What is it about a place that makes visitors feel at home the moment they arrive? Those entering the doors of The Whistling Swan Inn and Restaurant in Fish Creek may well be able to answer that question.
The elegant and understated décor evokes a sense of the building’s heritage, while subtle, neutral colors play against rich woodwork and historic black and white photos of Fish Creek. The coziness of a wood-burning fireplace welcomes guests and illuminates the dining room just beyond a set of French doors. The scene is sophisticated but the feeling is one of approachability and comfort. Gentle, eclectic music selections contribute to the calming mood.
None of this is by accident. Owner Bill Tressler explains the thoughtful approach behind the inn and restaurant’s redesign and hospitality. The vision was built upon the successful experience that Bill and his wife, Michelle, have had with their restaurant in Green Bay, The Hinterland Brewery. According to Tressler, however, they recognized that their venue in Door County required a slightly different approach. Says Tressler, “People here are in a different mindset and they are looking for an atmosphere that is noticeably different from what they can find elsewhere. Knowing that, our goal was to provide intimate surroundings, centered around relaxation, where guests can just settle in and enjoy a good meal.”
Although located in the heart of Fish Creek, The Whistling Swan has no problem transcending the bustling downtown atmosphere. From a window seat on the second-story porch dining area, diners can sit back and take a deep breath while gazing down on Main Street, with a satisfied sense that they are simply watching the busy world go by.
The menu is consistent with the themes of accessibility and understated elegance. As described by Tressler, items have been carefully selected to be straightforward in their presentation, but done exceptionally well. “We focus on highlighting just a few flavors and then let the food speak for itself,” says Tressler. “We want our menu to be approachable… something that doesn’t require the diner to concentrate on every item, but just embrace the spirit of relaxation and enjoy.”
Apparently their guests agree. Recent out-of-town visitors, Bill Hartzel and Angela Ziehmke, described the restaurant as “without pretense” and “offering big city quality in a small town setting.” In short, “sophisticated food in a comfortable environment.”
Chef Adam Schierl, currently beginning his third season at the restaurant, helps define the selections. As he explains, “We use a lot of different flavors, but basically we are just trying to make it spot on, with nothing too crazy or technical.” His personal favorites include the Maple leaf farms duck breast with chickpea, snow pea and roasted parsnip sauté, carrot-ginger puree and soy syrup and also the Grilled Certified Angus Beef® flat iron steak with balsamic red onion, arugula with pancetta croutons, shaved parmesan and horseradish vinaigrette. Consistent customer favorites include the andouille encrusted snapper with mashed potatoes, julienene vegetables, chive aioli and red hot butter sauce as well as the caramelized apple stuffed royal Berkshire pork chop with Nueske’s® smoked bacon, spinach and pearl onion sauté, roasted fingerling potatoes and gruyere cream sauce.
The menu is printed daily to reflect new offerings or variations in the main entrée accompaniments. When possible, locally-grown produce is integrated into the menu. In past seasons, Schierl has included greens, summer vegetables, zucchini, berries and other fruits grown on Door County farms. “The fun part is getting in a fresh item and figuring out what to do with it,” says Schierl.
To highlight the flavors, The Whistling Swan staff seeks out wines to complement the dining selections. Rather than peppering the menu with showy high-priced vintages, Tressler is committed to finding “smart” selections at the mid-range price point, delivering excellent value in a range of options. Beer drinkers will be delighted to sample the unique brews available on tap from Hinterland, the Green Bay microbrewery and sister company to The Whistling Swan.
While the food alone could define the experience, it is the gracious staff which differentiates this setting and completes the comfortable ambiance. Manager Scott Zimmerman sets the tone by greeting every guest with a warm smile. Visitors don’t feel stressed out in this establishment and neither do their servers. Each of The Whistling Swan representatives displays a down-to-earth style, refreshing for an otherwise upscale environment. Explains Tressler, “We’ve specifically chosen to hire people who convey a feeling of welcomeness. When people come to see us we want them to feel that they are on vacation. We offer excellent service, without a backdrop of urgency.”
Schierl comments, “Noting the white tablecloths, some guests may have a preconceived notion of what this place is all about, but once they sit down and meet their server a lot of that flies right out the window.” Ultimately, it is the staff that defines this locale’s personality. It is therefore not surprising to learn that camaraderie is what makes Schierl’s work so satisfying. “The staff is terrific – one of a kind. I’m able to work with my best friends, which is always a good thing.”
Owners Bill and Michelle Tressler gained inspiration for The Whistling Swan while traveling through Ireland’s countryside in the year before taking ownership. To guide their journey, they followed a map featuring Irish country inns with up-and-coming chefs. Bill and Michelle visited numerous establishments, many run by families or young couples. Says Tressler, “Each experience was unique in so many ways, but what we found consistently was great dinners followed by engaging conversation. Again and again, we would connect with two or three employees of these inns, and ultimately find ourselves enjoying a glass of wine with them and talking halfway through the night.”
It is therefore heartwarming when they see the same story played out at their own establishment. “At the end of the night, it seems there are always a few customers that tend to linger, engaged in conversation with the staff.” Tressler continues, “Sometimes the group moves to the seating area around the fireplace. Inevitably the guitars come out and before you know it we have a sing-along.”
Over the past five years, the Tresslers have thoroughly enjoyed growing their business in Door County. They consider it a constantly unfolding process. Says Tressler, it is “a constant two-way conversation with our customers…listening to what they want so the business can evolve. It is never really done, never in the final stage, always changing.”