Southern Taste, Northern Place

For carnivores, there is no greater scent than the smell of barbeque, of meats being slowly cooked over low heat produced by real wood. It’s the scent of backyard barbeques, competitive festivals and wildly popular restaurants around the country, with regional favorites from Texas to Kansas City, Memphis to the Carolinas.

These days, Door County residents and visitors passing through Egg Harbor can have their sense of smell delighted by Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse on Highway 42, a familiar Door County landmark that, with new owners, is now serving up authentic Southern-style barbeque right here on the peninsula.

Regan Spangler and Matthew Peterson have been the co-owners of Casey’s since April 2008. They bought the business from Bob Manson, who had run the restaurant as a traditional Wisconsin supper club for more than 20 years. According to old photos the couple found in the building when they took ownership of the business, the structure was built around 1907.

The new owners wanted to create a fresh identity for the restaurant, while not alienating long-time loyal patrons. “We may have changed the menu to feature our BBQ beef brisket, ribs, smoked chicken and smoked sausage, brisket chili, and specialty sandwiches,” they write on their website, “but we are still serving some of the old favorites, along with a Friday night perch fry and daily specials. We offer the famous ‘Ruby Burger Special,’ broiled steaks, Lake Michigan whitefish and whitefish chowder, homemade Mac-N-Cheese and more.”

The “new” Casey’s is proudly announced by the large metal smokehouse Spangler and Peterson installed in the small parking area immediately north of the building. The gleaming steel cube, with delicious smoke wafting from the chimney, is where the new Casey’s gives traditional barbeque a Door County twist.

“We smoke all our meats slowly in our smokehouse with Door County cherry wood, with our signature secret dry rub,” said Spangler. This cooking method results in a sweet light pink or rosy cast in the meat – the true sign of real barbeque that aficionados look for.

Peterson originally bought the smoker for his own personal use. He is an avid outdoorsman and hunter and wanted to cook and preserve the meat he was bringing home. He also thought that he might eventually start offering barbeque at his other restaurant, Pelletier’s, in Fish Creek. Peterson and Spangler have owned that business since 2002.

Peterson eventually reconsidered his original idea. “I didn’t want to compete with ourselves” by offering barbeque, he said. Pelletier’s is very well known for its traditional Door County fish boils, and Peterson thought that adding another special might detract from that.

Regan Spangler has been a Door County resident for 25 years and Matthew Peterson is a Door County native whose dad owns the Viking Grill in Ellison Bay. They bring a tremendous amount of past experience in the restaurant business to both Casey’s and Pelletier’s. Getting their second business off the ground certainly hasn’t been easy, but Peterson and Spangler were pleased that Casey’s really took off in 2009 and did better than their first year.

With all they have on their plates right now, Peterson and Spangler don’t have any plans to enlarge their restaurant empire at this point, but they do have some brand extensions in their future. Beginning in fall 2009, they will be bottling and selling their homemade Casey’s barbeque sauce.

Peterson and Spangler are certainly challenged splitting time between their two successful business ventures, but they especially cite the great staff at Casey’s for helping to make the arrangement work for everyone, especially their happy customers.

Steve Tanck is the pit boss and chef at Casey’s. Tanck, also a Door County native, has traveled far in his pursuit of the perfect barbeque, and worked in Texas and southern Illinois before Peterson and Spangler lured him back home. Tanck even spent time making the rounds on the competitive barbeque festival circuit. His shredded barbeque beef brisket chili took first place at the Chili Cook-off held during the 2009 Fish Creek Winter Festival.

Tanck, Spangler and Peterson have created a menu that preserves the Wisconsin supper club items while also providing a full barbeque menu. Big sellers from the Casey’s barbeque menu include their baby back ribs and the Texas-style beef brisket. Peterson also highlighted the smoked prime rib special on Saturday nights. “Every time Steve makes a special, Regan says it has to go on the menu,” says Peterson. For lunch, diners are typically drawn to the smoked prime rib and pulled pork sandwiches – and of course, the award-winning chili.

Besides barbeque, Peterson says their Friday fish fry has been a very popular draw, especially for Door County locals. The menu also contains a few interesting takes on traditional items. The BBQ Quesadilla creates a Tex-Mex delight by incorporating barbecued chicken, brisket or pork into the familiar tortilla and cheese appetizer. Casey’s Pig Skins are potato skins stuffed with barbecued pork, sauce and melted cheese. Food is served in both the cozy wood paneled bar area and the small adjacent dining room.

Next time you pass through Egg Harbor and have a taste for authentic barbeque with a hint of Door County, look up for the “Lowenbrau” sign hanging from the front of the building, or keep your eye out for Chopper, the life-sized bronze pig sculpture standing guard at the entrance to the restaurant. Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse is open Wednesday through Saturday during the winter months and seven days a week during the summer season.

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