Door County favorites: Wild Tomato pizzeria blends trendy tastes with casual atmosphere
A pizza crust is like a blank canvas, says Britton Unkefer, owner of Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille. When it comes to filling that canvas, Unkefer and his culinary team get plenty creative.
There's a specialty pizza topped with grilled broccoli and cheese curds. Another option starts with an árbol chili crema base and includes toppings of roasted corn, chorizo and poblano peppers.
Whether pizzas are topped with unexpected or familiar ingredients, it's fair to say Door County visitors and residents have gone wild for what Unkefer and staff have unleashed. What started with a single wood-fired oven pizzeria in Fish Creek in 2008 expanded to a second restaurant in Sister Bay. Earlier this year a third pizza oven fired up in Egg Harbor as part of a joint venture with One Barrel Brewing's taproom.
Guests can get creative with their pizzas. Build-your-own topping options include soppressata (an Italian dry salami), vegan sausage and pickled jalapenos. And yes, you can opt for the most controversial topping of all: pineapple.
Pizza purists, don't fret. The classics are all here and the best seller is a deluxe-style pie topped with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, etc...
The vibe at all three locations is decidedly casual. Each Wild Tomato spot is a variation on what I would call modern rustic design. You know, stone walls, exposed wood beams and sheets of corrugated metal used as accent pieces.
Fine dining ingredients in a casual setting. It's intentional. Unkefer says he finds using high-quality ingredients to elevate foods like pizza to be unbelievably gratifying.
A Door County native, Unkefer started his foodservice career as a teenager at Nelsen's Hall on Washington Island before leaving for New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He then worked at fine dining restaurants along the West Coast, including as the head baker for Wolfgang Puck at Postrio. That's the restaurant where he first worked with wood-fired ovens.
Door County vacationers and residents have big appetites for Wild Tomato pizza. On Saturdays during peak summer season, customers order upwards of 1,600 pizzas. Demand doesn't drop off much during weekdays that time of year, says Unkefer. And that was before adding an oven in Egg Harbor.
Fish Creek is home base for making pizza dough. Why? The staff and the water.
“I truly, truly believe that the artisan well I have there has really good water," said Unkefer. "I like that consistency so everything is made by the same people every day."
The dough needs at least 24 hours to set up properly for baking in the wood-fried ovens, so there's plenty of time to deliver portions to Egg Harbor and Sister Bay.
Meat, veggies and cheese are purchased as much as possible from Door County suppliers including goat cheese from Sister Bay neighbor Door County Creamery. The Italian sausage was made in house until demand outpaced production capabilities and a local butcher was entrusted with the recipe. That was at about 400 pounds per week, says Unkefer. These days guests gobble up about 1,000 pounds a week.
Unkefer likes the quality of products from Door County producers and buying local keeps Wild Tomato connected to the community. The monthly donation creation pizza, a specialty pizza that benefits a Door County nonprofit organization, is another way the restaurant connects with Door County residents.
Although the donation creation is a good excuse for stretching palates, it's also a way to promote local nonprofit organizations. Each month $1 of each donation creation pizza sold goes to organizations like Boys & Girls Club of Door County, Northern Fire Fighter Association and Midsummer’s Music Festival.
Most of these creations are one-off combinations but there are a few exceptions, notably the seventh annual Thai Pie (green curry cream cheese base, grilled chicken, green and red bell peppers, red onion, cilantro and basil topped with carrots, pea shoots and a chili lime drizzle) that was featured in July.
While the Egg Harbor menu includes two salads and pizza, the Fish Creek and Sister Bay restaurants offer appetizers like hand-battered cheese curds and chicken tenders, a half dozen salads, burgers and sandwiches.
Best-selling pizza: D-Lux topped with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers finished with extra cheese.
Popular with vacationers: The Green and Gold with roasted chicken, bacon, grilled broccoli and spinach topped with cheese curds.
Popular with Door County residents: Donation creation pizzas.
Unkefer's fave: Pepperoni and cheese. He admits that might seem "lame" but the high heat of the wood-fired oven causes the cheese on top of the pepperoni to get nice and crispy.
Popular appetizer: Hand-battered deep-fried cheese curds. This is Wisconsin.
Popular appetizer that's not cheese curds: Wood-Fired Bread Basket filled with house-made garlic flat bread, herb focaccia, breadsticks, olive and roasted garlic ciabatta, cheese cracklins with marinara, balsamic and olive oil, and herb goat cheese.
Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille
Fish Creek: 4023 Wisconsin Highway 42; (920) 868-3095
Sister Bay: 10677 N Bay Shore Drive; (920) 854-4685
Egg Harbor: 4633 Market Street; (920) 868-9453
Hours: Vary by location and season but all open at 11 a.m. daily May through October with more limited hours the rest of the year.
Contact Daniel at (920) 996-7214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @HigginsEats and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/higginseats/.