The Leif Erikson Lodge on NW 56th Street, home to the Sons of Norway, is next to the aptly named Viking Bank. One of its founders, Kaare Ness, is a Norwegian fisherman turned seafood industry baron. A Viking warship is part of the bank’s logo.
Seven blocks away, the Copper Gate restaurant serves cocktails and Norwegian-style appetizers on a bar fashioned after a traditional Viking boat. A short distance to the west, the Nordic Heritage Museum houses actual Nordic artifacts.
Seattle’s Norwegian heritage is well-known and evident in the names of the city’s stores, institutions, buildings, parks, streets and benefactors. Its people, whether actually Scandinavian or not, are said to possess that Fjordian personality: austere, practical, passive-aggressive, predisposed to inconspicuous behavior. If Norwegian Seattle still has a civic and emotional center, it is Ballard, host every May 17 to a parade that celebrates Constitution Day, Norway’s version of Independence Day.
But if you want to eat Norwegian food in Ballard — the Ikea cafeteria in Tukwila is a mere approximation — your options are thin and fading. Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods closed last summer like Scandie’s restaurant years before. A few weeks ago, the Scandinavian Bakery on 15th Avenue Northwest, known for its marzipan cakes and cardamom braids, also closed. The authenticity of the food at Copper Gate can be debated; it is gracefully executed and fairly true to form with dishes like pickled herring and meatballs with lingonberries, but it is intended more to entice Americans who have never eaten Norwegian food before, than to satisfy someone who grew up eating it at home.
For that audience, there is perhaps just one place left, Scandinavian Specialties, at Northwest 67th Street and 15th Avenue Northwest. Co-owner Anne-Lise Berger, 60, grew up near Oslo and moved to Seattle in 1977 because she fell in love with an American pen pal, with whom she spent five years traveling around the world. The two married, had a son, and divorced.
Her son Bjorn Ruud, 28, also works at the store. Born in Seattle, raised in Ballard, he speaks Norwegian. Trained to run the store, he is more interested in being a musician and plans to live in New York for a while.
Scandinavian Specialties (originally a sausage shop, it was started in 1962 by a Norwegian butcher) is a store and café, the last of its kind in Ballard, and maybe the last place in town you can be served traditional Norwegian food, albeit from a very limited menu. Two years ago, Berger abandoned a full menu because demand for hot food was so low. The café, which closes at 5:30 p.m., serves cakes, pastries, soup and open-faced sandwiches.
“Maybe there is room for just one Norwegian store in Seattle,” said Berger, the store’s third owner.
Most of the floor space in the converted tire shop — the original store was farther north — is devoted to selling things: books; cookware, including a canvas pastry board used to make lefse, the traditional Norwegian potato bread; gift-shop items like sweaters, clogs, joke books, hand towels, jewelry, figurines, key chains, and CDs; and a full assortment of Scandinavian groceries. There are seasonings, baking mixes, candy — Norwegians are especially fond of licorice, both sweet and salty — and an infinite variety of herring: plain, herring in mustard sauce, herring in garlic sauce or sour cream, with fish eggs or with dill. Norwegians traditionally eat substantially more seafood than meat. Fruit (apart from lingonberry) and green leafy vegetables are noticeably absent from the cuisine; cabbage and root vegetables are what thrive in the country’s short growing season.
The real treasure at Scandinavian Specialties is in the store’s freezer case, where traditional foods made on premises are kept. The store employs a Norwegian-American woman who makes various sausages (veal, pork, blood, potato), meatballs, fish cake (made with snapper and deep fried), pickled and salted herring, liver pate, head cheese (made from lamb and pork), salted lamb, potato balls, yellow pea soup (made with whole, not split peas), and a sour-cream porridge called rommegrot, a traditional Norwegian farm dish.
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