Guided by Sara Dahmen
Photographed by Joe Laedtke
Recently someone asked me how long I’ve lived in Port Washington (“Port,” the locals call it) and I gave my canned response: “Oh … maybe six years. Since 2007.”
Math has never been my strongest talent, and it took me a moment to realize I’ve been a resident of “Port” for almost a decade now. Somewhere along the way, I’ve had the fortune to meet and befriend many of the downtown business owners, cafe managers and local entrepreneurs. It’s an immense pleasure to show off to friends this little slice of New England-y heaven along our Southeastern Wisconsin lakeshore. Drive up, enjoy the weekend and visit some of the places below. The Saturday Farmer’s Market is on the doorstep of the Port Hotel, which is a block from the marina. You might never want to drive the 25 minutes back to Milwaukee come Sunday afternoon.
Bernie’s Fine Meats & European Market
I always adore the meat store. Not only is the produce fresh and it reminds a body of a vintage meat market, but the ingredients are fresh, usually raised on a local farm, and the owner/operator, Steve Bennett, learned the trade from his Polish wife’s uncle. The best part, besides the plethora of European beer choices (my brother is stoked to find a particular brew that’s usually only available in Germany and the Vatican) and the super squeaky cheese curds every Friday, is the heavenly aroma of smoked spiced meats (spices are mixed and meats are smoked on location) when the door whooshes open or closed.
119 N. Franklin St.
Baltica Bistro & Tea Room
Ursula is also from Poland (do I sense a trend?) and owns, operates and cooks for this lovely little cafe on the main street. Open for breakfast and lunch, her sweet space is filled with wide, cozy wooden furniture and the walls and shelves are really beautifully filled with crafts from the Old Country and art from local artists. The long list of teas is matched by the seasonal fare of the food—the quiche of the day is always divine.
223 N. Franklin St.
John and Elizabeth, a husband and wife duo, are artists at heart. I remember reading about their endeavor into chocolate in the paper several years ago—John was a wood carver and planned to “carve chocolate,” and Elizabeth was an artist who had a vision. Between the two of them, they’re making everything from scratch—the fillings of their chocolate are usually organic, locally sourced, and created on location in their “chocolate cave”—a myriad of flavors is constantly in rotation. They’ve expanded to include ice cream and coffee drinks over the years, and more is soon to come!
125 W. Grand Ave.
You can’t go wrong with a good, old school candy store, and that’s exactly what CoCa LeNa is—with a wall of gummi candy to jelly beans and saltwater taffy, it’s a slice of sugar wherever you look. I know the owners, Jamie and Melissa (they are sisters-in-law who own and operate the store with a small staff), named the place after their four children, and take delight in the details that go with owning a candy shop. The sweet treats in this place take me back to my childhood, and summers scampering into Door County Confectionery shops—it is exactly that vibe.
327 N. Franklin St.
Daily Baking Company
Not every bakery and cafe trains their staff in the arts of making artisanal confections, but Dan and Marie-Anne of Daily Baking Company do just that. Before they opened, they brought in a pastry chef from London to train their local employees for three months, and the outrageously divine brownies, croissants, muffins and cookies are the result. Don’t even get me started on their breads—I can inhale a Scottish Mist Roll like it’s air, and many of my friends only buy their daily bread from here. If you want more substance, they offer soups, salads and breakfast, but hurry. Everything’s baked fresh, so when it’s gone for the day, it’s gone!
211 N. Franklin St.
Every Wisconsin town needs a quintessential supper club, and Newport Shores is it. With their fish fries heading the menu, and situated right at the edge of Port Washington, the place is hopping on most nights. It helps that there’s often live music on the outdoor bandstand, the patio is strung with lights, and you can be served from the grounded boat that serves as the bar. John and his wife, Angie, operate the restaurant, and I’m always asking John to show me his latest stores of scotch behind the bar. It’s not only a local hangout, but also feels a bit like home to anyone from out of town.
407 E. Jackson St.
Port Washington Hotel
As a resident of Port Washington for the past ten years … I’ve actually stayed here! It was a weekend getaway for me and hubby, where we pretended to be tourists in our own town, and it was freaking awesome. Breakfast in bed one morning, a large, interactive brunch (Shrimp! Omelets! 8 kinds of desserts!) the other, the constant plying of coffee, danishes and chocolates by the staff, plus the historic building with completely renovated bathrooms in each room? Can’t go wrong.
101 E. Main St.
Smith Brother’s Coffee
People still make pilgrimages to Port Washington, remembering good fish from Smith Brothers when it was a large restaurant serving fish fries. That family gem is gone, but their neon sign remains, and the locale has been renovated into a coffee shop serving food from local purveyors (you can get a Bernie’s Meats sandwich here, or fish wrap from Ewig’s, for example), as well as delicious coffee. I like to take my kids here for the “cookie bread,” which is pumpkin bread peppered with chocolate chips. I like to pretend I’m giving my kids something healthy because, you know, there’s pumpkin in the bread. Pop into Duluth Trading Company after your snack if you feel like more shopping—it’s a bit of shopping heaven for outdoorsy men and women alike.
100 N. Franklin St.
Vines to Cellar
CJ and Jim own and operate together this winery in the heart of Port Washington. It’s this huge space they’ve slowly built out to include a retail area full of fun boozy merchandise, walls of wine bottles of wine they’ve made themselves lining the walls, and of course, the tasting area. Their two dogs mill about (but don’t indulge in the grapes). My children, on the other hand, get nice healthy servings of nonalcoholic juice when I’m in. Supplies to DIY wine and beer are available too. Or, sign up for a class!
114 E. Main St.
Sara Dahmen is a metalsmith of both vintage and modern kitchenware in tin, copper and iron. Her debut novel, Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper, won the Laramie Award Grand Prize for Western Historical Fiction, and inspired House Copper & Housekeeper Crockery – American-made cookware created with pure and/or organic materials. She has published over 100 articles as a contributing editor for Veil Magazine, and has spoken at TEDx Rapid City, at the Historical Writers of America inaugural conference in Williamsburg VA, and has co-chaired the Port Washington Literary Festival since its inception. Prior to her writing gigs, Sara was a print, radio and TV producer in Milwaukee and has operated an event planning company since 2006.