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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, July 25

Gapers Block

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I have put off reviewing Svea for weeks now.

It's not that I didn't have anything worthwhile to say about the tiny Andersonville spot nor that I had a difficult time cranking out some 800 words about the Swedish cuisine -- not at all. It was simply because I have been there hundreds of times, yet have ordered only one thing: the Swedish pancakes. I dreaded ordering anything else.

I could write pages expounding on the virtues of Svea's most popular breakfast dish. Whereas the words "thin" and "delicate" are usually used to describe the average Swedish pancake, let me assure you, there is nothing delicate about Svea's version.

Two spongy pancakes are griddled to a golden brown, folded together in half, and topped with an artery-clogging amount of butter and powered sugar. The pancakes may at first look small given that they are folded over in such a way, but once you get about halfway done, you realize just how deceptive this presentation is. A tiny container of purple lingonberries is the perfect accompaniment to the chewy batter ensemble -- I guarantee that by the end of the meal, you will be licking the bottom of the container clean trying to sop up every last drop of the tangy sauce. This sweet combo of dough and berries (all for only $4.30) paired with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a strong cup of coffee could define your weekend morning routine for a long, long time.

But I would feel like less of a restaurant reviewer if I didn't present my readers with at least a semi-thorough analysis of Svea's other offerings. So one blustery Sunday morning, my friend and I traipsed through the snow up to Svea with my heart (and stomach) set on tasting the more nontraditional breakfast items.

On most visits, I don't even bother with looking at the menu, so my regular server was a little taken aback when I asked for one. My eyes immediately were drawn to The Svea Special, my usual, and my stomach rumbled in agreement, but I ignored my cravings. I thought about ordering The Swedish Tease (one Swedish pancake, two eggs, and bacon or sausage links) or even the whopping Viking Breakfast (two eggs, two Swedish pancakes, Swedish-style fried potatoes, Swedish Falukorv sausage, and toast -- all for $8.30), but I knew that since each included a Swedish pancake, I wouldn't be able to focus on the other elements of the dish. (My server, meanwhile, had returned twice asking for my order and seemed flustered that I was considering other options.)

I ended up (begrudgingly) settling for one of the many varieties of omelets listed on the left side of the menu. The egg, ham, onions, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese concoction shared the plate with a pile of fried Swedish potatoes. Upon tasting this completely new dish I came to a startling conclusion -- the grease that was so deliciously disguised in the Swedish pancakes, stuck out like a sore thumb in all aspects of the omelet dish. My taste buds were duly impressed, but hours later my stomach still struggled to handle the grease fest I ingested.

In fact, no one was safe from the grease. I had a few bites of my friend's French Toast (served "Viking style," which apparently means bigger bread than the plain French Toast). Thick slices of Texas toast were cooked in "Viking proportions" of grease and sprinkled with powered sugar. Despite the oil factor, this dish actually had a good flavor especially when accented with maple syrup -- not exactly a traditional (or healthy) Swedish delight, but tasty comfort food just the same.

Svea also has a plethora of dinner options that I have not yet tried -- nor will I ever. These include the Swedish meatball platter, the cold egg and anchovies open-faced sandwich, and the fried beef liver. I have had my fill of exploring the menu and am content to confidently recommend Svea as having the best Swedish pancakes in the city.

In fact, the cheery, tiny dining room (which seats only about 30-40 people) decorated in a country kitchen kind of way and the somewhat bipolar staff (sometimes they are thrilled to see you, other times they seem eager to push you out the doors to make room for more customers), make Svea a delightful, yet quirky place to spend a morning. Pull up a stool at the counter, sip a hot cup of coffee with cream, but don't hold me responsible if you order anything other than the Swedish pancakes.

Svea is located at 5236 N. Clark St. It is cash only.

GB store


Luke / January 5, 2004 12:14 AM

But what of the lutefisk?

dce / January 5, 2004 7:59 AM

Being 50% Swedish, and a native of Andersonville, I'm compelled to point out that Svea - despite the yellow and blue storefront - isn't particularly Swedish. Same goes for Ann Sather's across the street.

Should you find yourself in Stockholm, I promise that you'll not see Swedes dining on "Viking" french toast. You're far more likely to see some pickled herring, hard tack, smoked salmon, and a bit of cheese.

All of which can be had at Wikström's and/or Erickson's Scandinavian delicatessen mere steps away from Svea. That's where you'll find some decent Lutefisk (though as I'm only half a Swede, I can't stand the stuff).

sandor / January 5, 2004 11:00 AM

I thought that was you I spotted in the corner of Svea yesterday morning. I should have figured it was, researching a Drive-In review. Anyway, I suffer from the same problem every time I go to Svea -- why order anything other than the sublime Swedish Pancakes? With a side of Swedish Sausage, of course.

If you're looking for Swedish breakfasts that go a little further in variety and style, try Tre Kronor on west Foster. It never fails to impress. (Though I can't vouch for its Swedishness, being only 1/128 Swedish myself.)

Luke / January 5, 2004 11:09 AM

Here, BTW, is Clay Shirky's amusing ode to lutefisk, if anyone is wondering what the big deal is. "If you can taste the difference between caviar on a cracker and ketchup on a Kit-Kat while blindfolded, you have not had enough aquavit to be ready for lutefisk."

suzanne / January 5, 2004 5:30 PM

what is hard tack?

dce / January 5, 2004 7:25 PM

Should have explained that better.

Hard tack is one of any variety of hard, crunchy wheat cracker. As it keeps well for long periods of time, it was often a staple of soldiers - in the civil war especially.

But they don't use that term in Sweden, it's just what my old man always used to call it. For our purposes, just think of Wasa crisp bread.

suzanne / January 5, 2004 9:03 PM

oh,yeah,ok got it!
thanks fo' explaining.....

popup / July 16, 2004 9:11 PM

Was browsing Google and found your site, enjoyed the reading, thanks


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