You know how some things just grow organically? One day it’s a little store, and the next it’s one of the more notable corners in Door County, WI. That’s the story of Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, which started in 1906 as a little shop offering candy and ice cream and somehow grew into a restaurant.
Sarah Martin, the General Manager whose parents, Roy and Diane Elquist, have owned the place since 1997, says it’s a family affair. “We are a hands on business with a classic menu,” she says, “but really, it’s all about the ice cream!” They also brew their own root beer and aren’t afraid to put them together in fun combinations like the Root Beer Frosty—their own draft root beer blended with French vanilla ice cream and served in a frosted mug. Don’t think of it as a float—this is a craveable work of ice cream art!
The restaurant is open May through October, bowing to the seasons that rule Door County attractions. That’s partly due to the ebb and flow of tourism traffic, but also to the fact that the building has no heating or insulation for the cold Wisconsin winters—and just got air conditioning with these current owners. Still, it’s an iconic location filled with a friendly mayhem during the summer months. “For lots of people walking through the door,” says Martin, “it’s like taking a walk down memory lane.”
As for the menu, she advises, “You can’t go wrong with a burger,” but also recommends the whitefish sandwich or the pulled pork, which is marinated in their root beer—and, she adds, “save room for ice cream!”
Wilson’s is a place for indulgence, including the whole cherry ice cream, which is creamy without being too sweet. Take a friend—or two—if you want to dip your spoon into the Wilson’s Banquet, which features five scoops of ice cream and three toppings.
Go ahead, indulge. It’s the type of place that’s perfect to create a vacation memory.
This is part of The Food Channel‘s coverage of Door County, Wisconsin, from a recent tour hosted by the Door County Visitor’s Bureau. Find other stories in the series here.
Travel accommodations and tour arrangements in Door County were provided by the Door County Visitors Bureau in conjunction with Geiger & Associates Public Relations.
Photos by Paul K. Logsdon.