My family was recently rocked by a scandalous and shocking test result that will forever change our lives — our DNA turns out to be 52 percent Scandinavian. We are not blonde, we have no particular affinity toward meatballs and only occasionally shop at Ikea. The signs were always there, though — my mother’s dallying with pickled herring in the 1970s, the fact that as children, my brother and I could do a spot-on imitation of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets and a suspicion that lingonberry runs in our blood.
Turns out more of us with English heritage (up to 12 percent, according to Ancestry.com) can trace our lineage to the glacial lakes, forest and fjords than we expected. Blame the marauding Vikings — or don’t — but at least now you can experience a bit of Motherland cuisine right here in Sonoma County, no matter where your DNA says you’re from.
Stockhome Restaurant is a collaboration between husband and wife team Roberth and Andrea Sundell, who own the upscale Swedish restaurant Plaj in San Francisco. After living in Petaluma for years with their kids, the couple decided to open a walk-up cafe featuring unfussy family favorites closer to home. Open just two weeks, the restaurant has become a neighborhood hub, mixing Turkish and Mediterranean street food found in the larger cities of Sweden with homey classics like Swedish meatballs, pickled herring and Swedish pancakes on the menu — all of it with a few nods to California as well. Consider it the United Nations of local dining.
Fun fact: Though kabobs, schwarma and kofta seem a world away from the smoked salmon and rye bread usually associated with Scandinavian cuisine, Sweden actually has a long history of assimilation of Middle Eastern foods. Less than a month ago, the world was shocked to find out that the recipe for Swedish meatballs was actually brought from Turkey to Sweden by the exiled King Charles XII in the early 18th century, according to the country’s national Twitter account. But who’s cornered the market on the Swedish meatball? Ikea, the Swedish furniture company that sells more than 2 million per day, according to its website? Take that, Turkey.
The interior is the bright, classic Swedish minimalist look you’d expect, with cornflower blue paint outside welcoming you into a large open room with clean lines, long group tables and vintage Josef Frank floral wallpaper — something most Swedes immediately recognize from their childhoods, according to my co-worker and dining partner, Sofia, who, with my other co-worker, Annika, are both Stockholm natives.
Wherever you’re from and wherever you’re going, there’s one thing we can all agree on, and that’s tasty food. Combining the flavors and presentation of a fine dining experience in a casual environment, the Sundells have nailed a need that’s long existed in Sonoma County — where grownups and kids can both enjoy a solid meal with flavors both familiar and exotic. The bonus: The Swedish tradition of lördagsgodis, wherein kids are allowed candy only on Saturday, but can then indulge in as much as they want, is alive and well here, with tempting jars filled with Plopp! chocolates, gummy fish and (be warned) spicy salted licorice candy that only a Swede could love.
How did the food stack up with the Swedes? Both Annika and Sofia said the food was pretty spot on. I think I noticed a few little tears in their stoic Nordic eyes when we ate the pickled herring, but they’d never admit it. I’ve noted their favorites.
Korv Kiosk (hot dog stand) Tunnbrod Rulle ($9): This is serious post-drinking food, because no sober person would put a smoked German sausage, mashed potatoes, ketchup, mustard, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes inside a rolled Swedish flatbread. But somehow it’s delicious no matter what your inebriation status. Swedes approve.
Lamb and Beef Kebab Plate ($14): Thin slices of juicy lamb and beef are topped with a light tomato sauce and a side of garlic yogurt. “A lot of our Swedish friends tasted this to make sure it was right,” said Roberth. Served with fries or saffron rice, it’s a hearty portion of tender meat far better than your usual gyro fare. Swedes approved.
Celery Root Gratin with Wrangeback Cheese ($8): This dish is all about the sharp, herby raw cow’s milk cheese that’s melty in some spots and nicely crisped and caramelized in others. Thin slices of celery root are merely a transmission system for the cheese, butter and milk that make this so intensely addictive.
Grilled Stone Fruits ($9): Impossibly simple, perfectly seasonal nectarines get the lightest of grills, tossed with chewy barley and tart pomegranate molasses.
Shrimp Skagen ($12): The traditional Swedish shrimp salad on toast gets a California twist, made with bits of brioche toast, avocado, olive oil and chili. A refreshing small plate you won’t really want to share. Swedes approve.
Plank Steak ($24): Literally a steak on a wooden plank. It arrives with an aggressive-looking upright knife stabbed into the center of the steak. Swedes are impressed and say this is very Old School childhood memory kind of food. Served with piped “Duchess” potatoes, asparagus, grilled tomato and Bearnaise sauce — a classic French tarragon cream sauce that’s a bit of a rarity anymore, but such a perfect pairing with steak.
Wienerschnitzel ($24): Most Americans make this with pounded pork — and its nothing like the velvety texture of veal, used in this version. If you’re looking for the most authentic version of this luxury dish, you’ve found it. Tiny roasted potatoes with English peas, capers and loads of butter may be one of the best sides I’ve had in recent memory.
Mashed Potato Bowl ($18): Every Swede has a secret meatball recipe, and Roberth is no exception. His grandmother’s recipe is rich with clove and spices, with tender meat atop fluffy mashed potatoes and a delicate brown gravy. Of course there are lingonberries and pickled cucumbers. A pork cheek and mushroom or salmon version is also available, but really, come on, meatballs! Swedes were split on this one.
Swedish Pancakes ($7): I know my Swedish pancakes, because I’ve been making them on Sunday mornings for the past 15 years. Mine are sweeter, these are eggier, both are way better than French crepes by a long shot. With a scoop of vanilla whipped cream and berries, they’re indulgent, though I love mine with just lemon, butter and powdered sugar — a suggested variance? Swede approved.
Overall: A great family-friendly cafe with something for everyone. The kids’ menu will satisfy the young ones, while a nice beer and wine list (and excellent food) make the grown-ups happy. No matter where you’re from, you’re an honorary Swede at Stockhome.
Details: 220 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-981-8511, stockhomerestaurant.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11a.m. to 9p.m.