The New York Times may have discovered Fika, the new cafe at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, but judging from the lunchtime crowd during a recent visit, the locals had first dibs on the museum eatery’s light, Nordic-inspired dishes. Located just off the entrance to the institute’s new Nelson Cultural Center, Fika welcomes hungry visitors with its open, sun-drenched architecture and a handful of soups, salads, open-faced sandwiches, and sweet rolls.
Chef Michael Fitzgerald, who previously cooked at Tilia, Sea Change, and other local hot spots, has crafted a menu of modern Scandinavian fare that offers bright, seasonal tastes and colors, but don’t come expecting to sate yourself on all-you-can-eat Swedish meatballs. In fact, Fika might be best enjoyed the day after a gut-busting Juicy Lucy splurge. With modest portions and not an extraneous ingredient on the plates, Fika’s selections easily could fit even Weight Watchers’ stringent guidelines.
Breakfast offerings are minimal, with just a few varieties of scones and rolls in the bakery case and a daily quiche, along with coffee and espresso drinks. The scones ($2.50) boast a tenderness and flakiness that you’ll never find at a Caribou Coffee. The blueberry flavor is perfectly pleasing, but the ginger packs the most punch, with its gentle flavor lilting through each crumbly bite. The pearl sugar-topped cardamom roll ($3, above) mimics a traditional sweet roll save the nuts and a layer of too-sweet frosting. Clearly, Swedes know that a roll doesn’t need all that topping to be satisfying, though a minute in the oven to warm would make the rolls even more irresistible. The quiche may be a misnomer; the enormous eggy slice combining bacon, tomatoes, and spinach would be more accurately described as a thick baked omelet with a crunchy crust you break off and munch between forkfuls. Though our dish arrived unadorned, other diners enjoyed their quiche with a lightly tossed green salad on top of their slices.
Lunch focuses on salads and smörgås — open-faced sandwiches that offer savory bites of meat or seafood topped with seasonal vegetables. The salmon version ($7.50) stood out for the freshness of the fish — no lingering fishy smell on this sandwich — that paired well with both the sweetness of the beets and the spicy punch of the watercress and mustard dressing. A slice of fragrant rye bread anchors the dish but doesn’t tip it over to the overly carby side. In fact, you’ll have plenty of room to sample one of the vegetable side dishes. The roasted fingerling potatoes ($6.50, pictured at top), however, may not be the best choice, due to their lack of salt and the flatness of the accompanying herb sauce. The salmon roe sprinkled alongside the potatoes adds an off-putting fishiness rather than the necessary salt to the dish. Instead, order the refreshing spelt salad ($5.50, above), with its toothsome grains, cool bites of cucumber, sweet bursts of cherry tomato, and a refreshing swipe of yogurt dressing. If you’ve never tried spelt (and I hadn’t prior to ordering the salad), you might be pleasantly surprised by its nutty flavor and tender texture.
Despite a few service glitches — the young, still-in-training staff told us the quiche was vegetarian, but it had ample splices of bacon underneath its brown crust, for one — Fika is a welcome addition to the American Swedish Institute and to all who crave a good smörgås or cardamom roll once in a while. And with Nordic cuisine experiencing a local renaissance, soon that may be more people than you think.
Nordic-inspired dishes at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis
2600 Park Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
CHEF: Michael Fitzgerald
Tues, Thurs, and Fri 7am-5pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Depends on the day’s soup and salad selections
ENTREE RANGE: $5.50-7.50 for light sandwiches and salads