Svea Restaurant Keeps the Swedish Flame Alive in Andersonville

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[Photographs: Mike Gebert]

My kids used to do Irish dancing, which meant they did a lot of dancing at nursing homes around St. Patrick's Day. We were waiting around at one owned by Swedish Covenant Hospital when I noticed an elaborate grandfather clock standing against one wall. I went to look at it and saw a tarnished plaque, announcing that it had been presented to somebody or other in commemoration of the visit of Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf in 1926 (the future King Gustaf VI). Back then, Chicago was the second largest Swedish city in the world, and a member of the royal family visiting America was visiting the place where a third of his people had emigrated—a savvy political move for a modern monarch-to-be.

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And now that commemorative clock sits ignored in that nursing home, like many of the residents one suspects, dwindling survivors of an almost-forgotten history. There are still signs of Swedish Chicago in Andersonville, but they're getting fewer all the time. With the local branch of Ann Sather's (which frankly isn't all that Swedish) having closed, there's only one Swedish restaurant left in the area, a rustic little diner open for breakfast and lunch called Svea.

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Diner is the right word, down to a counter with stools and an overall välkommen feel that makes you wonder how you say "What'll you have, hon?" in Swedish. At lunch there are more obviously Swedish things involving salmon and even the dreaded lutefisk, the ordering of which (according to this article) will get you serenaded by the owner. (This is not something I have witnessed personally.)

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Anyway, for a first visit I suggest hitting it for breakfast, and digging straight into the inevitably-named Viking Breakfast ($13), which like The Best of Abba, pretty much covers all of Sweden's greatest hits. You get eggy Swedish pancakes with slightly tart lingonberry jam.

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Plus, a plate of potatoes, eggs, and Falukorv, a sausage the waitress aptly describes for another diner as "like a big hot dog." It comes with toast, for which there is only one sensible choice, limpa bread, a kind of rye that is both Swedish and sweetish.

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Is it authentic to Swedish breakfast? It looks a lot like American diner breakfast with some Swedish touches to me. But never mind. The Swedish Chicago Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf felt it wise to visit has just about assimilated out of visibility; Svea is one of the few places left that you can see it from at all.


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