Wisconsin’s Door County is a popular summer destination—especially with Midwesterners—but I’ve discovered that this narrow finger of a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan is a gorgeous winter wonderland as well. And, it’s high on my list of peaceful, beautiful Christmas destinations.
The day after a major snowstorm blitzed Wisconsin, my friends and I arrived and drove through Door County’s moon-lit, snow-covered landscape.
As we traveled north on the Green Bay side of the peninsula, we left behind chain restaurants, mega-hotels and glaring city lights. We glimpsed sweet villages glowing with Christmas lights, moonlit barns surrounded by white fields, and pine trees flocked by snow. The effect was magical as we passed evergreen-garlanded lampposts sheathed in ice; I felt like I’d stepped into Narnia as it looked in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
As I admired quaint inns and restaurants along the way, I imagined that Door County’s name was inspired by its old-fashioned, wreath-trimmed doors. In reality, however, “Door” refers to Porte des Morts—literally “The Door to Death”—the name French sailors gave the rough, lethal waters of the strait between the peninsula’s northern tip and Washington Island.
Warm Dinner by the Fire
But visions of maritime death were quickly dispelled by the twinkling lights of the town of Ellison Bay where we stopped for dinner at T. Ashwell’s restaurant, an elegant establishment located in a historic building that was once an inn. There, we learned that pianist Dan Hansen, who serenaded our meal, had braved Porte des Morts to get to the restaurant that night; he lives on Washington Island (five miles off the tip of the Door County peninsula), which is accessible only by ferry, and in winter you never know how dangerous the trip will be.
After a day of air travel and the 4-degree temperatures on this wintry night, our group enjoyed a warming, lively dinner prepared by chef Tom Ashwell Smith. I started with a delicious, unique Harvest Pumpkin Salad featuring a hollowed wedge of roasted pumpkin stuffed with greens, dried cherries (the hallmark fruit of Door County), pears and walnuts garnished by spiced pumpkin seeds. That was followed by tender, melt-in-your-mouth Beef Tenderloin Bourdelaise with wild mushrooms and nutmeg mashed potatoes.
To finish, we all shared nibbles of Classic French Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée and a Sweet Potato, Dark Chocolate and Pecan Torte in a Sugar Cookie Crust. Then it was time to go to my wonderfully cozy Eagle Harbor Inn…which I’ll tell you about in my next blog post.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
For visitor information, point your browser to the Door County Visitor Bureau.