Solvang, California, began as a Danish settlement in 1911. The architecture is strikingly European with cross-beamed timbers and thatched roofing. Only ten percent of the people living in Solvang today, in the midst of Santa Barbara’s wine country, claim Danish ancestry but the small town is known as being more Danish than Denmark.
The Little Mermaid, a copy of the statue in Copenhagen, greets visitors on the main street. A sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen overlooks a public gathering place. Hanging flowers, courtyards, windmills, small shops, bakeries, and restaurants create an atmosphere of coziness and contentment or, as the Danes describe it, hygge.
There is no better way to create the feeling of hygge than by relaxing with friends, lingering over a meal. Solvang offers a smorgasbord of food experiences, from traditional and 21st century Danish to American, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and more.
In the early mornings, the warm sweet scent of fresh baking drifts along the downtown sidewalks.
Five long-established Danish bakeries prepare butter cookies, shortbreads, éclairs, strudels, macaroons, almond butter rings, danishes and other flaky wonderful-with-coffee pastries.
In The Solvang Restaurant, Danish proverbs decorate interior beams. Booths are embellished with the crests of Danish villages. Known for authentic sausage and meatball dishes made from family recipes, the restaurant also has a busy takeout window. Customers line up for aebleskiver, pancake batter griddled into golden balls and smothered with raspberry jam.
The restaurant owner, Jeff Paaske, has personally made over one million of the sweet treats. He demonstrates his method to anyone interested in learning.
Ingeborg’s is a chocolate factory, candy store, and ice cream parlor that continues to create chocolate according to the recipes established by Ingeborg herself in 1962.
Ingeborg’s single purpose of making people happy influences the preparation of new flavors like sea salt caramel, newer presentations like orange sticks and chocolate covered marzipan loaves.
The small 1960s conveyer belt in the back room conjures up visions of Lucille Ball’s stint in a chocolate factory. Long-time employees and owner Kim Jensen laugh at the mention of her name and point to a faded photo of their favorite chocolatier.
The most popular item at the ice cream counter is the Old Fashioned Root Beer Float. The most intriguing, The Great Dane, with vanilla ice cream, pineapple or strawberry jam, and flodebolle, a marshmallow and vanilla wafer smothered by Ingeborg’s chocolate. The candy corner offers a huge selection of serious licorice and other Dutch and Danish candies.
The menu at Bacon & Brine changes every day but always includes pork prepared and presented in a myriad of ways. Smoked. Brined. Grilled. Chef Pink is committed to using local, organic vegetables and organic grass fed, pasture raised animals. Co-owner Courtney Rae DeLongpré introduces fermented flavors to the mix. She believes that the American diet lacks fermented food that is so important to proper digestion.
Chef Pink and Courtney Rae create sandwiches like Mo’ Better Grilled Cheese with house bacon, sharp cheddar, pickled mustard seed, and black kale, Wild ‘n Smokey oak-smoked pork shoulder with brined wild greens, onions, heirloom garlic aioli and Tête a Tête with traditional Parisian head cheese, herbs, mustard, figs, apples and parsley.
Customers take home bacon jam, apple rosemary kraut, and spicy brined celery. These two entrepreneurs intend changing lives one bite at a time.
At Chomp, kids, or anyone who feels like a kid, can draw on a blackboard, slide up to soda fountain stools at the counter, or slip into a booth.
The diner is 50s-style with rock and roll music, thick milk shakes, burgers, and fries.
The diner is also trendy. The Caprese burger stacks fragrant basil leaves with sliced tomatoes, hamburger patty, and fresh mozzarella.
The Greenhouse Café is a Nordic bistro that reflects a Danish food renaissance. New twists are put on old Danish food styles. Aaron and Elsemarie Petersen understand that food is a means of keeping their heritage alive.
Their house specialty is smorrebrod, Danish open-faced sandwiches where attention is paid to flavor, texture, and eye appeal. The Open Faced Combination plate is loaded with thinly sliced roast beef, sliced pork meatballs, potato salad, dark pumpernickel bread, havarti cheese, pickled cucumber, and red cabbage garnished with delicate deep fried onions, sweet seedy Danish mustard and horseradish.
Those settlers that broke ground in California in the early 1900s in order to preserve their Danish culture have succeeded. Visitors to Solvang can breathe in the aroma of freshly baked Danish pastries and take-in the historic architecture. As they discover cozy corners, experience Solvang’s hospitality, and find a place to linger over a meal with friends, hygge lives on.