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A Swedish Smorgasbord

Pick up everything from meatballs to almond cake in Andersonville, aka Little Sweden.
Monday May 28, 2007.     By Anna Pulley
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Anna Pulley, pictured: Swedish Bakery
Sure, you've shopped at IKEA and you probably remember the pop stylings of ABBA or Ace of Base. But what do we really know about Swedish culture outside of mass-produced furniture and the lovable Swedish Chef from The Muppets? Thankfully, Chicago's burgeoning Swedish neighborhood is alive and thriving. Look no further than Andersonville to uncover the culinary riches that have been satisfying Chicagoans for close to a century.

Go for great balls of...meat at Svea
Easily the best-known Swedish dish, meatballs (aka kottbullar) appear on the menu at nearly every IKEA cafeteria around the world. Svea's hearty version is a simple mix of ground beef, breadcrumbs and finely chopped onions. If you're looking to mix it up, order panbiff med lok, a meatball patty dish served with grilled onions, Swedish-style potatoes (spiced with paprika) and thick gravy, or the smorgasas, open-face sandwiches that come with Gottenburg sausage, hardboiled eggs and anchovies. For those who want to get their cholesterol on, try the Three Crown Special, which packs a swashbuckling blow with meatballs and gravy, a tangy salt pork and Swedish brown beans, a regional side dish must-have. Prepare to have your appetite plundered.

photo: Anna Pulley
Bite into sin-sational cinnamon buns at Ann Sather
Playful blue murals from owner Debbie Hunt's wedding line the walls of this raucous Andersonville breakfast staple. Bring your Viking appetite and your sweet tooth for Ann Sather's signature Swedish pancakes, which come crepe-thin and topped with pleasantly tart lingonberries (think miniature cranberries). Of course, nothing beats Ann Sather's cinnamon roll, also called a kanelbulle. Oooey, gooey and chewy, it's the Mother Theresa of the bun world, the gift that keeps on giving.

Find cakes and cookies worth the dough at the Swedish Bakery
Practically a local celebrity, the Swedish Bakery has folks corralling in its smallish storefront like stock traders, eager to sample the special occasion cakes and painstakingly-crafted cookies and pastries. You'd have to be nuts not to go crazy for the toska bitar, shortdough-based almond cake with sliced caramelized almonds, or the biskvier, macaroons made with rich butter cream and dipped in milk chocolate. You'll melt over the slices of succulent chocolate ganache, bittersweet chocolate fudge cakes layered with mousse and raspberry filling. The Pink Triangle, a triangular wedge of almond cake layered with raspberry and dipped in pink marzipan and dark chocolate, gives a nod to the gayborhood locals. Sweets cost slightly more than average, but they're well worth the extra dough.

photo: Anna Pulley, pictured: Erickson's

Pick up your meat and cheese at Erickson's Delicatessen
The blue and yellow awning above Erickson's Delicatessen proclaims "Everything for the Smorgasbord." And this place means everything. The impressive selection of imported Scandinavian goods can leave you a bit overwhelmed at first, but the mom-and-daughter duo running the show will answer any questions you have about the knackebrods (crisp breads), soups, sauces, candies and specialty foodstuffs from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Don't miss the deli meats—Gottenborg Summer Sausage, Westphalian smoked ham and gravlax-marinated, dill-flavored salmon. You know where to head come June's Midsomer Fest.

Pair coffee and cardamom braids at Wikstrom's Gourmet Foods
Considering that Swedes are the second largest coffee consumers per capita in the world, it's no surprise that this Swedish deli and catering business has some of the best coffee around. The place is in the middle of relocating a few steps from its original space, but when it does, order a cup of Arvid Nordquist or Zoega before picking through the cooler stocked with imported cheeses, including Norvegia, Jarlsberg, Prastost, Graddost, Danbo, Vasterbotten, Gjetost and Herrgardsost. You'll also find spreads sweet and savory spreads— mushroom, ham, shrimp, cheese and lingonberry—plus preserves, juice mixes (like elderberry flower), baking spices, pudding mixes, knackebrod (crisp rye bread), limpa (soft rye), Wasa crisp breads, flatbreads, cookies and crackers. Watch out for addictive pastries like the Danish kringles and almond paste-filled cardamom braids.


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