Nordic design, food and ways of living a cozier life have taken hold in a big way in recent years, whether you’re talking Marimekko for Target, the concept of hygge, or the Konditori on every corner in Brooklyn. Swedes, Danes and Norwegians, and their food and culture though, have all been part of the fabric of New York for much longer than the clog boot craze, of course. Here’s where to get authentic Danish danishes, intense Swedish licorice, bright housewares and even a Scandinavian folk dancing lesson.
Leske’s Bakery If you’re truly going to embark on a Scandinavian tour of New York, then you must begin in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In 1970, Bay Ridge’s 30,000 Norwegian residents made it the fourth largest Norwegian city in the world. Nowadays, only a few vestiges of this Scandinavian-centric moment remain, the most delicious one being Leske’s Bakery. With a home on Fifth Avenue since 1961, Leske’s is the go-to neighborhood bakery (particularly for their made-to-order cakes). The no-frills shop offers Nordic delicacies like kringles (a pretzel pastry often filled with fruit and topped with icing) and a variety of danishes, as well as New York staples like black and white cookies, flaky donuts, fruit tarts, cheesecake, and freshly baked loaves of bread. (We can vouch for their pretzel rolls and tea biscuits topped with raisins and sweet icing.) Get to Leske’s as early as possible for the best selection, and then head over to Narrows Botanical Gardens to eat your baked goods on a bench.
TØRST Co-owned by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø (the man behind the Danish brewery Evil Twin), TØRST is a dimly lit, richly wood-paneled haven for beer lovers and experimentalists alike. Equipped with over 20 beers on tap as well as a custom-built draft system, the unassuming Greenpoint establishment retains an easy-going atmosphere (the names of beers are scribbled on one long mirror behind the bar) while treating customers to first-rate sips and tastes. The bar menu features smoked whitefish, fingerling potatoes with smoked trout, and a confited duck sandwich with pickled cucumber, but even a simple order of rye bread with butter is absolutely delightful (especially when washed down with a Grape Swisher, a brown ale brewed with oak wheat and concord grapes). If you’re feeling fancy, you can make a reservation for the highly lauded restaurant Luksus, located in the back room of TØRST. This Michelin starred restaurant offers tasting and pairing selections, and while a menu isn’t available online, we’ve heard whisperings of dishes like lamb belly, sweet cumin crumble, and rhubarb mousse with intermittent palate-cleansing sorbets, all prepared by chef Daniel Burns.
Scandia New York If you’re lounging around on a Wednesday night and suddenly find yourself with an all-consuming desire to folk dance (and to meet some of the nicest people in New York City), look no further than Scandia’s Wednesday evening dance sessions. Run by a group of close friends who have been practicing Swedish and Norwegian folk dance together for over 20 years, the sessions are open to even the most novice of the novice. Arrive at 7pm for beginner instruction, 7:45pm for a group class, and 8:30pm for an open dance session. Before you know it’ll you be whisked into a schottis (a merry Swedish partner dance) with a friendly stranger as the New York Spelmanslag band plays beautiful polskas on fiddles and nyckelharpas in the middle of the room. Make sure to catch your breath for some macaroons and conversation with the wonderful members of Scandia New York—they’ve got quite a few stories to share of travel, of culture and of friendship.
Sockerbit Who knew the West Village was hiding a sleek little utopia full of smågodis (Swedish candies)? Sockerbit, a unique candy store dedicated to the Swedish culture of tasty licorice varieties that are GMO and trans-fat free, has got a little something for every palate (particularly the adventurous ones). Sort through colorful bins of lakrifun (sweet and minty licorice chalk), mini stekta ägg (citrus flavored gummies), mandelägg (oven roasted almonds covered in chocolate and a candied exterior), and salta salmiak pastiler (very, very salty licorice that’s not…for everyone). If licorice isn’t quite your cup of tea, browse Sockerbit’s shelves for imported Swedish canned and packaged goods like jams, pancake mix, chocolate, pickles, honey, and even dishware.
Flying Tiger Speaking of dishware…Ikea who? Flying Tiger is a fun, affordable Danish design store with locations in both Union Square and the Upper East Side. Whether you need quirky kitchen tins (and you always need quirky kitchen tins), funky, brightly designed notebooks, strawberry shaped ear buds, or iPhone cases that look like storybook covers, you’ll find them all at Flying Tiger.
Scandinavia House Further uptown on Park Avenue you’ll find New York’s definitive Nordic center of culture, home to the American-Scandinavia Foundation. Scandinavia House has a book club, film, and reading series, as well as a restaurant, an art gallery, and a playing and learning center for toddlers and their families. If your date night ideas are going sour, look no further than Scandinavia House’s dinner and a movie special—for $33 a person you can pair the latest in Nordic cinema with a prix-fixe two course dinner special from Smörgås Chef, with Swedish meatballs and open-faced sandwiches loaded with dill and house-cured salmon. Scandinavia House’s art gallery is a must-see as well. Their latest exhibit, Another North: Landscape Reimagined, combines photographic and video works from a group of contemporary Nordic artists whose work centers around reimagining the majesties and mysteries of landscapes. The exhibit runs through August 8, 2016.
Claus Meyer Culinary icon Claus Meyer (of Noma fame) has long set his sights on New York, and this year his projects are finally coming to fruition. In a few months time he’ll open Meyer’s Bageri in what is now Williamsburg’s Margot Patisserie. The bakery will specialize in delectable rye breads, kanelsnurre (cinnamon swirls), buns, and tebirke (poppy seed Danishes). Can’t contain your excitement until the Bageri opens? In the meantime, you can swing by Margot Patisserie at 9am on Saturday mornings to get your hands on some limited, freshly prepared Meyer goods before supplies for the day run out. And if a Claus Meyer bakery isn’t enough to satisfy your desire for Nordic cuisine, Meyer is expected to open the Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central this June. The food hall is set to operate on a rotating basis: through out the day it’ll offer selections of sweet and savory porridges, vegetable driven small bites, an expansive selection in-house bread and pastries, as well as inventive varieties of smørrebrøds.
Búðin A few stones away from Greenpoint’s TØRST is their friendly neighbor Búðin, an establishment that’s part coffee shop, part design store, part bar, and all parts Nordic. While the shop teems with laptops and families on a sunny Saturday afternoon, on a quiet Thursday evening you’re free to spend time nursing your thoughts with candlelight, your drink of choice (they were internet famous for a few minutes for their $10 lakkris latte), and an excellent musical playlist. Búðin has a warm, open design, with its blue and cream colored walls and elongated wooden tables, that suits its many concepts. Browse through ceramics, records, custom-made pancake pans and cookbooks (all selections from Nordic artisans carefully curated by the owners), while you wait for your latte. In the evenings, order up To Øl’s Nordic by Nature IPA and enjoy it on Búðin’s outdoor patio.