The city of Solvang still is one of my favorite summer vacation destinations in Santa Barbara County, California. It’s a fun, little town that hasn’t changed much since I first visit in the 1980s. The windmills and the motels are still there. The quaint boutique shops and horse drawn carriages are still there too. Heck, the dining staples hasn’t changed either. The fresh baked pastries from Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, the infamous Aebleskiver from Solvang Restaurant, and tasty Swedish Meatballs at the Red Viking Restaurant’s smorgasbord buffet are all timeless classics of Solvang’s dining destinations. So, it was no surprise to head over to Solvang to check out their annual Walking Smorgasbord to rediscover the danish food that I have long enjoyed eating.
My fondness for the smorgasbord dates as far back to my childhood in the early 80s. We had two Finnish high school exchange students who introduced us to their culture, mostly through food. I particularly remember thumbing through Scandinavian cookbooks leering at the pictures of food and pale blond people around a large buffet table. I was also quite fond of learning how to make strudel with jam and cinnamon rolls. Fuel added to my obsession with the smorgasbord even more, when my sister and I had make-believe smorgasbord parties. Smorgasbord as we know it is all about open faced sandwiches with various cheeses and cold cuts on buttered bread. Several dozen cold and hot side dishes are served with these sandwiches like my favorite pickled herring, lox, liver pate, and cucumber salad. My sister intricately carved the cheese and bread into triangles while I helped butter the bread and made a quick table set up for our feast.
The Taste of Solvang’s Walking Smorgasbord was an interesting self-paced walking tour through the streets of Solvang. Not every location was a restaurant or a bakery. Some were boutiques and day spas listed as a food tasting destination. They typically served homemade baked goods. My favorites tastings were obviously from the local bakeries and restaurants. Paula’s Pancake House served bite sized morsels of Medisterpolse, a Danish pork sausage. It’s the Danish version of Italian sausage, but without the robust herbs.
It was no surprise to find Olsen’s Danish Village giving away samples of their delightful apricot strudel. However, their tubs of shortbread butter cookies are what they’re also known for. Mortensen’s Danish Bakery had a lovely Cinnamon Crisp that were buttery and wafer thin (Pictured to left). It was hard to believe how incredibly fragile this pastry was. I wanted to devour it with a nice cup of hot coffee to at least warm myself up in the yucky weather. Unfortunately, the next door was Greenhouse Cafe serving Carlsberg Beer. I really wasn’t in the mood to mix a sweet cinnamon sugar pastry with a cold Danish beer.
Speaking of Greenhouse Cafe, they have a great selection of cold and hot sandwiches including my favorite, open faced sandwiches. During the Walking Smorgasbord, the Greenhouse Cafe dished out an open faced sandwich of Danish cheese (Havarti) on buttered pumpernickel bread.
About two hours into the walking tour, my friend and I came to a realization. What we really like about the Solvang’s Walking Smorgasbord event is the opportunity to check out many restaurants and bakeries. Speaking for myself only, I admit that I have my long time favorites like the Red Viking Restaurant and Solvang Bakery that I religiously dine at. If it weren’t for the Walking Smorgasbord, I would not have considered drinking a cup of artisnal coffee at The Bulldog Cafe inside The Book Loft or trying barbecued brisket and pulled pork at The Cowboy Way BBQ or even walking inside The Olive House to sample various olives and olive oils. Yeah, I admit that I’m a little biased when it comes to dining in Solvang. After all, preserving Danish culture is all over the place; in the architecture and the names of the streets. So, when it comes to dining in Solvang, I always stick to the classics like the Danish Pastries, the smorgasbord buffets, and yes, Arne’s Famouse Aebleskivers at the Solvang Restaurant.
Yes, I love Aebleskivers. They’re such a sweet and sinful dessert/breakfast/snack or whatever the heck you want to name it when you’re hungry. While we were in line, I was explaining to my friend that ironically, Aebleskivers are made the same way as the Japanese Takoyaki. In fact, the Aebleskiver cast iron pan is produced no differently than the Japanese version. Also, the batter to make these two delicacies is just like a pancake batter.
After a few hours of walking around Solvang, it was nice eat lots of delicious food on the Walking Smorgasbord route. It definitely was an enjoyable day to window shop the dozens of thrift shops and boutiques in between the tasting stops. I’m a “serial” food and wine event attendee and I found it slightly disappointing to find smaller serving sizes and a large selection of bakery items on the map. It’s not that I don’t like sweets, it just that I would have loved to have tasted more savory dishes that typically accompany a smorgasbord. I especially would have loved to have seen the local caterers participate in this food event too. Overall, however, the entire event turned out to be a nice, enjoyable stroll around Solvang, which never seems to lose its luster in my eyes or, should I say, my palate.