Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Short Day in Sturgeon Bay

Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI, USA
Last weekend, my wife and I had made plans to drive out to Madison, just to get out of town. We've both got friends there, there's no lack of stuff to do (for two days), and we really love the coffee shop known as Ancora. But as it happened, we were requested to head out to Green Bay instead: we're still trying to sell her parents' house and a plumber was scheduled to come in Saturday morning to look at a persistent leak in the basement. The family needed someone to let him in, and since we were headed that way anyway...

We packed up Friday evening and drove straight there, listening to podcasts: WTF and The Nerdist are our current favorites. We rolled in around midnight, went straight to bed, and got up nice and early... only to have the plumber reschedule. He was really pressed for appointments and asked if he might show up Sunday morning instead. This was fine, as we'd be at the house both days regardless, so we decided to make a day trip of Saturday. We stopped by Luna Coffee for supplies (read: coffee) and drove out to Door County.

Rebecca's been so stoked to bring me up to Door County! It's usually a point of conversation every time we head out to her childhood home in Green Bay: "Maybe this time we'll make it up to Door County!" It's apparently a family destination tradition for her and she has a lot of pleasant memories of the area. I've never been but I'm open for anything. I only wish we'd stopped somewhere for breakfast on the way because for some reason we forgot to eat. No problem, I figured, there's got to be restaurants in Door County.

(In literature, this is what we call "foreshadowing.")

When we pulled into Sturgeon Bay, I had no idea what to expect. I've gone on random little road trips before where the only point was to end up somewhere we'd never been before. I love those trips, where the whole day is spent in discovery and exploration, getting a feel for the local flavor and seeing how an entirely other community has developed, remote from anything familiar to me. I parked in what looked like the center of town and we walked around--it was a blustery day and, being surrounded by water, there was nothing to slow the wind down--and the first thing we saw was this place: Greystone Castle. We didn't go in (being 12:30 PM, it was a bit early for me to start drinking) but I asked Rebecca to pose in front of it. Why? Because I had my cultural references confused: I was thinking of Castle Greyskull from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Slightly different, but still a good photo-op.

We spent a lot of time perusing the selection at Madison Avenue Wine Shop, a very cool store specializing in independent wines and microbrew olive oils and vinegars. I picked up an appealing bottle of wine, Kung Fu Girl, as well as a little gift for some friends. I saw the clerk had a copy of The Kite Runner with her, which I'd read a couple years ago: she thought she'd have time to read it but the store was particularly hopping this day. Too bad for the book, but great for business.

By this time we were completely famished and Rebecca was starting to feel a little nauseated with hunger. We'd brought a bag of sesame-coated almonds to snack on in the car but this was by no means a substantial repast. It was now time to perambulate in ever-widening circles until we found a suitable restaurant. I saw a large sign proclaiming a restaurant at Wave Pointe Marina & Resort, but we walked all around the building and couldn't clearly see anything resembling a restaurant--I'm sure a little curiosity with the resort entrance would have yielded better results, but we went elsewhere.

We ended up at Kimz Galley Cafe (the copy editor in me bristled, but steady on), across the street. There were no customers inside but a couple staff walking around, so we went in. It's a bit of a challenge to find a restaurant where Rebecca can eat, with her gluten intolerance, but we checked out the menu and picked out a couple suitable items. Inside, however, a waitress informed us that it was 2:00 PM and they were closed--to iterate her point, she walked over to the front window and flipped the OPEN sign. But my cell phone indicated we had shown up at 1:40 PM. How long could it take to make a salad? Rather than argue, I asked if she could recommend any other restaurants in town, and she gave me a short list of five places within three blocks. I thanked her for her help and we set out.

I felt bad because Rebecca was declining: something in her was acting up and she really needed to just sit down and put something in her stomach. Moreover, she hates high winds and the wind today was just relentless. Not far up the road was a coffee shop, at least, so we ducked in there to get a snack before figuring out what to do next.

This was DC Brew, and I was stunned to see their selection: they had a wide line of meats (Boar's Head in particular, which I like) and cheeses, so they were quite set up to make nice sandwiches! The interior was beautiful and well-appointed, as well, so I ushered my wife to a table to rest while I got in line. There was a father and his daughter ahead of me, and off to the side an older gentleman was gauging whether I were truly in line, hoping he could get the the counter a little quicker.

But there wasn't anyone behind the counter for a minute. There were several customers seated around the premises, but it was some time before any staff manifested. When they did, it was in the form of a teenage girl who went straight to what looked like a smoothie dispenser and began trying to churn a drink out. She was in the middle of something, clearly, but there came another girl right behind her. Her job, evidently, was to hover at her coworker's shoulder and pointedly avoid glancing at the counter. The father and daughter waited, I waited, the older gent waited, but all that played out was the tableau of one girl working the smoothie machine and the other watching her with an air of anticipation. After a few minutes I collected Rebecca from her table and we hit the streets once more.

We found a health food shop nearby and tried it out, but they didn't serve food. The clerk did recommend a health food restaurant but informed us that most places close around 2:00 PM (Rebecca kept reminding me we were in the off-season for tourism). I was growing frustrated (maybe due to low blood sugar?) and was extremely reluctant to make Rebecca walk any more than was absolutely necessary. I hustled her back to the car and we started to head out of town--I stopped by Mandarin Garden, which the lady at Galley Cafe had mentioned, but they too had packed it in until the dinner rush, presumably.

Now I was irritable. This was almost as bad as driving through Buffalo, MN, which does not seem to have any restaurants whatsoever. Rebecca asked where we should try next. Darkly I informed her wherever it was, we were done with Sturgeon Bay and could surely find an open restaurant somewhere in the next 50 miles.

We did: turning off at Dyckesville into a tiny town called Luxemburg (on Sturgeon Bay Road, ironically), we found Lipsky's Firebaked Pizza & Burgers. Not only were they open, they would serve us, placing them head and shoulders above any other restaurant this day. There was only one girl working, but she worked like a little cyclone, clearing off tables, hustling food to customers, keeping everything running and in order. I tried a pizza burger (I really should have had a wood-fired pizza, in retrospect) and Rebecca got a chicken soup (carefully picking out the noodles--gluten, after all) that she really enjoyed. She told me it was what booyah tasted like, going back to an earlier conversation where I'd spotted this on a menu. Apparently it's a kind of stew, a Wisconsin-regional dish, but I'd only known it to be an intimidating cry of dominance on a basketball court or in certain social settings.

Even aside from my gratitude at finding something to eat, I was so impressed with this working girl's professionalism and effort--I'm afraid I may have overwhelmed her with the recounting of the day's misadventure, but I felt I should explain why my wife was looking so frayed and why I was so inordinately enthusiastic.

Heading back to Green Bay, Rebecca was disappointed my experience with Sturgeon Bay had not approached her golden memories of the area. She assured me it's usually much better and vowed to bring me back later in the season. I'll take her at her word and give it another try--but I'll also pack us a nice large lunch.

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