Uncharted inspiration

Ørkenoy brings together art, beer, cocktails, and delicious Nordic bites in Chicago

A door sign that reads, "Ørkenoy: Uncharted Inspiration"

Photo: Ørkenoy
Welcome to Ørkenoy, where Nordic and Baltic inspired brews are served with bistro food with a slight lift, all inspired by the tastes of Scandinavia.

Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American

As the Taste of Norway editor, my eyes light up when I hear about a new Nordic restaurant or bar in the United States. Ørkenoy is a notable newcomer in Chicago that I’m excited about.

Located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, Ørkenoy is a creative gathering space for local artists and community to enjoy farmhouse-style beers, creative cocktails with a neo-Nordic tiki theme (!!), and shareable bites with Nordic inspiration.

I recently spoke with Briana Hestad, the Operations Manager of Ørkenoy, to learn more about their approach to brewing and their fresh take on Nordic flavors.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Christy Olsen Field: What was the inspiration for Ørkenoy? 

a four pack of colorful beer cans from Ørkenoy

Photo: Ørkenoy
Ørkenoy’s Cole Thumper rye beer pairs perfectly with bread baked in a stone hearth oven.

Briana Hestad: Chicago has a massive brewing community, all doing really interesting and wonderful things. So we are in very good company here. Jonny and Ryan met while working at Lagunitas’ Chicago location, where they sat at the bar one evening and started chatting about opening up a new space that combined food, beer, and community/arts-based events, rather than just another brewhouse making hazy IPAs. We love them, but there are plenty of people in Chicago doing them and doing them really well. No need to flood the market with more of the same. 

We instead wanted to focus heavily on malt and trying our hand at producing beer that pays homage to Nordic and Baltic brewing traditions. Luckily, there happens to be a really fantastic maltster a few hours away in Indiana called Sugar Creek Farm, and they produce the perfect malt for these styles. We’ve built a really great work relationship with them.

COF: Who is the team who created Ørkenoy? 

BH: Chef Ryan Sanders, originally from Palm Springs, Calif. He worked in property management before deciding to make a move into the kitchen.

Brewer Jonny Ifergan is a Chicago native and was a touring musician in his past life before jumping into brewing.

Operations Manager Briana Hestad. I’ve lived in far too many places to count, though I was born in Alaska. My father is Norwegian, and I studied brewing in Denmark. I also went to graduate school for Scandinavian studies.  

COF: When did you open, and can you tell me a bit about the neighborhood? 

BH: We officially opened our doors Sept. 18, 2020, but had been working on the project and the space for about two years prior.

We are situated in the Humboldt Park neighborhood inside of the Kimball Arts Center just off the 606, which is an old rail line that has been transformed into a sort of elevated public greenway. Humboldt Park at present is known for its vibrant Puerto Rican population, and the park that the neighborhood derives its name from. Fun fact: the area we are located in and the neighborhood just north were home to Chicago’s once large Norwegian and Scandinavian communities.

Ørkenoy's dining room with big windows, lots of tables, and plenty of light.

Photo: Ørkenoy
Ørkenoy’s eclectic, welcoming space is located in the Kimball Art Center, just off the 606 in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.


COF: What’s Ørkenoy’s approach to making beer? I love the creative names and styles. Any specialties or current offerings that you’re really excited about?

BH: The general approach is sessionable, farmhouse style brews and more, highlighting foraged ingredients commonly used across the Northern European region for brewing, while offering up to six tap lines at a time for guest beers to introduce hard-to-come-by selections to patrons. 

I’ve currently been enjoying Tafas Cambridge, which is a nod to a Vossøl, inspired by the sort of rustic style of ale homebrewed across Voss in Norway. We wound up with a beautiful sipper that hosts flavors of ripe mango with some earthy overtones. The names are derived and inspired by beloved pets and streets we grew up on submitted to us by friends, family, and guests. It’s been really great to hear all the pet stories while collecting them.

COF: What was the inspiration for the smørrebrød and Nordic themed bites on the menu? 

BH: We wanted to have a menu that was something easy and approachable for our guests and kept within the wheelhouse of Nordic/Scandinavian-inspired items that complemented the beverage program. Think of it as bistro food with a slight lift. Smørrebrød are a really great vehicle for all sorts of flavor combinations. There are so many fun ways to reimagine the open-faced sandwich. Chef Ryan is currently playing around with making krumkake in house for a new spring dessert after I mentioned waiting with anticipation for the package of them that my grandmother would send me once a year.

A tall clear glass of aquavit and tonic garnished with a slice of lemon and a spring of dill. The glass sits on a wooden table with a pink background.

Photo: Ørkenoy
Ørkenoy’s aquavit and tonic cocktail is garnished with lemon and dill, Nordic-style.

COF: How has Ørkenoy been during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

BH: It has been tough, to say the least. We anticipated a world in which we would open and the house would be packed every night and we would be able to host really fun events and provide a nice space for community engagement. Unfortunately, the world would have different plans for us. We’ve done pretty well with adapting and have been lucky enough to have access to some level of safety net via local and federal grants. 

There’s also something to be said about sort of being able to ease into opening a restaurant in what I feel is one of the hardest cities to open up a new spot and make it stick. We have had the chance to test the waters of various service styles and structures to see what works best for us without the usual amount of pressures and expectations that come with opening a new restaurant.

COF: Anything else you want our readers to know? 

BH: While we happen to brew beer in-house and have a cute little brewery just behind the kitchen, we boast a fully rounded bar and food program and see brewing as just a small portion of what we are really all about. It’s first and foremost a place where we can use the space as an outlet for creativity. Whether that’s by way of menu design and creation, event organizing and planning, community activation, or perhaps working with us on art, storytelling and beyond. We aim to find a way for everyone to incorporate their passions outside of the space with the work they do with us.

Ørkenoy is open Wednesdays through Sundays and located at the Kimball Arts Center, 1757 N Kimball Ave, Chicago, IL 60647. To learn more, visit online at orkenoy.com, as well as on Facebook and Instagram, @orkenoy.

This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field was the Taste of Norway Editor from 2019 to 2022. She worked on the editorial staff of The Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons.