Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Swedish Cultural Center Kafé – Westlake, Seattle

Posted on: Tuesday 14 June 2011

Mr S dreads shopping at IKEA. He dislikes the maze layout and the nonsensical product names. The entire IKEA experience bewilders him – from the forced march on the narrow path from entrance to market place, to the aisles of flat packs in the warehouse for self-assembly. He is at his wit’s end by the time we navigate to the cashier, ropeable that we have to wrap breakables ourselves and pay for delivery. He has many excuses at the ready to avoid IKEA, but he can sometimes be lured by Swedish meatballs.

I didn’t know that Seattle had a large Scandinavian population until I moved here. The Swedish Cultural Center was founded in 1892 and has a thriving events calendar open to one and all. There are film screenings, folk dancing, language classes and cultural celebrations. For food lovers, there are Swedish pancakes on the first Sunday of each month, and lunch and happy hour on Fridays. Last week I traipsed up Dexter Avenue North for lunch at their kafé.

The Swedish Cultural Center is an imposing concrete building, brightened by the regal logo and Swedish national colours. The foyer is sparsely furnished with display cabinets of Swedish collectables, but not an Allen key in sight.

Lunch is served upstairs in the Crown Room, a corner space with a view of Lake Union and serviced by a full bar.

Chef Ann-Margret Lightle greets each patron at a mini buffet table by the door. On the menu were open face sandwiches (smörgås), Swedish meatballs with potatoes, gravy, lingonberry jam and Swedish crisp bread (köttbullar med potatis, sås, lingonsylt och knäckebröd), fruit torte (frukttårta) with vanilla custard and whipped cream and princess cake (prinsesstårta).

Open face sandwiches and cakes filled the refrigerated shelves but the smell of meatballs was enticing. Hand shaped and pan fried, the meatballs were swimming in a pool of gravy and a generous ladle of lingonberry jam. The spheres of minced meat were well seasoned with herbs and spices, and each chunk was swirled in the creamy brown sauce to maximise the flavour combination.

Broken into shards, the rye bread was crunchy, and sturdy enough to scoop up the leftover condiments. Equally, the sole purpose of the potatoes was to mop up the delicious mixture of gravy and lingonberry jam.

After a hearty meal of meatballs, I decided to order the princess cake to take home to share with Mr S. I was astonished that the two gentlemen at the table next to me ate all their meatballs and desserts, with not a drop of gravy or a smear of cream left on their plates! Ann-Margret slid the slice of princess cake gently into a large plastic container. It was an awkward walk home, trying to minimise movement for the wobbling cake.

To my distress, the cake was tipped on the side when I arrived home. Thankfully, the marzipan held the prinsesstårta together and it was still pretty and presentable. Despite the layers of cream and custard, the cake was light and fluffy, sweetened by a spread of jam.

I will have to return with Mr S for happy hour, as a bribe for IKEA!

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