You’re forgiven for not knowing what this means, unless, of course, you’re a frequenter of IKEA — the Swedish, occasionally annoying, assembly-required, furniture giant. “Hej,” a Swedish greeting that translates to “hey” in English, will always welcome you at the new IKEA San Antonio.
IKEA shopping veterans are familiar the dazed-and-confused shopping crowds that often stumble through the store’s notorious mazes. They also know that no one is immune to IKEA’s I-didn’t-know-I-needed-that syndrome, which requires serious shopping energy. Though it’s far from a destination dining spot, IKEA’s cafeteria offers food, much of which isn’t all bad, to help you power through any shopping mission.
Early arrivers can fuel-up with a breakfast that even the Muppets’ hilariously inaccurate “Swedish” chef could appreciate as a deal: scrambled eggs, potatoes and two sausage links for $1.49. The breakfast is more than decent, despite the lack of locally obligatory salsa.
This is a cooler-than-school cafeteria, but it’s still a cafeteria, and pretty plating is not a concern. It must be admitted that the pork and beef balls are tender and delicately seasoned, the gravy inoffensive, the accompanying mashed potatoes are real and the lingonberry sauce (think cranberry) adds both wanted color and a sweet-tangy contrast. IKEA gets points for attempting a steamed vegetable medley with peas, beans and fancy broccoflower, but the dish was under-seasoned and overcooked.
The cafeteria also offers bröd tunnbröd, a Swedish thin bread equivalent to San Antonio’s flour tortilla, that envelopes the house salmon roll, a rosy fish marinated and served with mustard dill sauce and greens. You would expect the Swedes to know their way around salmon, and they do — salmon appears in several other forms, and it’s a great starter for IKEA’s iconic Köttbullar, or Swedish meatballs.
IKEA is reportedly toying with a totally vegan meatball, but in the meantime, there’s a more than respectable vegetarian option made with chickpeas and peas and served with a coconut curry sauce that packs more flavor than any brown gravy. Carnivores might want to start here, or they can go the braised lemon chicken leg route. There’s nothing life-changing about the moist and tender chunk o’ chick served with brown gravy and mashed potatoes, but the $6.99 plate is more than satisfying despite, being light on the lemon.
Like Americans, the Swedes are down for dessert at almost every opportunity. With ingredients like cardamom, licorice and almond paste looming large, and IKEA’s thin pancakes, dessert may show up at any time of day. The traditional äppelkaka, or apple cake, looked inviting but was a little boring, and might have improved with warming or benefited from the vanilla sauce that usually accompanies it in Sweden. The almond cake was fine right out of the display case, however. Though the cake was gluten-free, it was creamy and just sweet enough. Toasted almonds added a nice crunch.
If you’re craving more Swedish flavors at home, you’re in luck: IKEA’s frozen and packaged food department is conveniently located near the checkout lanes. You’ll find almost every cafeteria item including meatballs, cured salmon and lingonberry jam in the store, along with pickled herring and the gummi candies the Swedes adore. Plus chocolate bars. I was seduced by an organic dark chocolate model with “coffee crunch.” It was spectacularly good and a fitting reward for having hiked the whole store. Surely somebody has calculated that distance. So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.