In Solvang, California local restaurants have been introducing Danish food to Americans for four generations or more. You'll find lots of flaky, buttery pastries to go with your cup of coffee, but that's not all. Danish specialties also include some meat-based dishes, especially sausages. Here's what to know before you go.
You can sample many of Solvang's Danish foods during the annual Solvang Danish Days in September.
If you're a vegetarian, your Danish food adventure will be limited to the pastries. However, local bakeries may use butter and don't provide vegan or gluten-free options. Don't let that keep you from going to Solvang for a visit, though. You shop and enjoy the charming buildings — and you can find plenty of restaurants in town that can meet your dietary needs.
Most of the Danish restaurants in Solvang are within the four-block shopping area south of Mission Drive between Alisal Road and 5th Street.
Bring your appetite and an abundant supply of patience. Solvang is like many other tourist towns, where service can be lackluster. However, you may be lucky and get a server who is both quite knowledgeable and friendly.
Foods to Look For in Solvang
The best Danish foods to eat in Solvang are the flaky pastries. If the first thing that comes to your mind are those typical "Danish" pastries with a filled center, forget that stereotype. Viennese chefs started making delicate, flaky pastry in Denmark in the 1840s, and the variety of Danish creations using it is astonishing.
Some of the Danish pastry specialties you may encounter in Solvang are:
- Kringle: A pretzel-shaped pastry featured on the Food Network's Kid in a Candy Store show.
- Waffle Crisp: A cigar-shaped pastry filled with whipped cream and raspberry jam.
- Butter Rings: A pastry ring containing almond paste and custard filling, topped with icing. They are also called Seven Sisters Cake.
- Danish waffles don't look like a traditional waffle at all In Solvang. They're a baked puff pastry rolled in sugar and filled with raspberry jam and buttercream frosting.
And those are only the beginning; you may also find strudels, palm leaves, and cookies shaped like Napoleon's hat, a clam, or an owl's eye.
Then there's the Danish meat items served in Solvang. These dishes are of mixed review, so you may want to read some online reviews of the individual restaurants before you go to decide whether they're for you or not.
To make decision-making easier, these are a few of the most common meat dishes served in Solvang restaurants:
- Frikadeller is an unspiced Danish meatball made of ground pork, beef or veal, served with a light brown gravy. It's typically served for dinner possibly with boiled potatoes. Leftovers are repurposed into open-faced sandwiches on rye bread.
- Medisterpølse is a boiled sausage. On menus, it's often called Spiced Danish Pork Sausage. The spice part of the name comes from the traditional use of nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. However, the spices are often barely noticeable, and even the mustard served alongside can seem soft-pedaled as if not to displease the tourists.
- Hakkebøf is basically a hamburger steak served with onions, potatoes, and brown sauce.
- Rullepolse is a seasoned pork cold cut rolled and filled with herbs and seasonings, which may be served in an open-faced sandwich.
- Side dishes typically include pickled red cabbage, cucumber salad, and potatoes.
Olsen's is fourth-generation Danish bakery whose roots go all the way back to Denmark. It's the cutest bakery in town, and it has the most extensive selection of pastries, cookies, cakes and other treats. They are also well-known for their pretzel-shaped Kringle pastry.
Order at the counter and get instant gratification by consuming your treat at one of the tables in their spacious seating area.
The Scandinavian dark limpa bread you may see mentioned on their website or in the bakery is a thick-crumbed bread flavored with caraway seeds and orange zest. It sounds delicious, but unfortunately, it is only available by special order.
The bakery also makes the traditional Kransekage, a sky-high tower of stacked pastry rings up to 16 layers tall, but they don't have them in their shop either.
This bakery's founder Ove Mortensen was a Danish native and baker from Copenhagen, Denmark. Today, his descendants still own and run the place. You can order at their counter and sit at one of their tables while you fuel your sugar rush.
Among their specialties are Napoleon hat cookies, which are small, almond cookies shaped like the famous Frenchman's hat, then dipped in chocolate. But their selections number in the dozens, enough to give you a sugar buzz just looking at all of them.
One of Solvang's most famous sweet treats isn't found in the bakeries, but instead in restaurants that serve breakfast. It's called an Aebleskiver, a variation on a traditional pancake.
Locals can get a little overzealous about Aebleskiver, using words like "delicious, good-tasting goodies" but what they are is pancakes plain and simple. The thing that makes them unique is their shape. They are cooked in a pan with hemispherical indentations and coaxed into a spherical shape about the size of a tennis ball. There's room inside for a filling, and their name may make you think of apples, but in Solvang, they are unfilled and served with raspberry sauce.
You can find aebleskiver at several places in town, but Solvang Restaurant says they make more than 3,000 of them a day. One order will be enough for up to six people to get a taste.
If you're in a hurry, you can also get your aebleskiver from the restaurant's sidewalk takeout window.
The restaurant's owner Jeff Paaske recommends ordering medisterpolse sausage to go with your aebleskiver, but any of the Danish meat dishes make a tasty accompaniment.
The restaurant also sells cooking supplies, aebleskiver pans, and mixes in case you want to try making them at home.
Bit o'Denmark's minimalist website has no menu, but that doesn't mean their selections are equally as skimpy.
It's located in the city's original church building, and Fodor's calls it one of the most authentic eateries in town.
They serve a variation on the traditional, buffet-style smorgasbord. And if you can't decide what you want to try, order one of their platters of assorted dishes to share.