Ikea Restaurant

8000 Ikea Way, Bloomington, 952-854-8212
Review published February 2005

IMAGINE YOURSELF, for a moment, in a home without clutter: no papers piled on the kitchen table, no laundry waiting to be folded, no dishes in the sink. A Swedish novel rests on the nightstand, and the bedcovers appear slightly mussed, as if you’ve just awakened from a nap. A child appears in a shopping cart, but his name seems to elude you: Sörli perhaps, or is it Klippan—or is that the name of the bookcase, or the mirror? The sensation of hunger brings you back to reality, snapping you out of an Ikea-induced reverie.

Shoppers looking for a moment of rest and refreshment typically have few choices beyond hot dogs, giant pretzels, and Icees. Fortunately, the Scandinavian mega-store serves cuisine that matches its merchandise: Swedish, chic, and cheap.

The store is designed so customers must weave through an entire floor to shop, but thankfully, the cafeteria is easily accessible from the front door. The space feels contemporary and efficient: gray and white with red and blue accents, and a bank of windows that looks out on the Mall of America. It’s a rather austere affair—no place for the Swedish Chef or Bikini Team—except for the play area, where children read books and stack blocks as Cartoon Network squeals in the background.

When it comes to the food, it’s the meatballs that get people talking: moist morsels smothered in a peanut butter–colored gravy that’s surprisingly silky and light. Though the meatballs are served with traditional red potatoes and a dab of tart lingonberry jam on the side, diners of Scandinavian heritage might protest the lack of seasoning that makes the flavor distinctively Swedish—typically, allspice, nutmeg, or cardamom. It’s true: they don’t taste that different from Italian meatballs without the oregano, but they still inspire many Ikea shoppers to pick up a package of the frozen variety. The open-face shrimp sandwich—whole wheat bread topped with hard-boiled egg and shrimp salad—is a rather civilized affair, especially for $1.99. And the breakfasts—eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes—are a similar steal at 99 cents.

But choose wisely at Ikea, because the Swedes are not necessarily known for their flavorful, artful cuisine (poached salmon, lutefisk—think about it). The soups and salad bar are so-so, the chicken is dry, and the idea of eating gravlax at a cafeteria is a little unnerving. The crawfish pasta was an absolute train wreck, reminiscent of school cafeteria “medleys” created from leftovers: pesto pasta topped with cold crawfish meat and drenched with a sickening sweet-and-sour limeade gloss that rendered the dish inedible. Following that experience, dessert was as welcome as a Midsommar celebration after a long, dark winter. The Daim torte tasted like a candy bar: dense layers of moist almond cake alternating with cream filling, topped with crunchy bits of Daim (a Swedish toffee confection) and covered in milk chocolate.

Ikea’s restaurant stays busy for the same reasons that fickle, risk-averse shoppers buy the furniture: it’s fun, it’s hip, and if you don’t like it, at least you didn’t spend much money.