Last Friday night, I was in Green Bay drinking cocktails at the Libertine, which was fatefully celebrating its third anniversary with a bar takeover by Jeppson's Malort's Sam Mechling and Death's Door Spirits' brand rep Grant Hurless. When I mentioned to them that I would be spending Saturday in Door County then driving down to Milwaukee for a late dinner, Hurless objected—he couldn't stress enough the importance of staying in Door County to go to Wickman House for dinner, a restaurant I'd never heard of before. Later, my boyfriend realized that he had already starred the restaurant on his Google Map, after another friend had suggested it. So we stayed.
And they were right—Wickman House is a delight. Childhood friends Mike Holmes and Joe Fahrenkrug used to spend summers at Kangaroo Lake in Door County, then later worked at an Ellison Bay restaurant, T. Ashwell's, together during college summers. Fast forward to 2012, when the pair returned to Door County after working in New York and Madison to open Wickman House—in the old T. Ashwell's location.
We pulled up at the restaurant at 4:50pm, 10 minutes before opening, and other cars were already there, waiting for the restaurant to open. Unless you're planning to post up at the bar (which is what we did), you need a reservation to get into the cozy dining room, which has a stone fireplace that's lit during cooler months.
The food, from executive chef Matt Chambas, focuses on classic dishes made with ingredients mostly sourced from Door County and greater Wisconsin—a wedge salad comes with Nueske's bacon and Hook's blue cheese, pulled pork from Waseda Farms is made with Sprecher's root beer and local whitefish gets a refresh in a po'boy. The menu doesn't really reinvent anything, but Chambas makes smart tweaks to flavor combinations and the food is perfectly done. The oysters, which come from Massachusetts and Washington, are half off during happy hour (from 5-6pm), and they're cleanly shucked and served with a piquant mignonette. The sourdough pretzel bites come with a terrific beer cheese and pickled veggies, and the house-made butternut squash ravioli are bathing in brown butter. For dessert, order ice cream sandwiches.
For drinks, choose from a huge list of cocktails (more than three dozen, divided up by spirit), all of which are $10. On my visit, Holmes and a New York friend (who relocated to Door County to work at Wickman House) manned the copper-topped bar and didn't stop making cocktails the entire time we were there. The team makes their own maple syrup from the trees in front of the restaurant; one application for it is in the Rusty Leaf, a smoky-sweet Scotch Manhattan. The Damson Gin Fizz is a bright, plummy gin cocktail capped with whipped egg whites, while the Mai Tai is upgraded with Plantation Pineapple Rum Stiggins' Fancy, one of the most buzzed about (and best) new rums.
Even more than the food and drink, I liked Wickman House for its feel. It's located in a 19th-century house that's quaint but modern, and everything is comfortable and relaxed. When we left, people were gathered in Adirondack chairs around a fire in front, and in the summer, picnic tables allow for outdoor dining. We did eventually make it down to Milwaukee (the Bryant's Cocktail Lounge siren is always strong), but we're already plotting a way to head back to Wickman. Like many Door County spots, the restaurant shuts down for winter—it closes January 1 and will reopen for the season around May. So unless you're willing to wait more than six months, get up to Ellison Bay soon for a fall weekend.
Wickman House (11976 Mink River Rd, Ellison Bay, WI, 920-854-3305) is open Thursday-Monday from 5-10pm (11pm on Friday and Saturday).