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A Drive Unlocks Door County, Wisconsin

At Times Door County can feel more like the Hamptons than Cape Cod, particularly in posh Fish Creek. But instead of mansions owned by Calvin Klein and Puffy Combs, clapboard cottages line the waterfront. We were lucky to have snagged one of the seven rooms at the Whistling Swan, a 1907 hotel that once served as the town casino. And although we couldn't stay at the White Gull, we did get to chow down at its fish boil, the quirky local substitute for an East Coast clambake. Everyone gathers around a smoking cauldron filled with a stew of whitefish chunks and potatoes boiled in salt water. Near the end of the cooking process, the "boil master" douses the fire with kerosene, creating quite a spectacle.

The next day, we took a three-mile detour on County Road F to Gloria Hardiman's Maple Grove Gallery, a weaving shop on the corner of Maple Grove Road. Slicing across the center of the peninsula, past farms and forests, County Road F has to be the Door's prettiest stretch. Locals used to gossip around the potbellied stove in this former general store, giving it the nickname "Bullshit Corner". These days, everyone gathers around Gloria's loom, where she weaves fabric for colorful shawls.

For dinner, we went in search of Donny's Glidden Lodge, 18 miles south of Hardiman's shop. But we got a bit turned around en route, following County Road A south to County Road T. It took a few calls (thank goodness for cell phones-there wasn't a pay phone in sight on these unlit roads), but we eventually located the supper club, down twisty, wooded Glidden Drive. I ordered one of my favorite childhood snacks: fried cheese curds, made from cheddar skimmed off the top of the barrel.

Our Next Bed-and-Breakfast, Which Shall Go unnamed, was in Ephraim (pronounced "ee-from"). The proprietor wasn't happy when I called to tell her we'd be checking in late. After chewing me out, she warned that if we didn't make it by 10 p.m., she'd lock the door (good thing Dad has a lead foot). Guests in the 11 shabby rooms are forced to share four bathrooms-a harsh punishment. Ephraim, however, is a picture of perfection: a whitewashed Moravian settlement that tumbles down a hill to the bay. Before heading off on a sailing charter on Scuppers, a 26-foot wooden boat owned by Tom Schroeder, we stopped for sundaes at Wilson's, an ice cream parlor that's a flashback to another era. While we were out on the water with Captain Tom we could spot Wilson's red-and-white awnings miles away.

Some people jokingly refer to Sister Bay, four miles north of Ephraim, as Little Sweden; several buildings fly the familiar blue flag with a yellow cross. At Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant, dirndl-clad waitresses serve Swedish pancakes drowning in whipped cream. Meanwhile, Al's goats graze on the sod-covered roof.

Ellison Bay, 51/2 miles up Highway 42, has more pottery shops per capita than any other town in Door County. Mom went wild for the handmade lamps at Clay Bay Pottery & Gallery (she bought one called "Ephraim on Sunday," a depiction of sailboats and the town, by owner Jeanne Aurelius). Ellison Bay is also home to the new T. Ashwell's restaurant. Last year chef-owner Thomas Ashwell Smith turned an old inn on its ear: in place of rockers on the screened porch, he installed tables with heat lamps for cool nights. Ashwell's forward-thinking menu changes weekly; on the night we were there he prepared a fabulous Thai-style grilled quail.

North of Ellison Bay, development peters out as Highway 42 twists past open fields and over hilltops with breathtaking views of Green Bay. One of the county's best shopping finds is in a minuscule log cabin with no address and only a small sign-farm studio rag rugs plus-discreetly announcing its existence. Ignore the grouchy shopkeeper who watches you like a hawk; her handmade rag rugs are worth the hassle.


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