The folks at Ikea take their Swedish roots very seriously, as if you couldn’t tell from the bright yellow and brilliant blue hues of the store’s façade – the colors of the flag of Sweden. But what you find inside this big box is more than just ultra-modern furniture at ultra-low prices with ultra-unpronounceable names.
A large portion of their second floor is devoted to a dining court and if you’ve not considered sampling their fare, we humbly suggest you give it a try. It’s a bit like a mini-excursion to Scandanavia and a bargain to boot. Who needs a dollar menu when you can get a plate of Swedish meatballs, a scoop of homemade mashed potatoes and a dollop of lingonberry sauce for just $3.99?
(Here’s a helpful tip if you want to check out the restaurant and skip the rest of the store: Take the escalator to the second floor and head right. This puts you at the rear of the restaurant and trims a whole lot of walking off your trip.)
Décor: These folks practice what they preach, and every stick of furniture looks as if it comes right off the Ikea showroom floor. Bent-wood chairs with buffed metal arms, multifaceted globe-shaped light fixtures, tiny round café-style tables and long benches of blond wood with adjoining orange bench seats. The floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the parking lot give the space a generous amount of gorgeous natural light, and there’s so much seating the place could hold a couple of hundred people easily. For those with tykes, there’s a triangular play area with tables that face inward, essentially blocking the kids in while letting their parents dine with a modicum of peace.
Menu: This is a cafeteria-style restaurant. You grab your tray and begin with the desserts and refrigerated items (salads, wraps, juices). From there you work your way over to the hot items, which you request from two employees standing behind the counter. Naturally, the Swedish meatballs are their claim to fame but they also serve other Scandanavian cuisine, including baked, smoked and stuffed salmon, an open-face shrimp-and-egg sandwich and something called ligonberry drink.
However, they don’t force the Swedish thing down your throat, if you’ll pardon the pun. In fact, much of what they offer are items that will make the non-adventurous feel right at home: meatloaf, chicken marsala, Greek and Caesar salads, buffalo chicken wraps and so on.
Price-wise, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal. The chicken wrap is just $3.99, and you can get chips and a drink for $1.79 more. The veggie crepes are $2.99, and you can add a side salad for 99 cents. Every Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m., they have a $7.99 half-rack baby back ribs special, which comes with fries and cornbread. In the morning, they serve a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes for 99 cents.
What we tried: OK, really now, are we actually going to go to a Swedish restaurant known for its meatballs and not give them a try? There’s a reason they sell these frozen by the bag so you can take them home with you – they’re that good. The $3.99 meal comes with 15 meatballs – each about an inch in diameter – covered in a creamy gravy. They’re moist, not greasy, and boast a lot of flavor. The mashed potatoes are homemade and there’s no mistaking that a lot of butter goes into the recipe – no need for gravy here. The lingonberry sauce is similar to cranberry sauce, but the berries are smaller and not nearly as bitter. The consistency is almost jam-like. It's a nice complement to the rest of the meal.
Based on the advice of a fellow diner, we also sampled the vegetable medallions (two for $1.99). She did not steer us wrong. They may not look terribly appetizing – they resembled a couple of small hockey pucks – but they were excellent. Nothing more than a heaping serving of diced broccoli and cauliflower held together with what seemed like a combo of cheese and milk and baked. An easy way to get your vegetables and like them, too.
Children: You will not find a more kid-friendly place. Not only do they have the aforementioned play/dining area, they also feature 13 kid-sized dining options – mac & cheese, peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, pasta marinara, applesauce – each for 99 cents or three for $2.49. They even sell jars of baby food for 79 cents. A rack of high chairs means you’ll never be waiting for someone to finish with one before you can sit down with the kids.
Desserts: They practice the keep-it-simple school of thought here. A slab of chocolate mousse layer cake is $2.99 and their specialty, apple cake (similar to a German strudel in cake form), is $2.29.
Address: 750 E. Boughton Road, Bolingbrook
Information: 630-972-7900, www.ikea.com/USA
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday