In idyllic Door County, Wisconsin, the annual foliage display is just the beginning.
Close enough to Chicago and other major cities to make it one of the Midwest's most popular weekend destinations, but far enough from so-called civilization to make it feel like you've really gone somewhere, Door County, Wisconsin, has been a regional getaway staple for generations. As fall begins to make its presence felt in the region and the colors begin to emerge, this postcard-perfect peninsula, with its 300 miles of stunning coastline, becomes one of the best places to experience the season, anywhere, strictly on looks alone.
(Like we were saying—it looks good.)
Then, there's the food.
Long before Pumpkin Spice Everything was a faint glimmer in the eye of some marketing genius, Door County was one of those places that paired weather, scenery and seasonal eating together, all but perfectly. From fresh fruit pies to cider donuts to traditional, waterside fish boils, nearly everything you come here to eat fits perfectly with fall weather. Thinking of swinging by, over the next few weeks? Here's what to eat. Not to mention drink. Or what you'll be buying to take home with you. (It's a lot. Make room.)
Known for sweet-tart Montmorency cherries, Door County is pie heaven, and while you can find it all over, for the real article, you head up north to to the tiny town of Ellison Bay, where there are approximately 150 year-round residents, and no less than two essential stops for pie. Seaquist Orchards would likely be the one most visitors find, if they happen to drive this far up; the popular farm stand has a little something for everyone. Including very, very good pie. True purists, however, will keep going up Route 42, toward the end of the line—it's here that Bea's Ho-Made has been baking pies for three generations, and counting. The classic bakery doesn't need the bells and whistles of the more heavily-trafficked farm stands—the pies are enough. Want one hot out of the oven? Call ahead and give them two hours notice—it'll be waiting for you.
Making hard ciders began as a hobby for film director Bob Purman, who became interested in the craft on trips to northern France to visit his wife Yannique's family. Years later, the couple's Island Orchard Cider has become somewhat of an institution for Normandy-style ciders, which you can find in bars and restaurants throughout the county. (You should, however, if you can, definitely stop by their Ellison Bay cider house, a beautifully-renovated commercial building dating back to the 1930s where they do tastings.)
This one's easy. Typically a simple cake donut with fresh apple cider added to the recipe, with little more than a dusting of sugar to complete the package, the cider donut is perhaps the essential seasonal food, at least in these parts—wherever there's an orchard, a farm stand, a bakery or a cafe—anywhere with a cash register pretty much—you'll find them. The expansive Lautenbach's Orchard Country store in Fish Creek is a fine place to start, ditto the classic Wood Orchard Market in Egg Harbor. (Don't neglect Seaquist's, up in Ellison Bay, where you'll have already tried the pie—their donuts are particularly good.)
There's nothing seasonal about beer in Wisconsin (or anywhere), but a brisk fall day up here would be a perfect time to dive into the heartier brews at Door County Brewing Company, over in Bailey's Harbor, on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. The brewery's brand new tap room, also a live music venue, is a great place to post up when the weather's being uncooperative—you can bring your own food, sample from the food trucks that rotate through or stick to the beer. The hefty Polka King Porter, for example, is pretty much liquid lunch.
Cheese. (And cheese curds.)
You didn't think you'd get away without eating your weight in cheese, did you? Start with a giant basket of deep-fried Wisconsin curds from Wild Tomato, a lively, casual spot in Fish Creek. (One of the better restaurants in the county from a food standpoint, they also do a brisk business in wood-fired pizzas.) Not that you need to have your cheese fried for you—there are some great places to sample directly at the source, too. Over at the new Door Artisan Cheese in Egg Harbor, you can actually observe the process, while goat cheese fans should make tracks for Door County Creamery, up in Sister Bay—their popular Farm Lunch Tour includes a meet and greet with goats, homemade gelato (goat's milk, of course) and more, for just $40 ($25 for kids).
Have an Old Fashioned.
You're in Wisconsin. It's tradition. Mixologists elsewhere may go back and forth on the precise way to make this local favorite, still widely consumed across the state, but Wisconsin bartenders tend to reach for the brandy, bitters, a little sugar and either 7Up or Sprite—nothing fancy, just a good drink. Orange slices and maraschino cherries complete the picture; if you're after the most classic setting to drink this most classic of cocktails, head out to Donny's Glidden Lodge, overlooking Lake Michigan—it's the kind of place with an early bird special, a surf n' turf option and a Friday Fish Fry option, as is the regional custom. You're in good hands here.