Wisconsin Eats: Cherry Picking, Swedish Pancakes, Home Cooking

For my second day in Wisconsin, we took a trip up to Door County. If you picture Wisconsin as a mitten, Door County is the thumb; the peninsula that sticks up into Lake Michigan and creates Green Bay.

Choice Orchards

We started the day at Choice Orchards for some cherry picking. For $6.50 you get a metal bucket to fill with as many tart cherries as you’d like. For people like us who forgot to bring something to carry the cherries home in, they even supply a bucket lined with a plastic bag.

The trees in the orchard were heavily laden with bright red cherries, and we quickly began filling our pail. It seemed like more cherries than anyone could eat, but we figured that we would be paying the same either way so we really filled the bucket. We also saw a farmer who waved at us from his tractor, just like the picture on the sign for the orchard. As we were leaving a big friendly dog came up to us and wouldn’t leave until we had both petted him. It was like the idealized farm experience.

Choice Orchards also has a store attached in which you can buy jarred or frozen cherries as well as other fruit-filled products. We were tempted, but we just took our cherries and headed out.

We continued up the west coast of Door County, stopping in a few of the small towns along the way. In Egg Harbor (Pop. 250) we watched part of the Door County Half Iron Man Triathlon and grabbed some of Wisconsin’s own Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream at a place called Gomy’s Goodies. Inspired by our morning’s activities I ordered the cherry flavor, which was nice and creamy (though the cherries were too crunchy).

In a town called Fish Creek we stopped at Oilerie, and olive oil bar franchise. We sampled several different flavors of oil and vinegar, my favorite being the spicy Italian olive oil.

After a long walk around and through Peninsula State Park, which is quite beautiful but laid out in a weird way, we headed up to a town called Sister Bay for lunch.

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik

We ate lunch at Al Johnson’s, also known as “the place with the goats on the roof.” And there certainly are live goats on the roof, calmly chewing the grass planted up there.

We started with the Assorted Scandinavian Cheese Plate, which came with what’s called Swedish limpa bread. Well, there was pepper jack on the plate which I don’t think is Scandinavian, but the sweet brown cheese tasted like nothing I’ve ever eaten before. The limpa basket was an assortment of different breads, some hard and some soft, some sweet and some savory. They matched nicely with the different cheeses.

In addition to the goats, Al Johnson’s is known for Swedish pancakes, so we each got an order. They came out stacked and folded plain, with butter, syrup, and lingonberries on the side. The pancakes themselves were thin but rich and egg-y, and with a bit of the butter and a lot of the lingonberries they were fantastic.

We turned south and headed down the east coast of Door County, stopping to swim in Lake Michigan at Whitefish Dunes. The water was cold and there was a breeze that didn’t help anything, but it was a lot of fun. By this point it was afternoon, and we hit the road with one more destination in mind.

Simon Creek Winery

Right smack dab in the middle of the peninsula lies Simon Creek Winery, surrounded by its own vineyards. We got there shortly before they closed for the day, but they were gracious and friendly and gave us each our four free tastings. To be honest, three of the four that I tasted were not great, but the last — Peninsula Gold, a cream sherry — was delicious. My sister tasted three different wines than I did, and we decided to bring home a bottle of Merlot to have with dinner, very reasonably priced at $16.

Speaking of dinner, we decided to make it for ourselves with food that we’d gotten at the Farmer’s Market. Actually, the first thing we did was to use some of the cherries that we’d picked to make a sort of easy cherry tart. We washed and pitted the cherries, then mixed them with sugar, flour, and butter and poured them into a pre-made pie shell. Then we baked it for about 25 minutes and then let it cool while we cooked and ate dinner.

We made pasta with mushrooms, onions, and squash from the market, plus a splash of the Merlot. We also made a cucumber salad with cilantro and lemon juice. The pumpkin vines required a little prep — ok, a lot of prep. We’d been told we had to peel the outer layer off of them, which turned out to be a huge job. By the time we’d peeled a third of the vines we had the skin under our nails and we were sick of it. So we cooked what we had by sauteing them in olive oil with lemon juice and a little but of chile flake.

We were kind of hoping that they would be bad so that we wouldn’t have to bother with the rest of them, but they were actually really, really good. It was more about the texture than the taste, but they were definitely delicious.

Of course, we still had the tart to eat. The cherries fell all over the place, but the sugar and the cooking had really tempered the tartness and the cherries themselves were wonderful. Day two thus concluded, we went to bed with full stomachs once again.

Choice Orchards — 4594 County HH, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Gomy’s Goodies — 7813 State Highway, 42 Egg Harbor, WI
Oilerie — 4083 Main St, Fish Creek, WI
Al Johnson’s — 10698 N. Bay Shore Dr, Sister Bay, WI
Simon Creek Winery — 5896 Bochek Rd, Sturgeon Bay, WI

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