"This ain't a Weight Watchers trip," warned Detroit Free Press colleague Mary Schroeder, scribbling down stops I absolutely must make between getting off the SS Badger ferry in Manitowoc, Wis. , her hometown, and arriving in Door County two hours north. With the precision of a general, she plotted out an itinerary that would include all the major food groups of the Badger State — smoked fish, cheese curds, chocolate, hamburgers and summer sausage.
And when I got off the boat, I followed it:
Late's (1924 S. 9th Street, Manitowoc, 920-682-1539): The tiny, unimposing restaurant in a quiet neighborhood features an undulating counter with red stools. As Mary had instructed, I ordered a hamburger ($2.50) with the works — ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayo and lettuce. Soon, the burger was served wrapped completely in white paper like a little present. I opened it. The bun was crispy after being grilled with plenty of butter. The meat was only millimeters thick, its edges crisp, too. Delicious. Lunch was finished off with warm German potato salad.
Beerntsen's Confectionary, (108 North 8th Street, Manitowoc, 920-684-9616, http://beerntsens.com): Stomach filled from Late's, I rolled through town and, following the map, halted at the most famous candy shop in town. Beerntsen's has been there since 1932 and still has the walnut booths and art deco interior. It was crowded with shoppers snapping up chocolate bark, chocolate truffle s and chocolate meltaways. I bought two boxes of chocolates for gifts, plus one extra little snack bag with three chocolates for myself. Are you kidding? That bag was gone by the time I drove out o f town on Route 42 headed north toward Two Rivers.
Suzy Q's Fish Market (1810 East Street, Two Rivers, 920-793-5240, www.susieqfishmarket.com): This tiny shop is just a couple blocks from Route 42, on the water. Local smoked whitefish is their specialty. They also had smoked salmon, salmon dip, whitefish dip and all kinds of other smoked things in the dinky shop. I had no cooler, but I bought some whitefish dip ($4.50). I drove out o f town with the bag sitting on the car floor near the air conditioner.
Konop's Meat Market (N2062 County Rd. Ab, Stangelville/Denmark, 920-388-3892 ): Past the nuclear plant and a little farther up Route 42, I turned left on County Road J and drove "about eight minutes" as Mary instructed. At the stop sign, I turned left to Konop's. Local men were in the store, talking about whatever happened to Czechoslovakia, anyway? As Mary instructed, I ordered the picnic summer sausage, no spices ( 1/2pound, $2.50). I added it to my stash near the air conditioner.
Krohn's Dairy, (N2915 County Rd. Ab, Luxemburg): Up the road a couple miles from Konop's is this venerable dairy, now part of Trega Foods. The dairy gift shop sells all kinds of cheeses, but Mary had been specific. Cheese curds. Get the cheese curds.
Cheese curds are not big in Michigan, but apparently in Wisconsin they are major.
"I'll have some cheese curds," I said, following Mary's orders to order fresh curds, not more than 1 day old, which "squeak in your mouth and when you bite down you can squeeze the milk out of them."
"Sorry, we're out," the clerk replied. "We only make them Sundays and Fridays and they're gone."
What could I do? I bought some Swiss cheese instead and some bagel chips, and when I got to my Door County hotel room (which had a refrigerator, thank goodness), I made myself a whole spread: crackers with whitefish dip, crackers with sausage and Swiss cheese, chocolate for dessert, and thought, wow, what a nourishing place Wisconsin is.