Smörgåsbord (The Red Viking)
Danish pastry (Olsen’s, Mortensen’s)
Today Solvang, California closely resembles a Capraesque Epcot Center pavilion where you’re lucky if you hear anyone speaking Danish. But don’t give up hope – although the city is rife with restaurants catering to American tastes like Subway, Domino’s Pizza and Kabuki Japanese Restaurant (what the H-E-double hockey sticks?) there are a few places where you can sample traditional Danish cuisine. Contrary to popular belief, the cuisine of Denmark does not consist of a Danish and a cup of coffee. Even the “Danish” restaurants have largely American menu items, but the best bang for your buck is at the places that have smörgåsbord (think Danish buffet). The Danes actually refer to this as kolde bord (smörgåsbord being a Swedish word), but the food is typical.
The New Danish Inn on Mission Drive had a decent smörgåsbord, but they have unfortunately closed; you can still head over to The Red Viking on Copenhagen Drive. The decor is much like all the other restaurants in Solvang – posters and maps of Denmark on the walls and rustic Scandinavian farm house motif throughout. Don’t mess with the menu – this is not the time to be thinking about a burger. As you saunter up to the serving table, if you see anything that looks like you can get it at Sizzler, leave it be. Although typical of smörgåsbord, the salad, roast beef, havarti cheese, brændende kærlighed (mashed potatoes) and kartoffelsalat (a potato salad that tastes remarkably like, well, potato salad) are not going to convince you that Danish cuisine is any different than what you can get in Peoria.
Get that plate ready, because now it’s time to bring on the real deal. Make sure to have a generous amount of the frikadeller, traditional Danish meatballs served in a brown gravy. The cold pickled herring in a light sour cream and onion sauce was delicious, yet oddly sweet (the way bread and butter pickles are); the agurkesalat (a light salad made with cucumbers sliced lengthwise) added a fresh, crisp taste to the plate. In the middle of the serving table, a massive yellow dome rose from a plate, which appeared to be egg salad, but was the farthest thing from it. This behemoth was blomkål, made from cold cooked cauliflower in what appeared to be a mustard-based sauce with a cheese tease. It was an interesting choice, but not something I wanted to fill up on. My favorite food item was the leverpostej, a pate traditionally made from pork liver and lard. I prepared it in the typical fashion, spreading it on dark rye bread and topping it with onions. The taste was heavenly – smooth, creamy and rich, without the greasy texture you typically find with other foods with a lard component. I enjoyed it so much so that I helped myself to a second portion.
Dessert at the buffet seemed to be limited to a tin of Danish cookies (I had overlooked that they had abelskiver on the menu), but as long as you’re in Solvang, save room for some Danish pastry and a cup of coffee at one of the many bakeries. I’ve tried Olsen’s on Mission Drive and Mortensen’s at the opposite end of Copenhagen Drive; both are decent with Olsen’s having a bigger selection and the pastry tasting fresher at Mortensen’s (I got a ginger snap at Olsen’s that had plenty of ginger, but lacked snap). And yes, for those who still haven’t been won over, you can still get a Danish to go with your coffee.