9500 Ikea Way
West Chester, Ohio
For most folks, the cafeteria inside Scandinavian-designed furniture and accessories store Ikea conjurs up thoughts of Swedish meatballs. While the meatballs are probably their biggest seller, the restaurant also offers a range of hot and cold meals that even vegetarians can enjoy.
Over the years my husband and I have visited a number of Ikea stores in both England and the United States, and while there may be subtle differences in the restaurants (in the U.K. they charge extra for condiment packets, for instance) the choices are fairly uniform. Diners grab a melamine tray and choose items from various cold cabinets, or may opt for one of the daily hot meal specials, dished up by restaurant staff.
Swedish ham with mustard sauce, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables was the daily special when we visited, and while I wasn't the least bit interested in that, Steve was. His first bite made him slightly weepy, and he proclaimed that it tasted almost identical to the dish his Danish grandmother used to prepare for Sunday lunch.
The vegetarian choices on the hot bar are pasta with marinara sauce, French fries or a side of steamed veggies. I opted instead for a cold wrap ($2.99) and was pleasantly surprised by the unique filling. Instead of the usual lettuce/cheese/tomatoes one normally finds inside veggie wraps, this sandwich was packed with mung bean sprouts, water chestnuts, paper-thin cucumbers, red onion, roasted peppers and a mild yogurt sauce of mustard and basil. I suspect there is a typically practical Scandinavian reason for this mix of fillings: they can sit inside the chill cabinet all day without wilting or becoming soggy.
The sauce in the wrap was so delicious that I went in search of it afterwards in the grocery section of the store. (Sås Senap & Basilika, $1.99) Vegetarians can also take advantage of the small but adequate salad bar, which features two hot soups, but since no one could tell me if they were safe for vegetarians, I suggest approaching with caution.
No trip to the Ikea Cafeteria is complete without dessert, and the Princess Cake looked so festive and pretty that I had to try it. The pastry is made of sponge cake topped with raspberry jam and whipped cream, then covered in green marzipan. It's a very traditional Swedish dessert and tastes much lighter than one would think, based on the description.
For Steve there was no question of what he'd get for dessert - the Daim bar cake was too tempting to pass up. Similar to the American Heath bar but with a hard almond caramel filling instead of toffee, the Daim bar is rich and crunchy, and the Daim bar cake even moreso. Rich is an understatement, and even diehard chocolate lovers like my husband may be hard-pressed to finish it. (He's such a trooper though and soldiered on until every crumb was gone.) These desserts and more are also available in the grocery section of the store, located just beyond the check-out aisles.
Ikea is famous for clever designs and affordable flat-packed furniture, and while their cafeteria food isn't likely to win any awards, it's a pleasant diversion to refuel before hitting the Marketplace downstairs.