I have a confession to make. My only knowledge of Swedish or Scandinavian food up to this point has been based on extensive reading of the Kirsten Larson series of American Girl novels in the 1980s and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. So my assumption that one of Kansas City’s newest eateries would feature a menu full of lutefisk and to-go sandwiches was, luckily, very wrong.
Instead, Krokstrom Klubb & Market, located at 3601 Broadway Blvd., offers a diverse and tantalizing menu of curiosities and homey Old-World favorites that open the mind and expand the palate. Executive chef and owner Katee McLean and general manager and co-owner Josh Rogers are drawing on McLean’s ancestry, rooted in the Swedish community of Elsmore, Kansas, where her great-grandparents ran a meat market specializing in smoked and cured meats and fish.
After years of working in the food industry and studying at Johnson County Community College’s culinary program, McLean has realized her dream. Krokstrom Klubb retains the authenticity of her family’s heritage but also brings in the modern elements of Nordic cuisine.
The menu focuses mainly on small plates, suitable for sharing. While many may recognize the term smörgåsbord, which in Swedish means a variety, they may not realize that it also legitimately refers to a board filled with a variety of smoked and cured meats or fish, house-made pickles, relishes and cheeses, as it does on this menu. This beautifully plated dish includes pickled cauliflower, fresh cucumber, smoked salmon, Westphalian ham, a bit of Swedish sweet-potato sausage and the most addictive pickled green tomatoes I’ve ever tried.
For something a little warmer, there’s plenty to choose from. We started with what sounded simple—bar nuts. These were not simply cocktail peanuts, but an assortment of fancy nuts mixed with caramelized garlic, crispy pork belly and rosemary. There was plenty to go around but that didn’t stop us from vying for the last few bits of these ultra-savory treats.
While the Spanish may take credit for tapas, the Swedes certainly do a great job with the shared-plate style as well. Among our group of four, we sampled the fried beets with curried mayonnaise, hot crayfish dip served with knackebrot and the now-famous smoked-trout potato pancakes.
While all of the dishes fulfilled savory, carb-lover cravings, the smoked-trout potato pancakes stood out as the easy favorite of the meal. McLean says that she has seldom had a day in which she hasn’t indulged in them herself. I expected a crispy, almost latke-like potato pancake. Instead, soft mashed potatoes were molded with fresh goat cheese and gently fried, then topped with the house-smoked trout. Finished with a bit of sour cream, this was the dish that stands out. All of the textures played so well together. It is such an exquisitely balanced dish that if there were about six more of them they would be a great meal on their own.
McLean aims to make the menu as seasonal as possible. Beets make many appearances on the menu but seldom in the expected form. While roasted beet and goat cheese salads may have overstayed their welcome on farm-to-table menus only to be replaced with the ubiquitous kale salad, here, beets are used in both innovative and traditional ways.
The fried beets with curried mayonnaise assumed the texture of potatoes. Instead of highlighting the earthy tones in the root vegetable, it brought out the starch. Another small-plate option, the lefse and sausage, featured a sublime smoked-beet sausage produced by Stuart Aldridge at the Broadway Butcher. The sausage has a hint of the sweetness that characterizes beets but didn’t scream ‘vegetable.’ Wrapped with unleavened potato pancakes, known as lefse, and dipped in a mustard sauce, it was warm and satisfying.
In addition to the small plates, the menu includes soups, salads, open-faced sandwiches and large plates. The large plate menu has some overlap with the small-plates menu, as many of them would be adequate for one person if you could keep your fellow diners’ forks off of your plate. (Good luck with that.)
Also on the large-plate menu is the one dish that our recently Ikea-baptized community may recognize—meatballs. Here, they feature Swedish meatballs in akvavit cream with potatoes, lingonberry sauce and a cucumber salad.
We opted for the Teres Major, a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin with rosemary and garlic served with horseradish cream, based on the recommendation of our server, who swore it was one of the best steaks in town. He also advised us that if something looked strange on the menu, we should probably try it. On both counts, he was correct. The petite tenderloin was served sizzling in a small cast-iron skillet. Accompanied by one of the sides from the specials menu—mashed sweet potatoes with pork belly, taleggio cheese and baked apples—it tasted as though Sweden and Kansas City have the same reverence for beef.
It would be remiss to ignore the drinks that accompanied this meal. Rogers helms the bar program and has put significant time and effort into finding beverages that are palatable yet distinctly Swedish, starting with the national liquor, akvavit or aquavit.
This clear spirit is distinctly Scandinavian with popularity across Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and even Germany. Distilled from starch or grain, as vodka is, but infused with aromatics, as with gin, it has potential as not only a sipping spirit but also one ideally suited for cocktails.
Krokstrom Klubb features several akvavits to choose from, including a flight of house-infused options. Rogers says that he was unable to find the variety that he wanted to purchase so he resorted to making his own. He starts with Swedish vodka and makes three different types: one with sassafras root, caraway seeds and grapefruit; one with caraway, cardamom and bay leaf; and one with fresh dill and candied ginger.
Rogers says that akvavit pairs similarly to gin, so many of his cocktails are takeoffs of classics. One particular favorite was the Swedish 22, a reimagining of the French 75. In addition to the cocktail list, there is also a full selection of imported craft brews from abroad, homing in on Scandinavia. Offerings such as Mikkeller will please beer lovers.
Mead and ice wine are also a focus of the bar. There is currently one mead on tap, and Rogers is getting ready to fill a whiskey barrel with mead from the Leaky Roof Meadery and let it infuse for a few months. Clearly, there is much on the horizon.
The last and possibly most Swedish part of the meal is coffee and dessert. Swedes drink more coffee per capita than any other nation in the world. Fika, as it is called there, is a twice a day habit that involves strong coffee and small pastry. It is an intentional break in the day for people to commune or simply enjoy a few moments of peace.
At Krokstrom Klubb a larger dessert is always available, but we chose to indulge in the Fika plate, a variety of small cookies and candies served with a full French press of Broadway Roasting Company’s dark roast. Jam thumbprints, peanut brittle, caramels, gingerbread, a caraway cookie and some of the best lavender mints that I’ve ever tasted filled the plate. The lavender mints were so delicious that we ordered more to take home.
The market portion of the restaurant’s name refers to the small selection of Scandinavian jams, honey, crackers, and their Broadway Roasting Company custom blend. Tucked away in the corner where bands used to set up when it was the Broadway Jazz Club, it offers a bit of the local flavor to take home.
Krokstrom Klubb’s decor reinforces the heritage aspect of the restaurant. With crisp, white tiles on the bar top and cozy pillows printed with Swedish wooden horses, it’s nostalgic without being kitschy.
Service here was swift, polite and funny. Rogers made sure to stop by and check on the experience during our meal. Each dish we ordered was not only well executed, but just novel enough to pique our interest. And then there were those smoked-trout potato pancakes.
Right now, Krokstrom Klubb only offers dinner but soon the owners intend to serve lunch and brunch as well, including a Mothers’ Day brunch.
Krokstrom Klubb and Market is located at 3601 Broadway Blvd. Kansas City, Mo 64111. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. For reservations, call 816-599-7531.