The dish: Traditionally, Swedish meatballs are served with gravy, not red sauce. They’re also smaller and denser than their Italian counterpart. It’s hard not to like meatballs—they’re easy to make, even easier to eat, and they’re usually the bargain item on any menu. When it comes to the Nordic variety, what could be better than pitting a Scandinavian furniture store against a Scandinavian bar in a Swedish-meatball challenge?
The rivals: IKEA, 601 S.W. 41st St., Renton, 425-656-2980. The question is not what makes a Swedish meatball Swedish, but what makes an IKEA meatball a meatball? These clumps of brown meat are served with little if any TLC, and are as tasteless as the paper cup they’re served in. (That’s right, paper cup.) If you order your meatballs at the express cafeteria-style cafe, you’ll get five meatballs for a buck, but if you decide to actually order from the restaurant, you’ll be rewarded with a bit more of a fine-dining experience: twice the amount of meatballs—on a plate!—with mashed taters and lingonberries, for about five dollars. Regardless, the meatballs are just about the most unappetizing things you’ll ever lay eyes on. One reason is because IKEA meatballs are thawed from a frozen pack, which they sell retail along with their powdered sauce mix. IKEA’s meatballs are made with pork, chicken, onions, bread crumbs, and seasoning. Too bad the only thing you’ll taste is disappointment.
Copper Gate, 6301 24th Ave. N.W., 706-3292. An order of half a dozen or so handmade balls comes with a side of lingonberry preserves and potato-celeriac mash garnished with pancetta chunks. The meatballs don’t look too appetizing—in fact, they appear downright dry and a tad miserable. But they aren’t bad. The meatballs are made with the usual suspects: onion, garlic, eggs, salt and pepper, and of course ground beef. And for about as much as you’ll pay for a plate of IKEA restaurant meatballs, you’ll get flavor and thoughtfulness in preparation. Sure, Copper Gate’s balls are not going to win any beauty pageant, but they’ll win you over as a satisfactory snack to go with your aquavit at the ship-shaped bar.
The champ: Neither meatball blew our socks off, but the Copper Gate version had something IKEA’s lacked: taste. Therefore, if given the opportunity, we’ll skip the furniture wonderland and head to Seattle’s Little Scandinavia for some authentic Swedish meatballs. You don’t have to be a Viking descendant to enjoy these meaty morsels, but it will certainly help if you throw a couple of Nordic cocktails down the hatch first.