The Bachelor Farmer's second floor private dining space, the afgan room.
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Nordic Roots

Carla Waldemar - July/August 2013

Minneapolis—Minnesota is peopled by the offspring of hardy Swedish immigrants, but until recently, Ole and Lena savored their lingonberries and meatballs only at the kitchen table. Despite the Minneapolis’ proud Nordic heritage, there was nary a Swedish restaurant to be found. (True, Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson once helmed an outpost of Aquavit, but, while critics ate it up, locals couldn’t relate to treats like gravlax in mini ice cream cones.)

In recent days, however, not one but three adventurous Scando-forward cafes have blossomed, fulfilling travelers’ cravings for food of Minnesota’s heritage and thrilling residents alike. The Bachelor Farmer, named for Garrison Keillor’s iconic hero of his radio monologue and owned by sons of Minnesota’s governor, flourishes in the gentrifying Warehouse District in a setting that channels IKEA. Starters include toasts topped with fresh cow’s milk cheese, salt-roasted beets, cucumbers and smoked mullet roe, or smoked and marinated chicken with fermented radishes, red onions, capers, and aïoli. Continue with duck meatballs or grilled and braised rabbit, served with roasted scarlet turnips and pickled pole beans. And save room for kladdkaka cake with rice pudding ice cream.

Prairie Kitchen is the showcase farm-to-table dining room in downtown’s newly refurbished Hyatt Hotel, where guests can sip cocktails such as the Honey Crisp (local cider and vodka) while savoring cured salmon and fingerlings kissed with dill, or a goat’s milk cheese and lingonberry tart. The kitchen’s veal meatballs come garbed in a rich mushroom cream sauce, far better than granny’s. Chicken is scented with cardamom, while smoked trout cakes are brightened with radish slices and mustard sauce. For dessert, tiny vanilla-scented pancakes arrive laden with bananas sautéed in aquavit.

The Swedish Institute—a venerable mansion-turned-museum-cum-gathering place—debuted a stylish new addition last summer, whose prime tenant is FIKA—meaning coffee break with sweet treats—a locally launched cafe (no relation to the New York City cafes of the same name), whose forté is a cadre of open-faced sandwiches—think Esrom cheese with pickled pears, or salmon with watercress, beets, tarragon, and sweet mustard. Salads salute partnerings such as Bibb with Vasterbotten cheese, beets, and arugula, while mussels are paired with sauerkraut, smoked pork, and beer. Most popular? Those juniper-scented meatballs with mashed potatoes, cucumbers, and lingonberries, And don’t forget those buttery cookies. Good as grandma’s? Ya, you betcha.