Be our guest
FIKA at the American Swedish Institute delivers fresh flavors and New Nordic inspiration in Minneapolis
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
Sweden’s tradition of fika is a daily break, traditionally involving coffee and treats. It’s a national social institution, where people take time for a break to gather to chat and enjoy each other’s company.
FIKA is also the award-winning café at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis. It is nationally renowned for its Nordic-inspired menu of classic Scandinavian dishes, breads, and pastries.
FIKA is a partnership with ASI and Dallas-based Culinaire, which also operates the Guthrie Theater’s Sea Change and Walker Art Center’s forthcoming restaurant Esker Grover, both in Minneapolis.
I was honored to speak with Blake Meier, the executive chef of FIKA. Chef Meier began as FIKA’s executive chef in 2016. He has worked in the restaurant industry for more than a decade in the Twin Cities region. Before coming to FIKA in 2016, he managed the opening and operations of Broadstreet Café.
Chef Meier and I talked by phone about FIKA and New Nordic cuisine, and how he finds inspiration.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Christy Olsen Field: Can you tell me a bit about FIKA and your approach to New Nordic cuisine?
Blake Meier: FIKA is a lunch-forward restaurant, with a focus on traditional Swedish food with a Minnesota twist by using our local, seasonal ingredients. Our weather in Minnesota is similar to Sweden, as far as the changes in the seasons, and the seasonal ingredients drive our menu. We keep a lot of ingredients locally sourced, such as Lake Superior herring.
Our menu has open-faced sandwiches, salads, pickled items, and so on. We do a lot of specials and dishes that change with the season. I’m a big vegetable person, so I like to have vegetarian options.
As for breads, we have an excellent pastry chef who bakes our pastries and breads in-house. They are very popular with our customers. We always have cinnamon buns on the menu.
We collaborate with ASI for Swedish holidays, such as Midsummer and the crayfish party later on in the summer, and lutefisk for the holiday season.
As for inspiration, I like to get out in nature. When you’re outside, foraging for mushrooms or other things, it’s a great way to kick around new ideas. It’s a great way to get outside of the kitchen and think about ingredients in different ways.
COF: Where do you draw inspiration for the menu at FIKA? Have you spent time in Scandinavia?
BM: I went to Sweden two years ago and did some stages at different restaurants to gain more experience. Once you’re there in person, you start to understand Sweden better: the cuisine, the heritage. There are so many things happening over there that you can’t just read in a cookbook. I walked through a lot of markets to see the ingredients, what was the same and what was unique.
When I went to Sweden, I stayed with a host family. This family host dinners, like a pop-up restaurant, to serve 25 people or so. When I was there, I brought some local Minnesotan ingredients with me, like wild rice and sweet corn. It was such a great experience to share ingredients that they hadn’t tried before. It felt like a full-circle thing: to be in Sweden, using Minnesota ingredients, while learning about Swedish cuisine for FIKA in Minnesota.
I also find inspiration in my garden. I’m a gardener, and look forward to growing vegetables every year. I find new crops that grow well in Minnesota, and how the flavors and sweetness level changes throughout the season. So, I take that experience and put it toward what we do at FIKA.
COF: Any menu items you’re excited about right now?
BM: We are in the middle of menu changes right now, as we ramp up a bit more and move into summer. Check back with us soon for the new menu items.
COF: On your website, I saw that you have a FIKA marketplace and online ordering option for people to do takeout. How has COVID-19 affected FIKA?
BM: Yes, the online marketplace was created in response to COVID. We actually closed down three different times, so we really had to shift and make changes to our menu and approach to make it easier for curbside pickup. We went for things that are comfort foods and to remind them that FIKA will come back: meatballs, cardamom rolls, breads, etc. Gravlax was also popular. We did a drive-through lutefisk dinner last year. We had to make a lot of changes and pivots, just to make it through and keep staff working through this.
COF: Beyond the café, I imagine that you do catering events for ASI.
BM: Yes, we do catering for lunch events. We do lunches for groups that come through for tours, and we are getting ready for our first wedding going on this weekend. Things are starting to get back to normalcy, and we are definitely looking forward to doing more events!
COF: Anything else you want our readers to know?
BM: People come here, and they might be unsure about pickled herring or other traditional items, whether based on a bad experience or something like that. At FIKA, we do a really nice job with these different things. You can take a chance on something, and you might actually like it.
I couldn’t agree more, Chef Meier! I look forward to visiting FIKA on my next trip to the Twin Cities!
FIKA is located at the American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55407. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Seating is first-come, first-serve, and reservations are available for parties of six or more people. You can also place a pickup order from the FIKA marketplace online. For the current menu and more information, visit online at asimn.org/visit/fika-café.
This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.