Cafe Society

Meatball madness: A preview of IKEA's restaurant, cafe and Swedish food market

IKEA's grand opening on July 27 will give fervent foodie fans access to a veritable smorgasbord of reasonably-priced Swedish tongue-tempters.The restaurant menus and groceries available at each IKEA vary according to regional tastes, but Coloradans should know that the Centennial store -- the 38th to open in this country -- will not fail to provide an ample supply of meatballs, lingonberry jam and IKEA's signature mashed-potatoes-and-cream-sauce mix. Daily specials will be posted at the store's entrance near the stairs/escalator leading up to the restaurant, and then posted at the entrance of the restaurant so that shoppers have no difficulty visualizing the fare -- and getting inspired to become diners. Opening-week specials will include a 99-cent breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and home-fried potatoes; poached salmon with apple-apricot glaze for $4.99; vegetarian crepes filled with cheese and spinach for $2.99, and Swedish apple cake with vanilla sauce for $2.29. The 550-seat restaurant area is well-equipped to handle the onslaught of hungry locals ready to grab trays and begin their maiden journey through the guardrail-secured lines, past the cold cases with salads and desserts, and around to the hot bar. (There is a degree of patience required for dining successfully at IKEA; refer to our IKEA eat-i-quette guide for proper guidance and tips.) There will be vegetarian options, highchairs and booster seats for the shorties, free baby food with entrée purchase and microwaves available at the family stations. The modest bistro downstairs is designed for a quick grab-and-go snack to fuel shoppers through the marathon walking required to see every nook of the 415,000 square-foot store. Bistro treats will include 50-cent hot dogs; a hot dog, soft drink and chip combo for $2; $1 soft frozen yogurt cones; $1 cinnamon rolls; and a six-pack of cinnamon rolls for $4 -- a steal, since IKEA doesn't skimp on the size of the rolls or on the icing. And the addictive lingonberry juice drink will be on tap in the soda fountain. IKEA's food market is located next to the bistro, and the ceiling-tall stacks of shelves already hold non-alcoholic sparkling apple and pear drinks, bags of house coffee, flavored teas, cookies, crackers, candies, chocolates, sauces, packaged mixes, seasonings, elk-shaped pasta and jars of jams: lingonberry, blueberry, strawberry, cloudberry, gooseberry and orange-elderflower.

The cold cases house a daunting array of pickled herrings in jars -- marinated in dill, sour-cream sauce, mustard sauce, garlic sauce, onion, and onion and carrot. There is also a formidable stockpile of different kinds of smoked salmon, with special dressings, sauces and crispbreads on nearby shelves to go with them.

I did not see any jars of IKEA's above-average herring roe out yet, but I did notice tubes of crab and salmon spread. A box of crackers, a block of cream cheese, a bit of green onion and a tube of seafood spread makes a great last-minute appetizer, as do a couple of jars of herring, a bowl and a box of toothpicks.

IKEA desserts live up to the hype, and I don't envy the stockers who will have to work their cods off keeping the freezer cases filled with rich, frosted almond cake; creamy blueberry and raspberry cakes; dark chocolate-almond torte cake; crepes and the crown jewel: princess cake, or Prinsesstårta in Swedish. This is a diet-murdering creation of soft white cake, raspberry jam and custard, all wrapped in marzipan.

Eat before you shop -- that's the best advice of a veteran IKEA shopper. That way, even after your calorie-burning trek across the concrete floors, you will still have the strength to load boxes of boards and bags of shiny home trinkets at the end.