Fish Boils and French Toast: Door County, Wisconsin

Fish Boil in Door County
Fish Boil in Door County

Door County resides in the northeastern part of Wisconsin. Visitors are attracted to the small town homey atmosphere, a multitude of seasonal recreation options and local farm fresh food. This 70-mile long sliver of land juts out into Lake Michigan and includes five state parks, eleven lighthouses and 300 miles of shoreline.

Cave Point at Whitefish Dunes State Park
Cave Point at Whitefish Dunes State Park

Fish boils, a local culinary tradition, date back almost one hundred years. They grew from the need for an economical way to feed a lot of lumberjacks and fisherman. The main ingredient is catch-of- the-day native whitefish from the Great Lakes. It is paired with potatoes and sometimes onions.  

Most restaurants offering a fish boil ask their diners to come about a half an hour early to watch the outdoor preparation. First, a large cast-iron kettle filled with water is placed on a blazing bonfire. Salt, actually a lot of salt, is added to raise the specific gravity of the water. Then, potatoes and any other selected vegetables are added in a wire basket.  

Whitefish steaks are lowered in another wire basket and the fish oils rise to the top of the pot. When the boil master (or chef) feels everything is ready, he adds kerosene to the fire.  In a flash of glory, the flames soar toward the sky with crackling sounds and cause a boil-over, pushing the fish oils up and over the pot. The fish and vegetables are pulled out, slathered with butter and dinner is served buffet style.

Whitefish and Potatoes from a Traditional Fish Boil
Whitefish and Potatoes from a Traditional Fish Boil

I attended a fish boil at The White Gull Inn in Fish Bay, Wisconsin. The Inn feels welcoming, decorated in traditional colonial tavern style with cherry motif accents. A knowledgeable and experienced waitress helped de-bone the fish and instructed us to add melted butter to make the meal even more flavorful. A light coleslaw was served as a side dish and rolls. However, she warned, “Remember one thing: leave room for the Door County Cherry Pie.” So when dessert time arrived,  I chose to have my pie topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Small wonder why I complain about weight gain.

Door County Cherry Pie at White Gull Inn
Door County Cherry Pie at White Gull Inn

The White Gull Inn earned quite a distinction in 2010 when they were chosen as winner of the Good Morning American Best Breakfast Challenge. Their cherry and cream cheese stuffed French Toast earned the honors and is certainly something to rave about. (See recipe below) Although they are a Bed and Breakfast, their restaurant is open to the public. I did not taste this dish at the White Gull,  but was served a similar recipe at the Eagle Harbor Inn where I stayed. Definitely worth the calories.

Cream Cheese and Cherry Studded French Toast - Eagle Harbor Inn
Cream Cheese and Cherry Studded French Toast – Eagle Harbor Inn

White Gull Inn’s Cherry-Stuffed French Toast

Cherry-Stuffed French Toast from “GMA Best Breakfast” finalist White Gull Inn


  • 1 loaf egg bread, unsliced
  • 1 8-ounce packages cheese cream, room temperature
  • 1 cups tart Montmorency cherries, drained, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • cinnamon, for garnish
  • powdered sugar, for garnish
  • maple syrup, for garnish


  1. Trim ends from loaf and cut bread into six 1 1/2 inch thick slices.
  2. Make a cut three-quarters down the middle of each slice. Bread will appear to have to separate slices, but will be joined together at the bottom. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together cream cheese and one cup of the cherries.
  4. Spread approximately 1/6 cup of the mixture into the pocket of each slice of bread.
  5. Gently press slices together, evenly distributing filling.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and milk together.
  7. Dip stuffed slices into egg mixture and coat all sides.
  8. Place immediately on a lightly oiled, heated griddle and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  9. Cook over medium heat until golden brown, turning to cook second side.
  10. Remove cooked slices from griddle and place on a cutting board.
  11. Gently make a diagonal cut through each slice, forming two triangles.
  12. Arrange two triangles on individual plates.
  13. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and remaining cherries.
  14. Serve with maple syrup and butter.

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