A taste of Sweden in North Park

September 10, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The Hungry Hound found a willing eating partner this week from Scandinavia in the form of a Stanley Cup champion defenseman.

The Blackhawks begin their pre-season in about two weeks, which means Niklas Hjalmarsson has to give up his beloved potatis and skagen roda. Or does he? I took the Swedish native to a beloved restaurant on the city's Northwest Side recently. And no, we didn't hit Ikea for meatballs.

Hjalmarsson has proven himself a Stanley Cup champion defenseman on the ice for the Blackhawks. But the native of Eksjo, Sweden is also a champion eater. I figured he'd feel right at home at Tre Kronor, a quaint Swedish restaurant in the North Park neighborhood.

"Sweden is most known by the meatballs, the Swedish meatballs, but we have other stuff too," said Hjalmarsson.

Including seafood, such as pickled herring, as well as cured salmon with dill, or gravlax, plus soup.

"The pea soup, I had a lot of that when I was younger, simple to do and I think it tastes really good," said Hjalmarsson.

Hound: Is there ham in here?
Hjalmarsson: Yeah a little piece of ham.
Hound: And there's mustard.
Hjalmarsson: Mustard is very important too."

"Really hearty. Perfect for a cold night in Eksjo," said Hjalmarsson.

His eyes light up when owner Patty Rasmussen sets down a particular loaded potato.

Hound: "What is that?
Hjalmarsson: That's a personal favorite of mine.
Hound: What did she say it was?
Hjalmarsson: Skagen Roda, it's like shrimp in a nice."
Hound: In a big baked potato. And how do you pronounce it?
Hjalmarsson: Potatis."

"It's like a shrimp salad like a mayo-based salad and a baked potato," said Hjalmarsson.

In between courses, Patty pours some locally-made aquavit, the national spirit.

"Every meal is a party back home," said Hjalmarsson.

Then comes a plate of sausage, meatballs and creamy potatoes. Hjalmarsson is psyched.

Hjalmarsson: "We've got some folekoda.
Hound: Folekoda? Sausage?
Hjalmarsson:Yeah, it's kind of a sausage, yeah. Looks like potatoes and some meatballs over there and I would say lingonberries."

Hjalmarsson: "You gotta mix it all.
Hound: Oh, the whole thing! This is what I gotta learn, OK.
Hjalmarsson: Experience.
Hound: So the meatball and the lingonberry and the potato together, wow, alright.
Hjalmarsson: It's just a big party in your mouth."

For dessert, what else - pancakes lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

Hjalmarsson: "Pankakker.
Hound: Pankakker with lingonberries.
Hjalmarsson: Yep."

They are slightly sweet, and oh-so thin.

Hound: "How would you say 'this is delicious'?
Hjalmarsson: Ut serkt.
Hound: Ut serkt. OK, well how do you say cheers?
Hjalmarsson: Skoal.
Hound: Skoal. Thank you so much for.
Hjalmarsson: And by the way I brought a special guest for us today
Hound: Wow, look at that [Stanley Cup] - that special guest can come anytime to the Friday Night Special. Cheers."

Hjalmarsson told me off camera that while a lot of Swedish food in the states is watered-down somewhat, the food we ate at Tre Kronor really reminded him of home. And believe me, he ate just about everything they set down on the table.

Tre Kronor
3258 W. Foster Ave.

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