also a Travel Green Wisconsin company), and grab lunch at K.K. Fiske. The restaurant is known for its freshly caught burbot — a Great Lakes freshwater fish found in the region’s deep, cold waters — that is lightly fried and served with homemade tartar sauce. 1177 Main Road, Washington, 920.847.2121, www.facebook.com/thekoyencollection
Anchored Roots Vineyard & Winery
Amy and Eric Gale established Anchored Roots in 2020 by planting three acres of grapes. Thevineyard expanded to six acres in 2021, and the Gales opened the winery Labor Day Weekend 2022. The winery features Washington State and Wisconsin wines, and the Gales have implemented sustainability efforts across the vineyard and in the winery. For example, the couple uses Integrated Pest Management (environmental cues and pre-set action thresholds to assess and control pests and diseases responsibly) and non-chemical control strategies to create an environment that discourages pests and diseases. By using IPM, they are able to better manage the overall number of sprays and tractor passes through the vineyard, thereby limiting tractor carbon footprint and soil compaction. While grape production does require some chemicals in order to produce a healthy crop, the Gales use chemicals that target a specific pest rather than broad-spectrum products that kill beneficial insects and other off-target species. Another example is creating a pollinator refuge habitat around the property that pulls pollinators out of the vineyard and encourages them to thrive in a safer environment. In the winery, the Gales use Squarrel barrels that offer a more efficient use of oak trees, more efficient sanitization, and more efficient shipping (leading to lower carbon emissions). The couple also uses steam sanitation to clean their equipment, thereby limiting the impact of chemicals in downstream wastewater and using only one to two gallons of water (rather than a minimum of 60 gallons of water for the same tasks). 4873 Willow Road, Egg Harbor, 920.868.4443, www.anchoredrootswine.com
Island Orchard Cider
Ellison Bay — a tiny village that boasts quirky public art, galleries, and eclectic shops — is home to craft cocktails and ciders, classic diners, and some of the most stunning views in Door County. One such establishment is Island Orchard Cider, a company that crafts Wisconsin hard apple and cherry ciders in the Normandy tradition. The company’s orchards on Washington Island provide the perfect rocky limestone soil and climate for these French and American ciders. Sustainability efforts include spraying kaolin clay on fruit to act as a physical barrier to pests; using drip irrigation to reduce water usage; and hand-picking fruit to avoid using heavy machinery. Meanwhile, Island Orchard also uses leftover or over-fermented cider to make cider vinegar as a zero-waste alternative to dumping imperfect cider. The facility itself also uses a unique geothermal heating and cooling system, significantly reducing energy usage. 12040 Garrett Bay Road, Ellison Bay, 920.854.3344, www.islandorchardcider.com
Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market
Yet another Travel Green Wisconsin company, Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market has been family owned and operated since 1955. Located on 100 acres of blossoming orchards and lush vineyards, Lautenbach’s features a tasting room and a market boasting fresh-baked cherry pies, tart cherry juice, plump dried cherries, wines, hard ciders, and more. Sustainability efforts include reusing and recycling as much as possible, and composting fruit pulp in the juice-, wine- and cider-making process. 9197 WI-42, Fish Creek, 920.868.3479, www.orchardcountry.com