Xoconostle

xoconostle marshmallow modmex rick bayless 3rdarm frontera grill

The second annual weekend-long ModMex event finished with a special Sunday night dinner at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. I was the closing manager: because it was not my restaurant, and the redundancy of other managers, I pictured myself hanging back until the end of the night, when I would take over and close the restaurants. Instead, I was put in charge of reformatting and correcting the menu, correlating the microphone and music for the chefs speeches, and expediting five courses from the kitchen. It was a lot of fun, something different, and I got paid.

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My favorite part was the xoconostle (prickly pear) marshmallows: so tartly acidic and insanely sweet at the same time. Thank you to chefs who gave them to me, and gave them to, and gave me the rest. I also really appreciated my friend the media director’s immense writing talent. DT’s live blogging made me feel like I was in audience for the chef’s presentations at Kendall College on Saturday morning, when I was in fact still in bed. ModMex is all about where the state of Mexican cuisine is today, and the prisms of its future and past. Here is a link to David’s witty recap from this year’s event.

Way to the Door of Death

door county washington island deaths door wisconsin etta and meghan 3rdarm

It made me so happy to have Meghan along to visit some of our favorite spots in Door County. I felt a sense of fulfillment sharing these things with a close friend, and I also felt the desire to go farther. The outer lands themselves are actually an island, cut off from the rest of the peninsula by the Sturgeon Bay canal, and there are more islands out there.

door county washington island deaths door wisconsin etta and meghan 3rdarm

We drove the winding road out to the end, to see the water named Death’s Door by mariners hundreds of years ago. It’s a place where many ships have been wrecked and many met a watery grave. This is where one catches the ferry to Washington Island. Etta asked if we would go there next year, and I said yes.

Outer Lands

island orchard beas homade products ellison bay door county gills rock 3rdarm

In addition to all the natural beauty in the county and state parks, Door County has many family-owned, independent businesses that make it a place worth visiting. In Ellison Bay, they are taking the region’s apples, some even brought by ferry from Washington Island, pressing them for juice. After fermentation, the lovely stuff is bottled and sold under the name Island Orchard.

island orchard beas homade products ellison bay door county gills rock 3rdarm

Right where the tip of the land funnels low pressure systems coming West from Minnesota and North from Chicago, they see hundreds of water spouts off the coast every year. This place is home to delicious pie, featuring Door County’s own fruits, and plenty of Wisconsin butter. Bea’s Homade Products makes my all favorite treats: cookies, donut holes, and pie.

Breakfast in Ephraim

chefs hat ephraim wisconsin door county 3rdarm

I felt bad about the next morning: in half-waking, my brain was sluggish to realize that Meghan is on a much earlier time zone (lawyer time) and had been waiting awake for hours by the time I lumbered out of the grotto. We drove to Chef’s Hat for morning fuel in the form of eggs, meat, butter, and scones, covered with more butter.

chefs hat ephraim wisconsin door county 3rdarm

From negative 20 degrees F on the edge of Lake Superior last winter to the blue skies over Ephraim at the end of the summer, my Saturn is still trucking through Wisconsin!

House of Cranes

ellison bay wickman house door county 3rdarm

For a night cap we drove into the darkness of Door’s outer lands. A historic home in Ellison Bay that has been transformed into a restaurant serves some of the best craft cocktails and new American cuisine in all of Wisconsin: Wickman House.

ellison bay wickman house door county 3rdarm

Meghan and Etta had one cocktail each, well balanced between sweet and savory, and I had 2 desserts, fulltilt in the pursuit of sugary satisfaction. Wickman House’s pastry chef is young and not afraid of risk. The first was a more traditional lemon hand pie with rich homemade crust, topped with semi sweet Door County cherries: I loved the super bright tartness. The second was as out there and worth reaching as Ellison Bay itself: blueberry ice cream sundae, with apricot sorbet, vanilla caramel, and pistachio basil crumble.

White Gull Must Fly

white gull inn 3rdarm fish boil door county etta meghan arthur 3rdarm

A big part of my “love at first sight” with Door County, Wisconsin, was my dinner the first night I visited. We stumbled upon Pelletier’s, one of the last restaurants holding up the tradition of the Door County fish boil. Since that first time, I have come to prefer the White Gull Inn, but that’s just semantics, the important thing was getting Meghan to a fish boil.

white gull inn 3rdarm fish boil door county etta meghan arthur 3rdarm

Door County is more isolated than Cape Cod, with as much or more natural beauty. The hordes of tourists and escalation of tourist infrastructure that has transformed the Cape in the last fifty years has not touched Door. There are probably more miniature golf courses (2) on the outer lands of the Door Peninsula these days, but that’s about it. It’s not hard to imagine what this place was like way before, and the magical thing about a food tradition is that those bites of food taste the same, just as delicious, now as decades back.

white gull inn 3rdarm fish boil door county etta meghan arthur 3rdarm

Etta held off from a full on butter coma. Meghan turned out to be an expert at de-boning whitefish. I tried to eat everybody’s cherry pie.

Sunset Park

fish creek sunset park 3rdarm door county sunsets september late summer arthur Mullen

After a swim and a rest at the hotel in Ephraim, we headed to dinner in Fish Creek. Just West of Cottage Row on Main St in Fish Creek is one of the most beautiful places in all Wisconsin to take in the sunset.

fish creek sunset park 3rdarm door county sunsets september late summer arthur Mullen

A wooded path, or the street itself, lead down to water’s edge.

fish creek sunset park 3rdarm door county sunsets september late summer arthur Mullen

There is a small lawn, benches, and then an old stone wall: these are all good for sitting and must be claimed early.

fish creek sunset park 3rdarm door county sunsets september late summer arthur Mullen

In the summer this is a very popular activity, and with good reason.

fish creek sunset park 3rdarm door county sunsets september late summer arthur Mullen

The sun sinks directly into Green Bay, vanishing into open water while the sky explodes in color.

Horseshoe Island

horseshoe island door county wilsons ice cream 3rdarm

After the beach we cruised up the peninsula, with the intention of heading to the hotel before dinner. I had ice cream and Green Bay views on the brain, as would anybody showing Door County to their friend for the first time.

horseshoe island door county wilsons ice cream 3rdarm

We stopped at the Eagle Tower in Peninsula State Park. I give Meghan a lot of credit for crushing the climb to see Horseshoe Island, even though the tower was rocking in the wind. Afterwards, I ran into Wilson’s Ice Cream in downtown Ephraim for a scoop of peanut butter explosion.

Carl Spackler

door country whitefish dunes state park 3rdarm

The first stop was the beach. We weren’t alone: hundreds of riders were on their bikes for the Door County Century. After a brief stop to see the ancient sea caves along Lake Michigan, we went to the quieter Whitefish Dunes State Park.

door country whitefish dunes state park 3rdarm carl spackler sand castle

I went into the water, warmer than early in the summer, but a still numbing 60 degrees F. Meghan made Carl Spackler’s face out of sand.

Death’s Grotto

door county wisconsin arthur mullen etta kostick meghan vanleuwen 3rdarm september

Etta and I made an overnight trip with our good friend Meghan to the Door peninsula. Meghan had never been to Door County, a situation I was in just a few years ago.

door county wisconsin arthur mullen etta kostick meghan vanleuwen 3rdarm september

It’s become one of my favorite escapes from Chicago.

door county wisconsin arthur mullen etta kostick meghan vanleuwen 3rdarm september

We woke up early Sunday morning for the drive. On the road, we listened to White Bird by It’s A Beautiful Day.

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