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Juniper’s Gin Joint Features the Artistic Creations of Chef Neller Polanco + Live Music for Labor Day Weekend!

The new chef at Juniper’s Gin Joint in Fish Creek, Chef Neller Polanco, isn’t a newcomer to Door County.

Chef Neller PolancoPolanco’s family came from Wadsworth, IL to Door County for vacations often and she was an infant on her first visit. Her memories were of family good times and the beauty Door County’s nature.

A love of food came from her deep relationship with her Grandma, a fine and experienced home cook. Neller was her Grandmother’s shadow, first watching and then learning to cook everything from scratch; and inculcating her with a strong work ethic and an abiding love for the making and sharing of food. Though many memories of her time in her Grandmother’s kitchen and one stands out: rolling out the dough for egg noodles.

Chef Neller can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a chef.

Nine years ago at age 30 she decided that if this was her dream she should get started, so she went to the Kendall ‘School of Culinary Arts’ in Chicago (considered the best cooking school in the Midwest), and graduated in two years. She loved cooking and was an accomplished home cook, but Kendall taught her the basics plus all the cooking techniques she’d need for professional cooing. In addition she learned the management of a kitchen, the methods, the reasons for doing things and the finances of a successful restaurant. After that she went on to study Restaurant Management so she could bring more to the table as a chef and then began at Mangiano’s Little Italy (a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant in Illinois).

Not busy enough it seemed, at this time Chef Neller also started her catering company in Wadsworth which she called ‘Princess and the Pea: One Small Girl Doing Big Things’. The jump into her own business stretched her skills even further:  Menu writing, running a successful company, being in charge of all aspects of her business, learning to become a good baker and managing her time and resources combined with working at Mangiano’s was for her like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  Her love of food and desire to create memorable menus and dishes and make people happy wasn’t diminished by her workload, it was strengthened.

Juniper's Gin Joint frontAll this led to Chef Neller to apply and interview for the position of head chef at the Juniper’s Gin Joint (formerly Cooper’s Corner) in Fish Creek (owned by the Pollmans, who also own and operate Door Peninsula Winery, Shipwrecked Brew Pub, Fat Louie’s Olive Oil, Bistro 42 and Door County Distillery). After the interview on her way home to Illinois while her son drove, Chef Neller started creating a menu for the restaurant and sent it the next day. She’s been involved from the beginning in the re-branding and creation of Juniper Gin Joint.

Spending that time catering developed her creativity in creating a menu and the foundation of Kendall taught her how to manage her costs, a combination that is essential in today’s restaurant.

The menu at Juniper’s Gin Joint is a Door County influenced Chicago Style Steak House. Imagine a classic American supper club influenced by Chef Neller’s unique flavor palate. She has created flavors using what Door County (cherries, cheeses, junipers, whitefish) is so well known for and then added some creative touches. Take Saturday’s special for example. It is Prime Rib like you’d never expect – finished off on the grill, giving it that deep, smoky flavor.

Chef Neller's Friday Fish Fry - Hand Breaded Perch or Copper Ale Battered Whitefish

Chef Neller’s Friday Fish Fry (photo from Facebook)

She didn’t forget whitefish – serving up a Lemon Juniper poached whitefish with juniper, lemon and white wine, over herb roasted new potatoes. There’s also a Whitefish Club sandwich: a beer battered whitefish fillet with bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard (made fresh in the kitchen) on a special Kaiser roll. The Friday Night Fish Fry will satisfy the fish lover offering perch, whitefish and halibut.

Juniper’s Gin Joint‘s Signature dish, available at lunch and dinner, is a Cheese and Charcuteries Board featuring cheese from Renard’s Cheese (Door County Cheese makers) and an Artisan Sausage Board, both serving a Grilled Door County Cherry Brat. And not to jump to the end, but the restaurant’s (and Chef Neller’s) Signature Dessert is a Chocolate Pinot Noir Cake featuring the Pinot Noir from the Door Peninsula Winery in Carlsville, just a little drive south on Hwy. 42.

Chocolate Maple Bacon Cookie Sunday - Juniper

Above: Chef Neller’s Chocolate Maple Bacon Cookie Sunday (photo from Facebook)

“I consider myself an artist,” says Chef Neller.

Chef Neller likes to have fun with her desserts. During May lucky diners enjoyed the Fish Creek Fluffy Pie and the Tipsy Bunny Cupcake (carrot cake with a rum butter).

All sauces, dressings, soups and bakery is made in house. The food is clean and delicious, with nothing added that doesn’t have to be there. “Having the kitchen organized and food prepped means preparing it for our customer is smoother and provides them with an elevated dining experience that makes them feel satisfied and happy. That’s what our whole team is working towards every day.” Diners with special diets have many options to choose from and using the very best ingredients and everything from scratch means the food is at its best.

Chef Neller has been working with the Pollman’s to rebrand the restaurant this summer, and she’s had the complete support of her team in the front of the house and the back of the house. Neller believes that everyone should be able to step in and do anyone’s job if need be, including herself and including washing dishes. She wants the staff to know what they are making and serving so she often cooks dishes for them.

“They’re excited and proud to be making and serving our food. We’re all here to create a memorable dining experience for our guests and they know we’re in this together.”

Enjoy a meal at Juniper’s Gin Joint, open daily from 11am-10pm in season, with live music each weekend in the summer. For Labor Day Weekend there is music each night at 9:30pm!

***Saturday, Sept. 5 – Marybeth Mattson performs outside in front of J. Jeffrey Taylor from 2-4pm (right across the street from Juniper’s Gin Joint). This local singer/songwriter welcomes Juniper’s diners to enjoy her music and encourages listeners to enjoy Juniper’s dining and outdoor seating.

For more Live Music and Entertainment and Last Minute Lodging Options this weekend, please visit our Labor Day Weekend Blog!

The Harbor Fish Market Harnesses the Sun: Solar Water Heating System is ON in Baileys Harbor!

POSTED ON September 28th  - POSTED IN breakfast, Coffee & Tea, Dining, dinner, fish boil, lunch, News, Personalities
Harbor Fish Market Solar Panels (from facebook)

Harbor Fish Market Solar Panels (from facebook)

Karen and Carl Berndt, owners of Harbor Fish Market & Grille and Custards Last Stan in Baileys Harbor went live Thursday when they flipped the ‘ON’ switch on their new solar water heating system. 

The project, which took ten months to complete, included two very important people in the process: Ben Anschutz of Anschutz Plumbing in Baileys Harbor and Patrick Strantz, a building contractor, full time maintenance manager at the YMCA in Fish Creek and long time maintenance manager for the Berndts.

Together they have created a custom solar water heating system that not only addresses the water heating needs of the two restaurants but will also provide the hot water for the employee housing and the Berndt’s living quarters.

Book Your Culinary Weekend in Door County at Eagle Harbor Inn w/ Chef Terri Milligan, Oct. 24-25, 2014

POSTED ON August 18th  - POSTED IN Dining, dinner, Discounts & Specials, News, Personalities, Recipes, Special Events
Chef Terri Miligan logoChef Terri Milligan & Eagle Harbor Inn will be hosting another wonderful Culinary Weekend in Door County, WI. This two day event includes a champagne reception, hands-on cooking class, a dinner at Eagle Harbor Inn following class, and–new this year–a morning culinary tour of favorite spots with Chef Terri Milligan. The Culinary Class Weekend is $119 + accommodations. Please call the Eagle Harbor Inn at 800-324-5427 to choose from a fabulous B&B Inn room or an elegant Whirlpool Suite.

Milligan at Eagle Harbor

For more information about this great weekend experience visit Chef Terri Milligan online – see the menu you’ll be creating as well as the weekend agenda! This class will be on October 24-25th, 2014 and is limited to 8 people so reserve your spot today! You may even want to book a private a la carte cooking class (minimum of 4 people) and come back to Ephraim to help Nedd & Natalie Neddersen celebrate their 20th Anniversary of owing & managing the Eagle Harbor Inn. They have welcomed innumerable guests who return annually making new memories with every visit while contributing to the Inn’s 70 year history! Check out their ‘History Wall’ with photos from the old cottage days & historic rate cards & ads – they’ll even invite you for a glass of lemonade and their fantastic homemade treats! Visit & for more details!

Ask a Chef July 2014: Barbeque & Wine – A Pairing Suggestion

Question: What kind of wine should I bring to a BBQ?

July has come to Door County, Wisconsin and the grills are out! Paul Santoriello, Winemaker and Production Director at Door Peninsula Winery, and Door County Chefs ‘Ask a Chef‘ contributor, has some fantastic advice on finding the perfect wine for your next  backyard BBQ:

After suffering through what feels like the worst winter in 30 years, Wisconsinites are anxious to get back outside – and that means lighting the grill. Whether they burn charcoal or gas, people here have a longstanding love affair with outdoor cooking. Though brats and burgers remain the go-to grill meats, many backyard chefs are upping the ante with steaks, ribs, chops and fish. Here are a few tips for making the most of those pairings.

Pairing food and wine is really simple and about personal taste, but there are a few helpful practices to make your meal better, says Paul Santoriello, head winemaker at Door Peninsula Winery.

Print“Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine, so one won’t overpower the other,” Santoriello notes.

“Lighter meats (like chicken and fish) tend to call for white and lighter red wines, while traditional red wines are a natural pairing for red meats and smoke flavors off the grill.”

A Romantic Winter Engagement at Bayside Tavern, Fish Creek

POSTED ON February 14th  - POSTED IN Dining, News, Personalities, Wines & Spirits

It’s no secret: Valentine’s Day is ‘THE’ romantic’s holiday. Yes, diamonds, and flowers, and hearts, and Cupids fill the airwaves and the inter-web, urging us all to do something special for that someone special.

Bayside logo greenWisconsin’s most romantic man did just that for one woman named Christy, at Bayside Tavern this February during the Fish Creek Winter Festival, 2014. Want the whole story? We thought so…

Dave Foshey, his brothers, close friends and their wives, have been coming up for their annual winter weekend in Door County during the Fish Creek Winter Festival for over fourteen years. For the last seven of those years, Dave brought Christy with him.

JJ and Kristine Johnson Named Door County Entrepreneurs of the Year

POSTED ON April 28th  - POSTED IN Personalities

The Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) announces that JJ and Kristine Johnson, owners of three landmark restaurants in Door County, are the winners of the 7th annual Door County Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

The announcement came this afternoon during the DCEDC annual investors meeting at Stone Harbor Resort & Conference Center in Sturgeon Bay.

J.J.s & La Puerta Restaurant in Sister Bay

J.J.'s & La Puerta Restaurant in Sister Bay

Offering everything from burgers and Mexican cuisine to fine dining, JJ and Kristine Johnson are the owners of JJs/La Puerta and the Waterfront in Sister Bay, and their newest venture, JJ’s of Jacksonport (“Triple J’s”). Over the past thirty years, this year’s award winners have created many successful businesses, including retail t-shirt shops and three busy restaurants in Northern Door County, catering not only to seasonal residents and vacationers, but also to very loyal local Door County patrons.

These entrepreneurs have survived and overcome more than the usual share of obstacles faced by business owners. Just last year, their signature location in Sister Bay suffered a devastating fire that forced them to close the restaurant’s doors for six months. At the same time, they were being challenged by the process of opening their third location.

They employ fifteen people year round in Northern Door, which is significant for an area with a seasonally fluctuating economy. That number historically climbs to between forty and fifty during the busy summer months. The number is likely to go up even more in 2010, as this will be the first summer they will have all three restaurants open for business. They also contribute to the community through quiet but very steady and generous support of a number of local charitable causes.

“It is our pleasure to recognize JJ and Kris with the Entrepreneur of the Year award,” says DCEDC Executive Director Bill Chaudoir. “They have built a strong reputation in Door County, based on their desire to serve people quality food and provide a great environment. Their contributions to our economy and our community are almost incalculable. We wish them nothing but continued success.”

The Entrepreneur of the Year Award celebrates those individuals who have taken the initiative to start and grow a successful small business in Door County. Eligible businesses include those with fewer than 50 employees, exhibiting exciting growth potential and that have at least three years of successful business experience. Last year’s winner was Roger Utnehmer, President and CEO of Nicolet Broadcasting and the radio stations of

The Door County Economic Development Corporation is a public/private partnership dedicated to improving the economic vitality of the county and its residents. Founded in 1989, DCEDC has been successful in helping existing businesses create and retain thousands of jobs through a myriad of programs and initiatives. Additionally, DCEDC places strong emphasis on fostering entrepreneurial instincts in county residents as well as those who vacation on the Door County Peninsula. Door County Economic Development Corporation offices are located within the small business incubator DCEDC founded in 1997 at 185 East Walnut Street in the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park.

She Works Hard for a Living… Welcome Back Debra!

POSTED ON May 18th  - POSTED IN News, Personalities

Here’s reason enough to visit Julie’s Park Cafe in Fish Creek…

For the past 8 summers Debra Hadraba has been bringing her creative spark from St. Paul, Minnesota to Door County to train staff and manage operations at Julie’s Cafe located at the Fish Creek entrance to Peninsula State Park.

“Over the years, I began to ‘work’ more and create less,” she explains. “I let pieces of myself fade away until I didn’t recognize myself anymore. It felt safer than being me. While this may be true, it was painful and lonely. I felt like my spirit was dying. I know what it is like to suffer in silence so am willing to be vulnerable and share my experience, my strength and my hope.”

And she does so at, an emerging Website with links to her vociferous Brave Heart Women blog, a site with almost 3,000 post entries. Not only does she write from her heart, she is an equally dedicated videoblogger. Debra’s Honor Your Truth “Is It True?” Series just logged Episode Fifty-Two, “Peace is the Word,” another crazy, zany performance followed by a very thoughtful, pensive dialogue.

“I am a singer/songwriter/artist. I love to write. I am honoring my truth now and where it will lead me is uncertain and to know it is unnecessary,” Debra says. “As a little girl, I said all I wanted was to help people. I want to do that now in whatever way I am led to, no matter how scary.”

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