At Upton 43, diners benefit — enormously — from chef Erick Harcey’s affectionate sense of nostalgia.
The great-looking Linden Hills restaurant revisits the food Harcey grew up eating at his Swedish grandparents’ table, filtered through the prism of contemporary cooking techniques.
Old-school dishes, such as meatballs, herring, gravlax and lutefisk, are all in the mix, and the results are almost uniformly astonishing. The feedback that Harcey receives — it falls along the lines of, “I’ve never had better” — couldn’t be more accurate.
Those interested in probing the mind of a chef should ask Harcey about foraging and preserving, two major Nordic pastimes that he fully embraces.
“Sure, it’s fun to use fiddleheads and ramps when they’re in season, but it’s even more exciting when they’re preserved, because those flavors can really bring so much more depth to a dish,” he said. “And there are so many cool things you can forage right now.”
That would include spruce tips.
“Put them in a bag, and they smell like lemongrass,” he said. “I’ve got vinegars going with it, and I’m dehydrating some to make spruce salt, which is such a cool seasoning. It will take rich, earthy vegetables in a completely different direction.”
For vegetable-obsessed Harcey, summer’s tomatoes and cucumbers can’t come out of the fields fast enough.
“Both are so prevalent in Sweden, and I love the way they can play off dairy and fruit,” he said. “Tomatoes with strawberries and yogurt is amazing. Add cardamom and green peppercorns, and you can’t imagine how good it is.”
4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., 612-920-3406, upton43.com
Cheap chic, not at Target
If Sweden’s diplomatic corps is on the hunt for a well-spoken culinary ambassador, it could look no further than Fika, the remarkable cafe at the American Swedish Institute.
The kitchen’s greatest skill lies in its ability to simultaneously respect the spirit of Swedish standards while inserting subtle modern twists. Consider its gravlax. The expertly cured salmon is served with all the right components, but along with regulation raw red onion — so crisp, so joltingly pungent — there’s also a soft (and softly sweet) onion jam, a clever juxtaposition of texture and flavor.
The meatballs? Sublime. The baking? Lovely. Service? Hospitable. Scandinavian thrift is also part of Fika’s DNA. Chef John Krattenmaker’s appealing daytime menu (small plates, open-face sandwiches, salads, soups) doesn’t stray above $13. That’s a remarkable exercise in approachability, given the craft and ingenuity on display.
The cafe’s Nordic asceticism is perfectly chic, but during the warm-weather months it’s bested, style-wise, by the stunner of a patio. And consider making a plan for Wednesday evenings, the one night when Krattenmaker serves dinner.
2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-4907, fikacafe.net
Not quite Nordic, but close
Although it started that way when the doors opened in 2011, don’t refer to the Bachelor Farmer as a “Nordic” restaurant.
“We took the word ‘Nordic’ off our website, and I haven’t looked back,” said chef Paul Berglund. “We find more creativity and inspiration from Minnesota, from our northern identity.”
Which sounds, not coincidentally, like the foundation for Nordic cuisine that has swept the world in the past decade, one that’s rooted in the uncomplicated notion of cooking ingredients that are found nearby.
“It’s really about being in a specific locale,” said Berglund. “Oslo. Northern Sweden. Copenhagen. They’re wonderful places to eat. But we’re not in those places. We’re in Minneapolis. Regional identity, having a sense of place, that matters in a world where everything is becoming globalized. It helps us identify what’s special about our community.”
Still, the North Loop restaurant hasn’t walked away from its roots. “I certainly recognize that there are Nordic influences in what we do, and that there probably always will be,” he said.
Cooking techniques that are prevalent throughout Nordic Nation — smoking, fermenting, pickling — play a significant role in Berglund’s cooking.
They’re also reflective of cooking in this region. Berglund, who won the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Midwest award earlier this month, noted that when he moved from California to Minnesota six years ago, he was delighted to discover that a local bookstore’s cookbook section had an enormous array of titles devoted to canning.
“You’ll see that in California because it’s trendy,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure that those books were not there because it’s trendy, but because that’s what you do in Minnesota. You put away vegetables for the cold months. That’s always been part of the fabric of this region, just as it has been in Nordic countries.”
One obvious Nordic thread that remains front and center? Scrupulously conceived smørrebrød — open-faced sandwiches — that anchor the menu of the restaurant’s recently debuted daytime cafe.
Ditto the toasts, those delightful, meant-to-be-shared appetizers that have been a part of the Bachelor Farmer experience since Day 1.
The dish to order at the moment? “Right now we have rainbow trout from Star Prairie, Wisconsin, in our smoker,” he said. “We’re serving it with some pickled cucumbers, Yukon Gold potatoes and Manila clams. I love smoked fish, I always have.”
50 2nd Av. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com
Anoka’s shining star
The intoxicating scent of cardamom hangs in the air at the lovely Swedish Crown Bakery, where Eva Voros Sabet, a native of Malmö, Sweden, and her husband, Fari Sabet, work their considerable magic.
There are sturdy breads (the foundation of a half-dozen sandwiches), but what grabs the eye — and the appetite — are the exquisitely crafted pastries: prettily braided kringle, golden “Twisty” rolls filled with almond paste and flecked with pearl sugar, swirled Danish laced with rhubarb custard. All impress for their tender texture, and the way their sugary bite is spoken in a whisper rather than a shout.
Grab one (or a half-dozen) of the ultra-buttery raisin cookies for the road. And, yes, for anyone living outside Anoka, this place is definitely worth the drive.
530 W. Main St., Anoka, 763-427-0506, swedishcrownbakery.com
The sunny side of the street
Sun Street Breads can’t really be identified as a Nordic bakery, but baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte’s (mostly) Norwegian heritage informs just about everything she does.
“I feel like a Scandinavian baker because I’m from Scandinavia,” she said.
One of the bakery’s bestselling breads — the Bergen — is based on the hearty, everyday homestyle loaf that Tofte fell in love with while spending half a year post-college in Norway, studying weaving.
The other daily reminder of Tofte’s heritage? Frystekake, a lattice-topped shortbread filled with ground almonds, powdered sugar and egg whites (“the holy triumvirate of Norwegian baking,” said Tofte) and flavored with cardamom and rum.
It’s a “super hard-core” recipe straight from Norway — fellow student weaver Lilian Myklebust tutored Tofte on its complexities — and it’s a pastry so glorious that it probably should have its own Instagram account, if it doesn’t already.
When December rolls around, Tofte (her immigrant great-grandparents founded the North Shore town of the same name) really lets loose, turning out ginger cutout cookies, vort limpa rye bread, julekake and other festive favorites.
“It’s because Christmas in Norway is just the best,” she said. “It’s when everybody pulls out all the stops.”
As for the reason why the metro area has so few Nordic dining outlets — particularly given the enormous number of residents with Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic roots — Tofte has a theory, one that’s centered on ubiquity.
“There are enough of us here who grew up with the lutefisk/white food church dinner that it hasn’t captured our imagination,” she said. “To us, it’s not special. Scandinavian food would probably make a killing where it would be viewed as an exotic thing.”
4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3404, sunstreetbreads.com
Dining at Big Blue
Where do staffers at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., dine when they’re homesick? Their local Ikea restaurant. The cafeteria-style setup is famous for its cut-rate prices and an array of Swedish classics: meatballs, smoked salmon, open-faced shrimp sandwiches, pancakes with lingonberry jam, yellow split pea soup, apple cake, sparkling lingonberry-apple sodas and more. Plan ahead for the annual Midsommer Smorgasbord (adults $16.99, ages 12 and under $4.99) coming up June 24.
8000 Ikea Way, Bloomington, 1-888-888-4532, ikea.com