Story and Photos by HEIDI HODGES
OK, we admit, we don’t have a huge number of options. But don’t write us off! We actually have more variety than you may be aware of.
My food friend, chef Mira Miyamoto, and I made the rounds earlier this year, seeking out ethnic options in our neck of the Northwoods.
Mira has lived in and visited locations around the globe. While on her travels, she learned all about the foods. The result? She has a real bead on authenticity.
Dubious of my idea at first, it didn’t take long before she had complied quite a list of places we needed to try. Here’s what we discovered in Door County.
Door County may not be known for its Irish heritage, but that doesn’t matter. Head on down to Kitty O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, 59 E. Oak Street in Sturgeon Bay, for Irish specialties like hearty beefy Irish stew and rich shepherd’s pie.
Mira has spent time on the British Isles, particularly Harlech, Wales. While not in Ireland, per se, it’s just spitting distance away, across the Irish Sea.
Here’s what Mira had to say about Kitty O’Reilly’s. “Oh my goodness! The flavor! And the richness of the sauce, and the huge portions...”
We shared a shepherd’s pie entree, and she later returned to try other menu options, enjoying them all. “In Harlech, I had shepherd’s pie,” she said. “I have to say, O’Reilly’s was better.”
Mexican food is almost ubiquitous in the U.S. and it’s no different in Door County, with many outstanding options. We went to El Sazon, 1449 Green Bay Road, in Sturgeon Bay, where we tried a number of things, including Camarones a la Diabla (shrimp in spicy red sauce.) Perhaps holding back on the picante, because a lot of Midwesterners honestly can’t handle it, the flavor was nevertheless fantastic.
Mira has spent a good amount of time in Mexico, mostly on the Yucatan peninsula, and she also lived in Central America for a spell. And while I’m no expert on authentic Mexican food, I’ve been to the country and have sought out the “real” food—the street food and local restaurants—while visiting. So, we both knew what we were looking for.
El Sazon has authentic house specialties not commonly found on Mexican restaurant menus in the states, like Bisteck—juicy steak with jalapenos, onions and tomatoes and tamales.
Mira said, “The tamales at El Sazon were the bomb. That was pretty close to home.”
We washed it all down with horchata—a sweet rice and cinnamon drink.
While we were at it, we also tried JJ’s LaPuerta in Sister Bay, 10961 Hwy. 42, and had the beefy Tacos Barbacoa.
Authentic Mexican barbacoa involves roasting meat in a hot pit outdoors—with the meat usually being goat or lamb—covered in avocado leaves and slathered in achiote seasoning.
So JJ’s barbacoa isn’t necessarily authentic authentic, but it’s certainly delicious and has a distinct and unique flavor. Most importantly, it fills a hungry hole with the satisfaction that only a taco can provide.
For another great authentic taco option, we recommend you try the chorizo taco at the Fish Creek Grill, 3931 Hwy. 42. While the restaurant has a great “American” menu, it also has authentic Mexican dishes; we are particularly keen on the tacos—with corn tortillas, cilantro and onions, of course!
Other Mexican locales include Hot Tamales, 26 E. Oak Street, and Old Mexico, 901 Egg Harbor Road in Sturgeon Bay, and Mojo Rosa, 7778 Hwy. 42 in Egg Harbor.
Indian food in Door County? You bet!
But don’t expect a festively-decorated restaurant with Bollywood-style music. What we have here is very authentic Indian food, made in small batches by owner Archana Patel, in a Sturgeon Bay gas station deli.
Kinara Urban Eatery, 25 N. Madison Ave. (inside the Hol’ in One gas station) is the place to go to satisfy that craving. (And, for the record, you can get a stand up gyro there, too, so we might as well add Greek food to the list.)
It’s the kind of secret place I love divulging to folks. Pump gas, get your fishing license and indulge in some crazy-delicious Indian food.
You can get outstanding, freshly-made dishes at the eatery, or a selection of authentic home-made Indian food in the refrigerator section, for take-out.
Mira and I bought Chicken Tikka and Vegetable Curry to go, and took it home for lunch.
And, you guessed it, Mira spent a couple weeks in India, eating and learning and enjoying the food. So, she’s my authority on the subject.
Kinara’s food? “It was the best. It was SO good. Yes,” she said. “The spices are spot on. Just thinking about it makes me salivate,” she said, laughing.
She was particularly taken with the vegetable curry dish. “I had something close to that in India, and also in Japan (where she grew up), from an Indian chef. It really hit a memory nerve,” she said. “It’s a very familiar flavor of...someplace...”
One of our favorite haunts in Door County is Czarnuszka, 9922 Water Street in Ephraim, a soup restaurant specializing in Eastern European flavors.
It’s perfect because one of Mira’s favorite places on earth is Budapest, Hungary, in Eastern Europe.
When we visited Czarnuszka, we enjoyed chef Paul Wanish’s Kapusniak Polish cabbage and sausage soup.
His menu includes four soups, changing daily, but always including Bohemian Potato Chowder.
Mira said, “When I was in Budapest, I went to this soup cafe—almost like someone’s home. It had a little window to the kitchen you ordered from. When I was there, I had a very similar soup. Czarnuszka’s soup reminded me of that restaurant. And I kind of got homesick for Budapest.”
Even though Mira hasn't visited Italy (and we ran out of time to sample local offerings) Door County does boast a terrific selection of Italian restaurants, including Trattoria Del Santo, 117 N. 3rd Ave.; Sonny’s Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria, 129 N. Madison, both in Sturgeon Bay. Villagios, 4240 Juddville Road, Fish Creek; Galileo’s Italian Food at Liberty Square, 7755 Hwy. 42, Egg Harbor; and Pasta Vino, 10571 Country Walk Lane (lower level of Country Walk Shops.)
Scandinavian food is ethnic food. Yes it is. And the best place to get your Swedish fix is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, 10698 N. Bay Shore Drive, in Sister Bay. While they have a variety of delicious menu items, we focused on their Swedish specialties.
It turns out, Scandinavia is one place Mira hasn’t been. Luckily I can boast Danish heritage, which is one of the Scandinavian countries.
I can vouch: the flavors are familiar to foods I remember growing up, enjoying from my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s kitchens.
At Al Johnson’s, we enjoyed the Pytt I Panna, a Swedish roast beef hash with an egg and pickled beets on the side. We also indulged in the restaurant’s famous Swedish pancakes with lingonberry sauce and, of course, we had to try the Swedish meatballs.
True, Mira and I aren’t Scandinavian experts, but it’s clear Al Johnson’s restaurant is. (And for the record, Mira said the pickled beets are very, very good which is high praise because Mira doesn’t like beets.)
The closest Mira has come to Belgium is Paris, France (where, ironically, she once had the best Mayan hot chocolate she’s ever had. Go figure.) And I’ve spent time in Germany. Also close, but no cigar.
Yet, it wouldn’t matter if we had extensively studied Belgian food in Belgium. The local Belgian specialties are somewhat unique to our area, and specifically, southern Door County.
If you think about it, it’s interesting to have authentic ethnic food that is endemic to our own region.
The Belgian immigrants settled in the Southern Door area a long, long time ago, bringing with them their heritage and food sensibilities. Over the years, their enclave created food specialties to fit what was available here. Those traditions have been passed down for generations.
Authentic chicken booyah, for instance, is only found in northeast Wisconsin. And Belgian pies are completely unique. You won’t find them north of Brussels in Southern Door. You want to taste them? You can find them at local festivals, events, fundraisers, and at Marchant’s Foods grocery store in Brussels (1367 County Road DK.).