Door County has always been home to good restaurants but it seems that many people still associate it with the overrated fish boils and Door County Cherry pie. From the refinement of Whistling Swan to the creative and impressive offerings at Wild Tomato pizza, there are more unique eateries opening every year. Last year saw the opening of yet another one, the Czarnuszka Soup Bar. Located in Ephraim in the Shorewood Village Shops, behind Leroys Coffee, the best place for a cup of joe in the area, Czarnuszka is in a small space and is only open for lunch. I haven’t eaten there yet but a friend told me about the place and raved about the soups. I then discovered that the owner, Paul Wanish, was in one of my favorite bands of the 90′s, Boris the Sprinkler. My interest was piqued.
Boris the Sprinkler, though they have only played one show in almost 10 years, still is probably the band I have seen more than any other. I still remember the first time I saw them. They were opening for another band at the Unicorn in the basement of the Sidney Hih building. This guy gets on stage with a motorcycle helmet that says (in stick-on mailbox letters) geek on one side and punk on the other. Protruding from each side were deer antlers. Then they started to play. They were loud, fast and entertaining as hell. Norb spoke a mile-a-minute like an old school radio announcer in between songs and danced around just as you would imagine someone wearing an antlered motorcycle hemet the words “Geek” and “Punk” on their head would dance. From that point forward I considered them a must-see act and one of my favorite bands. They would play Quarters in Riverwest quite often and whenever touring pop punk bands would come to the Concert Cafe in Green Bay, there was a good chance Boris would be on the bill. Their energetic shows were always a blast and in the 20 plus times I saw them, they never disappointed and often times they upstaged the band they were opening for.
The band broke up as members moved to different areas of the state and pursued other interests. Drummer, Paul Wanish, known to fans as Paul #2 (guitarist Paul Schroeder held the honor of being Paul #1) continued cooking in restaurants around the world including stops in Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Poland. In 2011 after turning 40 he decided to step out on his own and Ephraim’s Czarnuszka Soup Bar was born. There are rumors that Paul still plays the drums under a masked alias but I’ll leave that rumor mongering to others. Paul claims he only helps this famed percussionist in the interview.
Czarnuszka Soup Bar’s Facebook posts grab your attention when you see them. Every morning Paul takes a snapshot of the menu and posts it for all followers to see. Sometimes he even appears in the picture, as shown at the top of this post. Each post us usually accompanied by commentary from Paul. Instead of getting lost in the shuffle of endless Facebook feeds, you take notice. You get a feel for what the restaurant is all about, and you almost feel like you are there. Sure it’s a digital world but our senses are piqued when we see photographs instead of text.
I wanted to chat with Paul because I am always interested in what is happening in Door County from a restaurant perspective and I wanted to talk to him about music too. He graciously agreed to an e-mail interview.
EatWisconsin: So how long have you been working in restaurants?
Paul Wanish: Just about 25 years now. First four years at McDonald’s (which I cringe to recall). Then many years at various restaurants in Door County, three in Milwaukee, and then a few in Las Vegas for a few winters. Now i’m nearing the one year mark for this soup bar, my newest venture.
EW: How did you decide that you wanted to open your own place, and what inspired you to focus on soups?
PW: After many years working for other people I just wanted to start working for more than a paycheck. I wanted to work towards building my own entity, and to be my own boss. I turned 40 just before starting this place and just felt it was time to stick my neck out and throw my ideas out there.
EW: What are some of the soups that you feature? Are these all recipes you created?
PW: Most of my soups are my own recipes, though I don’t really follow written recipes. I immitate other soups I’ve had over the years, trying to make them my own through various twists. My house soup is the Bohemian Potato Chowder, which I discovered as being very popular throughout the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. I make about 5 or 6 Polish mainstays in my own way. Some other popular soups include my Bavarian Pork, Ukrainian Chicken, Fazioli Florentine, Lithuanian Beef, and my new favorite the Sezam Kielbasa (roasted seseme in a kielbasa country chowder).
EW: What role has the use of Facebook and Twitter had in attracting people to your restaurant? I notice that every day you have a photo of your chalkboard showing the soups offered that day.
PW: My menu is four soups and two cold sandwiches every day, though the particular soups and sandwiches change every day. I put the day’s selections up on a chalkboard each morning, take a photo, and then post it on the soupbar Facebook page by about 9 or 9:30am each day. Many locals use this as an easy way to see what’s being served before driving down for lunch. It’s free and works great. It also will sometimes spur a great string of debates concerning the soups or just about anything. I’m not savvy enough to figure out Twitter yet, but that may prove to be helpful in the future.
EW: How did you settle Door County, or more specifically on the Ephraim location?
PW: I started working in Door County the summer of 1990. After college I moved up here full time, then to Milwaukee, then back to DC, then to Poland, then to Milwaukee, then back to DC, then to Las Vegas for two winters, and now with this place I’m finally here to stay in DC for quite a while I assume. Door County is just a great place to always come back to. I remember returning to America with no more than $20 to my name and heading straight to DC. If you don’t mind the hard work, it’s a great place to work a ton and save up money. It’s also a totally interesting, fun, and beautiful place to live. I had worked as a barista for the last 5 years at the nearby Leroy’s coffee shop. That got me familiar with Ephraim and this building in particular. I fell in love with the building and already was totally familiar with the location. It just made sense.
EW: Is Ephraim still holding on to that “only dry municipality in Wisconsin” nonsense? Do you think it hurts the restaurants that serve dinner?
PW: Yeah, Ephraim is still the only dry town in all of Wisconsin. I understand why they keep it that way. It keeps things quiet and quaint, really old-timey. It makes Ephraim special and different. Really, if you want a drink you just have to head in any direction out of town. It’s not too inconvenient. Does it hurt the restaurants? Well, yes to a certain degree. But then again, if you want to serve drinks why would you open a place in a dry town? Besides, just two towns south from here is Egg Harbor, the township with the most liquor licenses per capita in all of Wisconsin, so it all evens out?
EW: It seems like Door County has a pretty decent dining scene nowadays, where else do you like to eat in Door County? Any recommendations?
PW: For sure. My favorite places would be Wild Tomato and Whistling Swan in Fish Creek, Shoreline Restaurant in Gills Rock, JJ’s La Puerta in Sister Bay, AC Tap just north of Baileys Harbor, Husby’s and the Bowl in Sister Bay, PC Junction at Peninsula Center, …uh the list just goes on, really.
EW: What was it like to do that Boris the Sprinkler reunion show at Insubordination Fest in Baltimore a couple years ago?
PW: That was rather unexpected to get the offer, but totally fun to do. It was a nice break from the hectic summer for me to fly out there for four days of rockband practice and a rock show. Hadn’t performed in a band for ten years, so we all felt a little out-of-shape. It was just really great getting to see so many old friends again. It’s somewhat difficult for me to partake in that circuit as much these days, just hard to find the time, though I try when I can.
EW: Have you and the guys ever discussed doing any more reunion shows or was that a one time deal?
PW: No, we discuss it from time to time, and we throw the idea around of recording “just one more album”, but matching schedules can be difficult. Paul #1 is up near Rhinelnader, Ric Six lives in New Jersey, I’m up here, and Norb is holding down the fort in GB. Lately we’ve been emailing soundfiles to each other, exchanging ideas, etc..
EW: Are you in any bands now?
PW: No, not really. I’ve been known to help out the Rhythm Chicken from time to time, roadie duties, transport, etc… but he’s rather sporadic and dicey. You never know where he’ll be or where he WON’T be.
EW: Any new bands (either local or national) catching your interest? Seems like Wisconsin is having a pop punk renaissance with bands like the Jetty Boys, Masked Intruder, Direct Hit!, and Tenement, it almost reminds me of the mid-90s punk scene that centered around what was happening at the Concert Cafe.
PW: I do really like the Jetty Boys, and they always blow me away live when I’m lucky enough to catch them. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Tenement, but haven’t seen or heard them yet. I’m really sort of detached living up here in DC, but I break free from time to time.
EW: Anything else you’d like to add?
PW: If you’re up in DC, stop in and try the soup. I usually have good music going in the shop, and there’s almost always an interesting group of soup cretins in here to bounce your words off of. I love getting music scene people in here and they usually jump at the chance to put a sticker or two on my napkin dispensers and/or cooler. I’m just sayin’.