Saturday, August 09, 2008

Friday night fish boil at the White Gull Inn

Welcome to the White Gull Inn, where the weekend specialty is a Door County, Wisconsin, tradition: Fish boils. Yeah, not the most appetizing-sounding name, but that's what it is. A cheap and easy way to feed a lot of people (miners, fishermen, tourists) all at once.

Typically, whitefish is used, and potatoes. They're boiled in baskets inside a larger pot. When the fish is done cooking, kerosene is thrown onto the fire. The higher flames make the pot boil over, and all the scummy stuff that had risen to the top goes, too.

Then you get a couple of burly guys to pull the industrial-sized strainer out of the pot.
It's carried inside and immediately dished up to a line of hungry people.
This is your standard serving. On the table are coleslaw, pitchers of melted butter, and a basket of bread, both sweet and savory.
Whitefish is on the bony side, so your server will give you a demonstration of the best way to debone your pieces.
I think I've mentioned before that I used to not like fish because of the bones. We would eat the fish my dad caught, and I would always have to chew the fish into a tasteless pulp to make sure I got all the bones out. Big whitefish pieces like this have bigger bones, so it's pretty easy to get most of them out. But you still end up with one or two in your mouth. That's my only quibble, and it's a personal one.

Pitchers of melted butter, however, are genius.

As you're plowing through your big plate o' fish 'n' taters, what could be a better accompaniment than the accordion? You may hate the accordion under ordinary circumstances, but this is special. Plus he plays very quietly.

You'll be wanting to save room for dessert, by the way.
Cherry pie, of course. Door County is cherry central.

Then you will be too stuffed to walk. But you can probably manage to waddle a couple of blocks down to the bay to watch the tail end of the sunset.
White Gull Inn
4225 Main Street
Fish Creek WI 54212
Toll-free: 888-364-9542


  1. Reminds me of the goose dinner they serve in Hilton, NY - it's a fundraiser for the Elks Club, I think, and it's so popular it's hard to get tickets.

  2. Fish boil? Is that a common thing in Wisconsin? I'm sorry but that does sound, um, odd. Since I'm from the Chesapeake Bay, I'm so much more used to the whole fish and oyster fry concept. Though we eat so many crabs and shrimp my very first thought is to just steam the darn things. I honestly confess: I rarely see any seafood boiled around Maryland or Virginia. The concept is strange to me!

    That is, almost as strange as fish-and-accordion boils.

  3. Forgot to mention: pitches of melted butter? Only in the Midwest would they have something so equally disturbing and genius. You'd think that would be up Paula Deen's alley but really, she'd use the butter too fast for there to be a pitcher of it just lying around.

  4. You here that, Diane? Cherry orchard country. Sounds good to me. Himself and I have decided if we're ever going to have a real orchard, it better be established already. We're just getting too dang old. Up North is starting to sound better all the time, too. And fish boils don't sound at all weird to me. No sentence with the word "fish" in it sounds odd. :)

  5. I think I'd like to try that, Zoomie. Goose is pretty good, and you're less likely to choke on a bone.

    John, yes, it's kind of weird. It's only common in a few places around Wisconsin. But it's not uncommon to boil seafood in general, I don't think. Shrimp, crab, crawdads ...

    Love me some melted butter. All you can pour.

    Dani, who's Diane? You won't find the easy life here, though. Winters are kinda brutal.

  6. I will have you know that I have been to that exact place and eaten that exact fish boil dinner. My folks have a time share condo in Door County, and we went up there several times during my adolescence. I've asked them if we could go up with them next summer--their week is usually the last week of July or first week of August.

    Yay, Door County!

  7. Wow, Amy! I didn't know that. Small world. Very cool.