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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Dining

The enclosed front porch at the Mission Grille is among several dining areas. (PHOTO: Barb Tabak)

In Dining

The garden at the Mission Grille seats 75 for lunch and dinner. (PHOTO: Barb Tabak)

In Dining

An indoor dining nook at the Mission Grille (PHOTO: Barb Tabak)

In Dining

Owners Gary and Mary Ann Guterman have built the Mission Grille into one of the 12 best restaurants in the state, according to Gourmet Magazine. (PHOTO: Barb Tabak)

In Dining

The core structure at the Mission Grille was erected 101 years ago as a Roman Catholic mission church. (PHOTO: Barb Tabak)

On a mission for fine dining in Door County


SISTER BAY – The old saw about a leopard not being able to change its spots does not apply in Door County. Exhibit A is the Mission Grille, the casual fine dining restaurant at the bottom of the hill on Highway 42 leading into this picturesque town.

The core of the building dates back 101 years, when a Roman Catholic mission church, St. Rosalia's, was erected to serve the Door County faithful. It was a plain, utilitarian structure sided with asbestos shingles. There were no stained glass windows.

Gary and Mary Ann Guterman bought the church in 1984 when the St. Rosalia parish moved into a large, full-fledged church up the hill. The Libertyville, Ill., couple, successful sales reps for Adidas, were disenchanted with the urban rat race and were hankering for a change.

Five years later they opened the Mission Grille as a nostalgia-themed family eatery complete with an authentic soda fountain imported from Chicago, a genuine old juke box and an arcade with pinball, shooting and basketball machines. Chicago-style hot dogs, fries and fountain treats were on the menu.

Transformation No. 1.

The business prospered to the point that a physical expansion was necessary. The kitchen had to be enlarged and the front of the building improved to enhance visibility from the street. The Gutermans decided to drastically alter their restaurant's concept without changing its name, and trade its Chicago dogs for Maine lobster bisque ($9) and its soda fountain for an award-winning wine cellar.

The couple took the Mission Grille upscale in 1993. "We gutted the whole inside and started over," Gary Guterman recently said while sitting with his wife in the eatery's inviting garden.

Transformation No. 2.

"We were starting to get increased competition to our concept in Door County, but there was not much fine dining here at the time." Supper clubs with their steak and potato menus held a large share of the dinner trade.

The Gutermans invested heavily in ambience, installing stained glass windows in the building that never had them when it was a church. Extra dining nooks and areas, including an enclosed front porch, were created. Customers can be seated in the choir loft.

A beautiful garden has grown in plantings and patio decorations over the years. It now seats 75; the restaurant accommodates 225 persons indoors.

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Talkbacks

bronco65 | July 21, 2011 at 12:10 a.m. (report)

I think it is amazing to find 3 excellent restaurants in a town the size of Sister Bay. The Mission Grille is our favorite, while inn at Kristofer's and Waterfront are also very good.

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door4life | July 20, 2011 at 4:59 p.m. (report)

My wife and I dine at the Mission Grille 6-8 times a year and always enjoy the food and service. The quality of the entrees and small plates is comparable to that of any high end restaurant in the cities. The wine list is the best in the area with something like 500 or so offerings (all reasonably priced). And the service has been great everytime we have been there. We will contiunue to return and would recommend this restaurant to anyone!

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missyd | July 18, 2011 at 6:42 p.m. (report)

Next time you are in DC skip the Mission Grille and head to Waterfront instead. http://www.jjswaterfront.com/

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olderwiser | July 18, 2011 at 2:35 p.m. (report)

Have dined at the Mission Grill twice. While I agree that the place looks great and has a wonderful back story, the food was very pricey and just OK. You can't eat ambiance. Even our service was not what we expected for the price of each meal. The staff was inattentive to water refills, requests for more bread or butter, another glass of wine. We walked ourselves to the small bar to get a refill on a cocktail when the server did not check on us for at least fifteen minutes. I know that Door County lifestyles are more laid back than what we have come to expect in a larger city, but like another reviewer wrote.... I have decided not to return here. I wish them well and much luck with their business.

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chrsnter | July 18, 2011 at 9:22 a.m. (report)

We ate at the Mission Grille a few years back.The meal was just ok considering the bill came to about $120.00.However they double billed us for it ,this was at the end of September,we didn't get our money back until late June of the next year (made the mistake of paying with a debit card,never again).When we finally recieved our money back (we had to do all the calling and followup,they never initiated anything),they didn't even bother apologizing.Won't be back!

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