Despite Ballard's historical link to Scandinavia, there's a lack of Scandinavian restaurants in the neighborhood. Recognizing this, Old Ballard Liquor Company has opened a cafe inside its distillery facility on Shilshole Ave NW. The concept is intended to be a more casual complement to the popular Tumble Swede pop-up held by the distillery's owners every few months.
"The menu is focused on lesser-known traditional Scandinavian meals alongside contemporary Nordic dishes (meaning no stereotypical meals like meatballs or lefse), both with a focus on Aquavit pairings and quality, fresh, local produce," says Lexi, the venture's owner (who prefers to be known by one name only). "A balanced variety of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian inspired plates will be available."
Old Ballard has recruited Ballard-raised chef Justin Newstrum to run the food show; he brings extensive experience at restaurants like Portage Bay Café, Dandelion, Crave, and Harvest Vine.
The pared-down experience offers just 12 seats at a communal table inside the distillery. "The idea is to give people a chance to try aquavit in its native environment: paired with delicious, fresh, inventive Nordic plates," Lexi says. Visitors can try up to four aquavit samples, including miniature house cocktails.
In addition to smoked herring and Nordic charcuterie, you can also stop in for fika, the Swedish coffee break. The cafe serves Herkimer Coffee and vetebröd, the cardamom sweetbread typical of the experience; it's baked fresh every day at Bothell's Svea Bakery. There's also a rotating pastry special on hand using seasonal fruit.
There's even a grocery component, offering deli-style take out with offerings like pickled herring and loaves of vetebröd available on Fridays if you order ahead by noon on Thursday.
Here's a look at the cafe's current menu:
4421 Shilshole Ave NW, (206) 858-8010, website. Open Wednesday to Friday, 3 to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1 to 7 p.m.