According to the locals, legends of treachery between pirates and merchants, and dominating battles among tribes across a deadly strait, gave Door County, Wisconsin, the reverent title of “Death’s Door.”
Today, the peaceful beauty of surrounding waterways, lush pine and oak forests, and glowing sunsets draw midwestern Americans and Canadians to this famous four-seasons peninsula.
However, the welcoming “hellos” and warm smiles in the eyes of the locals keep them coming back. Not to mention the pies.
Sturgeon Bay, the largest of the county’s cities, is the encompassing getaway hotspot where the scenery, adventure, and cuisine come together in harmony. The bay spans long and wide to bobbing private boats, cruising yachts, and buzzing speedboats.
Still, the main attraction is the large ships making their way into port during the winter fleet season and the shipyards where the magic of shipbuilding occurs. Novice and seasoned fishermen and women enjoy the scenic, protected shorelines, and the fish are abundant.
The area hosts the Eastern component of the renowned 1,200 miles Ice Age trail for the landlubbers. Bring your snowshoes in the winter.
Enjoying nature in the background is also an option, with scenic drives along the coast and local roads with a not-to-miss myriad of fall colors on display. A charming downtown area lined with local artisanal shops and art galleries is not far from the waterfront boardwalk.
When it comes to food, Wisconsin is “go big or go home.” Belly-warming comfort food, thick, flaky pie crusts, and locally produced cold brews are what it’s all about. From Prohibition-era supper clubs to family-friendly cafés, Sturgeon Bay has options for all palettes while staying true to its local signature. Have I mentioned the pies?
The 8 Best Restaurants in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
129 N. Madison Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19207432300
Walking down the boulevard along the lake and among the musty smells of the water and the catches of the day lies a subtle aroma of tomato sauce, melting cheese, and rising bread baking in the ovens.
Follow your nose to this hearty Chicago-style Italian pizzeria across the bridge. Rooted in Sturgeon Bay since 1996, the restaurant has been a well-loved eatery established by a Chicagoan named Clyde, known as “Sonny” to the locals.
What started as an idea to bring Chicago-style deep-dish pizza to the area turned into an entire Italian dining establishment. A trip to New York to learn how to make Neopolitan pizzas and various pasta plates added to the menu.
Today, patrons can choose to revel in Wisconsin-made oozing cheese, whether dripping from their hand or off a fork and knife. The restaurant has a wood cabin interior surrounded by almost full-length windows and a wraparound porch leading to a large patio overlooking the bay.
There is not a bad seat in the house.
The vibe is an old-school Chicago pizzeria, with patrons gathering at the salad bar full of colorful veggies and classic dressings to mark the beginning of their meal experience. I can’t remember the last time I saw French dressing at a salad bar.
The menu is expansive, with choices galore and local ingredients used throughout. I decided on the Calabrese pizza with its half-moons of spicy soppressata, pepperoni, and clusters of fennel sausage nestled between the cheese.
The sauce reaches the edges, so it’s hard not to finish the lightly charred, bubbly crust. I highly recommend the Rigatoni a la Vodka. Giant noodles and petite green peas were bathed in a rustic orange sauce full of robust flavor, with a small puddle of extra sauce spooned on the side.
How did they know? When you finish the noodles, they encourage the traditional Italian act of “fare la scarpetta,” which is to soak up the leftover sauce with a thick garlic breadstick.
On the restaurant’s first floor, you’ll find their brewery called “Bridge Up Taproom.” They have a variety of tasty beers, such as Citra and Knee High, as well as housemade local favorites, including a signature IPA called Bridge Up Stubborn Sturgeon.
They complemented my meal perfectly. I would recommend placing your dessert order with your appetizer. They sell fast, so stake your piece of the pie, as they say. I was informed that six pieces of Tiramisu were sold in less than fifteen minutes.
The manager reported they were also sold out of a red velvet cake that he “would kill a relative for.” So I settled on an area favorite, Door County cherry pie a la mode. You can’t truly call it settling when you get maroon cherries embedded in a thick woodfired crust covered with carmelized crumbles and a soft-serve vanilla ice cream.
Enjoy the food from this Sturgeon Bay Italian restaurant while watching the sun dip into the horizon of the water.
306 S. 3rd Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19208180711
Located in the south end of downtown, it is one of two locations for this local brunch café. With only twelve tables inside and three more just outside the door, the large windows light up the restaurant with the morning sun and bright country décor.
The menu complements the warm and cozy ambiance with its limited but tasty selection of made-to-order omelets, skillets, griddle cakes, and breakfast sandwiches from locally sourced ingredients.
Owned by the Ramirez family, they pride themselves in featuring meats from local merchants, including a slice of very popular side pork and sizzling thick bacon.
Meatlovers have an amalgam of choices, including a skillet of diced ham, sausage, and bacon over a bed of tater tots and smothered with their famous crème de la crème sausage gravy. Or, six ounces of juicy and tender ribeye with two eggs and Texas toast.
I ordered an English Muffin breakfast sandwich with golden egg yolk dripping from its perimeter, a side of crispy hashbrowns, and hearty slices of the signature bacon. It’s a perfectly portioned breakfast spot in Sturgeon Bay before starting a day of town exploring and shopping.
113 N. 3rd Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19208180159
A small bell over the door jingles, and you are immediately transported back to a traditional diner. Family-owned, three generations are working here. Though you wouldn’t guess, this location was only established in 2020. Each local patron is greeted by their name.
It’s the place where everybody knows your name. You’ll see them sitting at the breakfast bar overlooking the kitchen, reading actual newspapers with their steaming mugs of coffee.
The wait staff introduce themselves and use the classic white pads with the yellow carbon paper to take your order. The yellow ticket is then ripped out and clipped to the metal turn wheel for the cook wearing a bandana to read and prepare your food.
The cook slides the hot plates of food across the counter, and the manager takes the ticket from the spinning wheel and stabs it into the long vertical nail.
A small desk bell rings, notifying the waitstaff that your order is up. The servers expertly juggle large ceramic plates of piping hot food on both arms while ducking, dodging, and safely delivering it to your table. I ordered two of the recommended signature dishes.
One was a fabulous stuffed French toast filled with sweet cream cheese with Door County cherries slathered in a hot, sticky red glaze. This was a naughty choice, with old-fashioned toast made with thick slices of bread and coated batter the way grandma used to make it.
I stuck with the sweet griddle cakes theme and ordered their chocolate chip pancakes rolled up like a burrito. The family recipe for making them this way dates back thirty years. I was unsure if the food complemented the coffee or vice versa, but I must have indulged in a whole carafe with this meal.
I may have needed to nap under a tree after this belly-warming meal, but it was well worth it. If you are looking for a breakfast restaurant in Sturgeon Bay, you won’t go past 3rd Avenue.
23 N. 3rd Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19205180282
True to its namesake, this is a must-stop for morning and/or afternoon snacking and caffeine. However, this place has so much more. This magical place has been the only board game café in northern Wisconsin for the last year.
For twenty years, Gnome Games has been the local Wisconsin chain of tabletop gameboard stores first started in Green Bay, Wisconsin, by Pat and Paula Fuge (also known as Head Gnome and Miss Gnomer, respectively).
The café was created to blend their passion for family fun board gameplay while enjoying locally sourced gourmet foods. Tables have small stacks of various well-known board games or kids’ art supplies for entertainment.
There is also a store at the back of the café where you can buy your own board game or borrow one to play during your visit. The gnome décor is hard to miss.
Four large-screen TVs displaying menus for food and drinks are mounted behind the counter. One screen is dedicated just to coffee and espresso drinks. Another board displays teas (I counted fifteen varieties), frappes, slushies, and a slew of syrups.
Kids were lined up, vocally deciphering between flavors such as “cherry lemonade” or “very berry” until the smiling young lady at the counter announced that they did not have to make this tough choice.
They could mix and match up to two purees and two syrups. Score! I couldn’t resist and went for the mango passion fruit combination, perfect for a balmy summer day.
In the theme of board games, they also had a selection of three different “two-player” food boards. The “Gnosh! Board” provided a selection of local meats and cheeses.
There was also a “Garden Gnome Board” of fresh veggies, dressing, and hummus, and a “Land, Sea, and Air Board” with the best of everything, including fruit, nuts, preserves, and fish! Should you attend this joint around breakfast time, you can choose breakfast sandwiches or crepe-style omelets rolled with local ingredients.
I decided on the “Firehammer Gnosh,” a grilled sandwich with turkey, bacon, onions, red bell peppers, jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese sandwiched between two thick slices of sourdough generously squirted with “hammerfire sauce” (chipotle mayo).
A variety of salads and cold sandwiches are also available for the perfect summer picnic lunch. But summer isn’t the only season best to visit The Gnoshery. With ten different hot grilled sandwiches paired with a soup of the day, a meal here can quickly melt the chilled bones caused by brisk Wisconsin winters.
The owners created a memorable experience with weekly events meant for friendly, fun gameplay, walls decorated with classic board games with a hidden easter egg (a broken rule), and some serious noshing for both visitors and visitors patrons of Door County.
117 N. 3rd Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19207436100
This charming Sturgeon Bay trattoria with a full bar creates a simple ambiance with dimly lit tables topped and no fuss butcher paper tablecloths for a date night dinner option.
Here you will find the Italian classics, including a trio of bruschetta with toppings of olive tapenade, eggplant caponata, and white bean puree set atop slices of grilled bread and drizzled with fragrant olive oil.
While waiting for my food, I took a quick peek at the display of seared thin slivers of sushi-grade yellowfin tuna Carpaccio, accented with dark balsamic vinegar the neighboring table had ordered. I made a mental note for next time. It would have also paired well with my sweet and bitter negroni.
They have an excellent wine selection by bottle and a small section by the glass for wine connoisseurs. I ordered a crispy green Caesar salad with their own housemade dressing and olive oil-drenched anchovies. I ordered the very fragrant Shrimp Scampi with jumbo shrimp covered in a rich butter sauce on a bed of ribboned pasta.
You can smell the lemons and spicy garlic as it approaches the table. The wait staff reported that they are known for their Duck Madeira, a pan-fried breast with a reduced Madeira wine sauce topped with drunken grapes, and the stuffed pork chop served with bechamel sauce.
Again, mental notes for next time. The pasta was so delicious I finished my plate without leaving room for dessert, though the Tiramisu looked mouth-watering. Instead, I spent the satisfying meal with a short after-dinner cordial of rhubarb-flavored amaro. A definite must for classic Italian food in Sturgeon Bay!
4128 State Highway 42, WI-57, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19207435044
Though I did have the pleasure of personally dining at one of the staple supper clubs, these social dining establishments of the Midwest, mainly Wisconsinites, have been around since the 1930s. This particular one, locally known as “The Mill,” was recommended during my multiple conversations with locals during my stay in Sturgeon Bay.
This supper club has been serving German-inspired cuisine, started by Mr. Dagneau and then taken over by the Petersilka family for the last 56 years. Here you can find Schnitzel made with chicken in an onion mushroom sour cream gravy or the traditional wiener Schnitzel made of fried pork with lemon caper sauce.
The Bavarian Beef Rouladen looks delicious, wrapped in bacon. Still, it’s the fourteen-ounce Choice Angus Ribeye that locals who frequent The Mill highly recommend.
For the home-cooked meal at a restaurant, families get together for Sunday dinner to eat the Original Family Style Chicken. This includes Mill’s original recipe of baked or broasted chicken, whipped potatoes, gravy, dressing, coleslaw, cranberries, and dinner rolls.
One can also opt for the traditional beer-battered Friday fish fry with all of the classic sides, including potato salad and rye bread. Add an ice-cold mug of foamy beer, and it doesn’t get any more Midwestern than that. You can join their exclusive “Mill Mug Club,” where you are assigned a 20 oz. mug with a number that is kept reserved at the bar.
It includes member perks of your first free mug of draft beer or rail cocktail each month, during sign-up and on your birthday, and discounts for your meal. Their Old Fashion comes highly recommended. For kids (or adults), their “mammoth-sized” ice cream drinks are an absolute hit.
Chef Bernhard, who has recently taken over as head chef, inspires to add some flair to the menu by adding world cuisine influences such as Cajun, Spanish, and even Filipino fanfare.
19 Green Bay Rd., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 //+19207468727
As promised, let’s talk about the pies. One cannot visit Door County without starting and ending their visit with pie. The offerings are seasonal, of course!
It’s blasphemous otherwise! From perfectly spiced pumpkin and apple pies in the fall to tart cherry and mixed berry pies in the summer, the locals know how to enjoy pie year-round.
Most visitors do not leave Door County without one in hand. The smart ones know to bring a cooler with them.
Scaturo’s Bakery is wildly popular and takes pie orders year-round. If you forgot to order ahead, they make a few extras just for you procrastinators. If you get there early, you may be able to snag one to go.
Eating in, you have your choice of the daily made pies by the slice a la mode or with homemade whipped cream.
Aside from the heavenly seasonal pies, Scaturo’s has other delicious bakery goods such as flaky cherry turnovers, giant oven-baked chocolate chunk cookies from scratch, Midwest favorite kringles, and old-fashioned glazed donuts.
For those lacking the sweet tooth, indulge in savory favorites such as quiches and sandwiches made from the large variety of warm, comforting loaves of bread such as onion dill and cherry walnut.
This salmon-colored, single-level café is hard to miss from the road.
The interior is split into three designated sections; a bakery with a mouth-watering window display of the day’s bounty, a counter with a few booths to order fast eats and take catering orders for bakery items and meal packages, and a vast dining room with plenty of indoor seating for big groups.
I went with sweet and savory by ordering a slice of the quiche Lorraine and a slice of pie made with the trademarked Door Country cherries. The quiche was so light and fluffy that it must have been made with pure air instead of an oven.
The flavors of bacon, caramelized onion, and Wisconsin-made Swiss cheese almost made me forget about pie. Almost. Nothing beats a tall-tiered slice of Door County cherry pie made with thick, doughy butter crust.
The end of summer is the best time, as the cherries are ripe and full of sweetness with just a hint of bright tartness. I, of course, took a whole pie home.
I would not be allowed back in the house otherwise. Scaturo’s is your spot for pie in Sturgeon Bay.
Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse
9626 7855, WI-42, Egg Harbor, WI 54209 //+19208683038
Though not precisely in Sturgeon Bay, only a hop, skip, and jump away in the neighboring coastal town of Egg Harbour lies a culinary gem with a fascinating legend to complement the food.
This neighborhood sports bar/restaurant has undergone multiple transformations in its history, each with a compelling story. Newspaper clippings and articles on the entrance walls and the workers themselves tell the story.
A copy of the deed can be found by the entrance of the building bought by Gideon “Jerry” LeMere in 1892 for a whopping purchase price of $13.92 after a fire destroyed the building.
The Lemere Tavern was created, where dances and socials were held.
In 1936, a fellow named August “Casey” and his wife purchased Lemer’s Tavern.
They converted it into Casey’s Inn with rooms rented at $2.00 per night. Rumor has it a secret underground tunnel was carved between the Lemere Tavern and a supper club down the street called Shipwrecked.
The Inn may have been a front for a brothel for prominent male figures.
The secret underground tunnel that led from the dinner club to Casey’s “brothel” was frequented by none other than Al Capone at one point.
There are five rooms on the restaurant’s second floor and an area where a small hole has been closed. The staff has not been able to find the tunnel, but they believe in it 100%.
That’s just half of the story. The upstairs is believed to be haunted by a little girl who may have died in the fire back in 1867!
However, today, the only smoke you will see comes from the large black smoker in the backyard deck of the restaurant. Follow the wafts of succulent meat being slowly cooked from blocks away or just by driving on the main road through the downtown.
You’ll know you are in the right place, and it’s hard to miss the welcoming bronze hog with the sly smile at the front entrance. Look up, and there is another one on the roof. Large screen TVs mounted on the walls signify that this is the place to be for food and football in the fall and beer and baseball in the summer.
The back door leads to a vast covered deck with more large-screen TVs, another large bar, and al fresco dining over the water.
This place has finger-licking BarBQ conquered. I started with fried pickles and corn nuggets to get my sweet and salty taste buds going.
I opted for super saucy wings, which I found were first smoked and then deep fried to seal in the smoky flavor and drowned in Casey’s signature sweet and tangy bar bbq sauce. The meat fell off the bone with every bite.
The brisket was also unbelievably tender and required little to no effort in chewing, with smokiness felt through each bite. Accompanied with housemade potato chips, creamy coleslaw, and locally brined pickles, I felt like that satiated bronzed pig with the mischievous smile that sits at the entrance.
A good story, great service, and gluttony of good eats make this place a must-visit for barbecue in Sturgeon Bay.
Door County’s Peninsula is peppered with endearing towns full of history, mystery, and culture from tip to tip.
If you had to choose only one, visiting Sturgeon Bay gives you the best bang for your buck. It’s where the elements of water, earth, and air are cherished not only by its scenery but also in its cuisine of family-owned Sturgeon Bay restaurants and locally sourced markets for all visitors near and far.
It’s a great place to visit to get a true taste of every season in the Midwestern United States.
Visiting other destinations in Wisconsin? Check out our other delicious guides:
- 5 Best Pizza Restaurants In Mequon
- The 10 Best Restaurants In Superior Wisconsin
- 8 Best Mequon Restaurants
A Chicago-born Indian woman, I thrive in learning about the cultures, cuisines, and fashions of the world with an extra special place in my heart for all things Italian. Twenty years (and going) in the healthcare industry has taught me the importance of nurturing the mind, heart, and body. Travel has been my playbook to work on all three. My mother says I learned how to walk too early as a child, and my favorite word was “go.” I later found it a significant word for those of us who find “going” an essential part of living. Hence, sharing this word with my readers has become the theme of my travel writing.