Skaliwags brings casual fine dining to old-fashioned Fish Creek cuisine
FISH CREEK – Taking the place of a local icon is not easy. Just ask Green Bay Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and (maybe?) Jordan Love.
But chef Chris Wiltfang said he didn’t feel the pressure of stuffing big shoes as he opened his latest Skaliwags restaurant – his first permanent restaurant in Door County – in the downtown Fish space. Creek that was once home to The Cookery, which husband and wife Dick and Carol Skare and their family ran for 44 years before retiring in early June.
The Cookery was one of Door County’s most popular dining establishments, and any business that has been operating successfully for 44 years will have a loyal following and a strong brand name.
But Wiltfang hopes and expects that Skaliwags, which quietly opened on June 22, will leave its own mark on the peninsula’s culinary scene through the combination of high-end recipes made with fresh ingredients in a relaxed setting.
“(The Skares) have done a wonderful job here, we are very lucky to take over. But our food is self-sufficient,” he said. “We look forward to 44 years of Skaliwags.”
For now, the menu posted outside and written on the chalkboard inside is not as comprehensive as it will be later this year, and will change daily. But diners can be sure the items will be in keeping with what Wiltfang and her son and daughter, chefs Marshall and Alexa Wiltfang, have concocted at their previous Skaliwags and other restaurants in northeastern Wisconsin, featuring seafood. fresh, steaks and pasta dishes making up the most of the dinner offerings. The meats will even be smoked on site – that’s the job of Bevo, the copper-colored metal bull residing on the lawn in front of the restaurant.
A week after opening, lunch included a basic cheeseburger and pulled meat sandwiches as well as unique items such as a BLT crab cake – Marshall pointed out that the crab cakes are of the big meaty type without filling, not the floury type – and the Pudgy Pie, a burger with cheddar cheese, pickles, peanut butter and bacon jam. Wiltfang said the sandwiches were a combination of ideas from his food truck and Skaliwags two Burger Company stores in Algoma and downtown Green Bay.
“When COVID hit, the only thing we had was the food truck,” he said. “It forced us to create exciting things that we could achieve in a small space and at a fast pace.”
The dinner menu didn’t offer pasta yet, but seafood (including shrimp and andouille cheese grits, Chilean salmon with pesto and parmesan, and seared cajun-flavored scallops) and tenderloin cute were available.
And, while Wiltfang hasn’t had breakfast at his previous establishments, he does cook one in Fish Creek, offering items like Georgia peach pancakes and crab sauce cookies.
The menu will expand as the summer progresses – particularly dinner entrees once the upstairs dining room is ready to reopen under Marshall’s guidance as executive chef.
“We will continue to add new items until we feel we are at a point between having a wide choice and being able to do the volume needed to run a Door County restaurant in the summer,” Wiltfang said. . “Actually, it’s Chef Chris’s Marshall version. Marshall took Skaliwags and my menu and made it his own.”
As in previous establishments in Wiltfang, the focus will be on using the best and freshest ingredients available and blending them together to create high-end yet comfortable cuisine with a southern influence that won’t be heavy on sauces and seasonings, letting the main ingredients come to the fore.
“A lot of places buy bad food and try to make it good,” Wiltfang said. “We buy the best possible ingredients. We don’t make too much gravy because we don’t have to. We can let the food sit on its own. “
“We grew up on a small island in the ocean (St. Simons Island, Georgia), so we’re used to this fresh, comforting Southern food,” said Marshall Wiltfang.
Guests do not need to dress to live their dining experience. Wiltfang describes the atmosphere he is aiming for as “casual cowboy”.
“I think our family not only shows their love through our menu, but we also circle our restaurant all the time,” Wiltfang said. “We want to know who they are. We use our southern hospitality, and I think it shows. I think people feel welcome here, and the food is life changing.”
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Skaliwags has started to make a name for itself in Door County in recent years, with its food truck often visiting Sturgeon Bay, but it is well established in other parts of northeastern Wisconsin.
With his food truck, Wiltfang opened his first Skaliwags in Algoma in 2011, with the restaurant under the brand “Food that’s five stars in a crazy little dive bar”, and later opened Uncorked by Skaliwags in Kewaunee, Skaliwags by Chef Chris in the Green Bay suburb of Suamico and the two burger restaurants.
In a roundabout way, Suamico’s location is actually what brought Skaliwags to Fish Creek. This restaurant was planning to move into a new building, but its owner sold the development and purchased the property which includes The Cookery.
Which has worked well for Wiltfang, who said he had a Door County restaurant in mind since moving to Wisconsin from St. Simons Island.
“I think I’ve dreamed of Door County for as long as I’ve been here in Wisconsin,” Wiltfang said. “I still remember making that right turn into Fish Creek 10 years ago. It reminded me of the islands I grew up on.”
To make its location in Fish Creek work, Wiltfang has closed all of its other restaurants, at least temporarily. The Kewaunee restaurant closed in 2018, but the others were operating until the COVID-19 pandemic sent them into hibernation in March 2020. The Algoma location opened for a few nights this spring, the food truck made a few appearances and Wiltfang said he had a few dining obligations that remained on the schedule, but the focus is now completely on Door County.
“Everything else is closed so I can focus on this one,” Wiltfang said. “This year, we are just focusing on good restaurant management and the best food in Door County.”
This choice also gave Wiltfang the opportunity to work more closely with Marshall, Alexa and others, instead of having family members work in various Skaliwags locations.
“I felt the need to have family here,” said Wiltfang, “to bring them all together so that we can cook together, run the restaurant together and hopefully be successful together.”
Like other restaurants, Skaliwags has been hit hard by the shutdown during the pandemic, and Wiltfang said the effects are still being felt, both with food supplies (especially high-end foods) and staff, like many former restaurant workers across the country who were laid off by the pandemic have not returned to work. Skaliwags has retained four former Cookery employees and has seven more on staff.
“We feel lucky to have avoided bankruptcy during the pandemic,” Wiltfang said. “It was perhaps the most difficult time I have ever seen in the business. We always find that food is hard to find, and I have never seen such a lack of employees … When you run a restaurant of this size, three meals a day, seven days a week, (11 people) is a pretty lean staff. “
But Wiltfang and his family are ready to offer residents and visitors to the county a new dining experience, now and for years to come.
“We feel very lucky to be in Door County,” Wiltfang said. “We were well received by the city and the locals. We look forward to an amazing summer.”
for your information
The Skaliwags Restaurant is located at 4135 Main Street (State 42), Fish Creek. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (later if necessary) every day. Reservations are not necessary. For more information, call 920-868-3634 or visit facebook.com/skaliwags.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]