Café Ellefsen pays homage to the flavours of Scandinavia
I’ve gotten so used to decor being either modern cool dark or homey warm wood that walking into Ellefsen’s light, bright white world felt beautifully refreshing. The Scandinavian café boasts the kind of simple setting that invites you in without making you self-conscious about entering a restaurant.
Ellefsen is named for a dishy Norwegian sailor who jumped ship in the Baie des Ha! Ha! in 1885, struck by the beauty of the fjords. He spawned many little Ellefsens with local Exotipe Maltais, and this resto pays homage to the cheerful man and the flavours of Scandinavia.
Clearly the formula works. On a midday Monday, the place was packed with many people at tables with their laptops and a decent coffee, staring at their screens. I imagine the place gets more convivial at night, judging by the wine selection behind the bar.
My friend was waiting for me, sans glowing screen, but with hot coffee. We shared a salad of mixed greens and slivers of black radish topped with tasty marinated shrimp in a sundried tomato paste. A zippy dressing elevated the salad further, the whole ringed with a sweet drizzle of sherry vinegar reduction with notes of cardamom. This spice has been popular with Nords ever since the Vikings invaded Constantinople.
Now that I was alerted to cardamom, I could easily taste it in the Norwegian poutine. Thick, great fries were mixed with tender little meatballs, two-year-old cheddar and rich gravy. Another poutine features cod, which sounds peculiar but I suspect is worth trying.
Open-faced sandwiches, a.k.a. smorrebrod, are a staple here, as they are in Nordic countries. Although I know some northern heritage types who eat theirs with knife and fork, hands seem to be the regular modus operandi here.
The rye bread is sweetish, the toppings change daily, but you can count on choices like smooth gravlax, or guinea fowl with caramelized onions topped with little berries (messy but satisfying). We also had one with ratatouille that was a lively surprise of delicately diced veg, still firm and a bit sweet, on a thick, fluffy smear of goat cheese.
"It’s a happy place," my friend said. The sort you plan to go back to.
414 St-Zotique East
Meal for two: $30-$50