A Scandinavian gem in Washington, D.C.
Scandinavian items enliven a menu of Polish, Serbian, and Georgian cuisines at Domku
Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C., is an international city that offers a wide variety of international cuisines from Italian to Peruvian to Thai to Ethiopian. However, Scandinavian appears to be sadly lacking. But wait! Don’t despair! There is a charming little café in D.C.’s up-and-coming Petworth neighborhood that will delight your Nordic palate: Domku Café.
Why is a Scandinavian café called “Domku,” a Polish word that means “Little House”? This café is actually a hybrid. In addition to Scandinavian foods, you will also find Polish, Serbian, and Georgian items on the menu. But let’s focus on the Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish delicacies.
Domku is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday (6:00 to 10:00 p.m.) and for brunch (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) or lunch (3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.) on Saturdays and Sundays.
Marie Hansen and Barbara Myklebust, two friends from the Washington Sons of Norway lodge, and I decided to go for Saturday brunch. The brunch menu is divided into Savory and Sweet. I opted for Norwegian sweet and Marie and Barbara opted for Swedish savory. We then concluded our Scandinavian meal with a sweet Danish dessert.
Traditional Norwegian Pancake
I was immediately attracted to an item on the Sweet menu, the Traditional Norwegian Pancake. It was described as a “crêpe-like pancake with fresh fruit, a dusting of powdered sugar, and lavender syrup.” This pancake was quite different from the traditional American pancake. It filled the entire dinner plate and was very thin and quite flavorful. The strawberries, blueberries, and bananas were a perfect topping. The exotic lavender syrup added an interesting floral hint.
Pytt i Panna (Swedish Hash)
Marie’s choice was the Salmon Pytt i Panna, which consisted of potatoes, carrots, onions, flaked salmon, and a poached egg on top with a drop of mustard, mayonnaise, roe, and dill. She found it delicious. The vegetables were browned just enough to be slightly crispy but not dry and the egg was poached perfectly. It was a very filling dish.
Marie selected this particular dish because she wanted to relive a special childhood memory. Her Swedish grandmother used to make pytt i panna, but with beef rather than salmon. The family was always very happy whenever she made it.
Barbara selected Biff Lindström Pytt i Panna, which consisted of potatoes, carrots, onions, and grass-fed ground beef prepared “Lindström”-style with red onions, capers, sour cream, and pickled beets. A fried egg was placed on the top. She found the chunks of beef quite tasty and a little lighter than regular ground beef. They were served with a nicely sized portion of hash of bite-sized potatoes and carrots. The beets and capers were delicious. The fried egg was light and nicely prepared (with no extra fat or grease on either the egg or the hash, a feature that she liked a lot).
Pytt i panna has long been popular in Sweden. This version was created by Henrik Lindström, who grew up in Russia where beets and capers were often mixed into ground meat. He introduced this tradition in 1862 while chef at the Hotel Witt restaurant in Kalmar, Sweden.
Norwegians also eat pytt i panna but, like Marie’s grandmother, not with salmon. They use either beef or sausage. The Lindström version is not popular in Norway, either.
Æbleskiver (Danish pancake balls)
We ordered æbleskiver for dessert. They are small pancake balls with a crunchy outer layer and a soft, fluffy core. We found them moist and very tasty.
The word æbleskive means “apple slice,” and it was first used in the Middle Ages for slices of apple dipped in batter and fried. In the 1700s the æbleskiver were baked in special pans with pieces of apple or prune in the center. Today in Denmark they are usually baked without the fruit but in the same type of pan.
These pans have seven rounded cups and are usually made of cast iron or heavy cast aluminum. According to Pat Sinclair, author of Scandinavian Classic Baking, a knitting needle has traditionally been used to turn the balls as they bake. If the balls are turned several times, they will turn out nicely round.
Æbleskiver are often associated with the Christmas holidays, traditionally served on Little Christmas Eve (December 23) or on New Year’s Day.
Barbara says that she and her husband Joel made æbleskiver a few years ago. They filled them with slices of apple because Joel, who has Norwegian roots, remembers eating them this way while growing up in Iowa. The Norwegian word for æbleskiver is munker.
Although the menu was short on Norwegian items (nothing in addition to the traditional pancake), we definitely plan to return. It is a charming café with some delicious Scandinavian offerings, a rarity in the nation’s capital.
Domku is located at 821 Upshur Street NW, Washington, DC 20011.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, DC. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.