The New Nordic
Krokstrom Klubb & Market brings first-of-its-kind flavors to KC with Scandinavian small plates and Nordic novelties.
When couple Katee McClean and Josh Rogers announced last October their plans to take over the restaurant space at 3601 Broadway Blvd., whispers abound. That address seemed cursed: A jazz club had failed there; before that, the 3,900-square-foot venue was vacant for a period following the 2012 closing of a gay sports-themed bar.
In under five months, McClean and Rogers have made every effort to turn the ship around, reinventing the space as Krokstrom Klubb & Market — an upscale but homey 85-seat restaurant (with an additional 18 bar seats) centered on traditional Scandinavian cuisine. Gone are the garish red awnings hanging over the restaurant’s large windows. The heavy metal door that once opened up to a room filled with imposing hues of maroon, dark brown and black has been replaced with a pretty cedar door, as if it belonged to a charming cottage.
Inside, Krokstrom’s colors are bright and tidy. The small stage area that once welcomed musicians has been transformed into the market area — a cozy nook stocked with Scandinavian cookbooks, decorations and preserves. The bar surface is laid with neat white tiles; the tables bear white tablecloths covered with brown butcher paper. The centerpieces are a mix of classy (tasteful dried flower arrangements) and folksy (tree stump candleholders bearing electric candles). Some walls are painted with rosemåling images (traditional Norwegian folk art, usually featuring intricate flower patterns). I learn later that these have all been painted by McClean’s aunt. Leftover from the jazz club is one row of plush red booth-style cushioning against a wall, as well as the red-and-black chairs and barstools.
Fortunately, none of the Broadway Jazz Club menu — an unimaginative and overpriced list of American pub food — has carried over. A culinary graduate of Johnson County Community College who has toiled at several PB&J Restaurants, chef McClean has now turned to her roots. Taking her Scandinavian heritage, largely Swedish, as inspiration, she has designed an expansive menu in “the smorgasbord method.” There are five main sections: charcuterie, smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) and salads, small plates, entrees and dessert — which, McClean tells me, is how the meal would be coursed out in Scandinavia.
“If you did one item from every course, you’d be waddling out of here,” she tells me one evening as I sat at the bar, “but I don’t think that’s a bad thing! You learn what you like and go from there.”
On Krokstrom’s first official night of business, one unseasonably warm Tuesday in mid-February, two friends and I were dead-set on waddling out of the restaurant. Of the six charcuterie options — bröd and smör (warm bread with house whipped butter and Icelandic lava salt), beet-cured gravlax board (house-cured salmon with knäckebröd, thin rye crackers), ost board (cheese tray), fisk board (smoked and cured fish) and a cured meat board — we opted for the smörgåsbord ($20), which the menu told us was “a wide range of something.”
When ours arrived, it was as promised: the best parts of all the different boards, assembled on a wooden paddle: pickled herring, gravlox, shaved Westphalian ham, pork and rosemary rillette with apple celery jam, Gjetost and bond-ost, pickled green beans, pickled cauliflower, pickled onion, pickled green tomatoes and house mustard seeds. On the side, in a separate dish: charred leek butter with rye and pumpernickel toast points.
My companions and I were equally engrossed with the familiar flavors — the gravlax (raw salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill) similar to lox but with a delightfully tangy flavor, and McClean’s richly textured rillette — and the wonderfully strange. The Gjetost, a sweet, caramel-like goat cheese from Norway, pronounced “yay toast,” was one of the most surprising and addictive flavors on the board, and it disappeared almost as quickly as McClean’s house-made butter.
As soon as we polished off the smörgåsbord — down to the very final mustard seed, mind you — our next course arrived. We had selected two of the six smørrebrøds — one called black, bacon and orange ($9.50) and another called toast skagen ($11, pickled shrimp with lemon and dill) — and two of the four salads, a creamy carrot ($5.50) and a lavender beet ($6). This filled our table with a painter’s bounty of color.
In the carrot salad — which ended up a favorite dish of the evening — long ribbons of carrots are marinated in cider vinegar and arranged with akvavit-soaked golden raisins, garnished with fresh parsley and dainty dollops of horseradish cream and parsley oil.
“How do I eat this?” one friend asked.
“With a fork,” I replied, thinking myself clever — until I stabbed one of the wavy tendrils with my own utensil, only to find it wouldn’t adhere. I went in with my fingers and was rewarded with a sweet, tangy and bright bite — and I instantly regretted having to share that dish at all.
The other star of this round was the black, bacon and orange, served as two fat cuts of pork belly braised in juniper and orange juice, piled high atop thinly sliced whole grain rye with pickled scallions and orange glaze. Now, pork belly is almost always delicious, but McClean’s treatment of it was positively revelatory — each bite a satisfying morsel of fat and citrus.
Small plates were next, and we had elected five of the nine: root vegetable chip and dips ($6), lefse and sausage ($7), mushroom strudel ($9), mussels with apple cream ($11.50) and the hot crayfish dip ($10). For now, the chips are only potato — but it’s really all about the dips, anyway. The chilled green onion dip is McClean’s father’s recipe, and it is cool, creamy perfection that puts your Target-purchased Lay’s dip to shame. The other dip — a hot thyme, sherry and onion — was sinfully good.
Stuart Aldridge at Broadway Butcher Shop provides the rosy smoked beet and pork sausage that McClean wraps with lefse (a Norwegian flatbread imported from a company in Minneapolis), slices and plates with micro greens and a house stone-ground mustard. Pretty to look at, but even better to eat, this was a hearty — and, we convinced ourselves, “healthy-ish” — dish. The mushroom strudel — wild mushrooms and root vegetables wrapped in puff pastry, served in a pool of akvavit cream with glögg (mulled spiced wine) reduction — was a comforting mix of sweet and savory that could easily serve as a vegetarian entree.
The mussels small plate and the crayfish dip were the first dishes to disappoint. The mussel broth, made with IPA, apples, fennel and heavy cream, was heavy on the beer and thus, overly bitter; it robbed the mussels of any natural flavor they might have had. The dip, a mix of cream cheese and crayfish, was tasty enough, but rather heavy and not nearly as artful as McClean’s other creations.
Lastly, we surveyed the five entrees, none of which would be considered light fare. McClean’s Swedish meatballs ($18.50), with potatoes, Ligonberry sauce and a cucumber salad, is sure to be a best-selling dish. Ikea meatballs these are not: McClean’s recipe combines pork and turkey, covered in akvavit cream sauce, for round, juicy forkfuls.
The 8-ounce teres major ($21) — a beef shoulder cut, as tender as fillet and loaded with flavor, which McClean basted with bone marrow butter, fresh rosemary and garlic confit — was served in a cast iron skillet with horseradish sour cream and lingonberry on the side. Steak lovers, McClean understands you.
These two entrees outshone the akvavit chicken thighs ($16.50) or, rather, thigh (the menu is plural, though the dish arrives with only one piece). The thigh is brined in cider and served, again, with akvavit cream sauce and placed atop grits mixed with hominy and wild mushrooms. It’s a busy plate, and one designed seemingly only for the stubborn guest who always wants the chicken entree.
A week after this first visit, I returned and sat at the bar. Rogers plied me with his house-infused akvavit (one pour packed big flavors of orange peel, caraway and fennel) — that Scandinavian staple liquor, similar to gin — and I ambled comfortably through the small signature cocktail list ($9 to $12). Try the Swedish 22, a Champagne cocktail with house-made akvavit (a Scandinavian spirit like vodka, often made with potatoes and spiced with caraway or other spices like cardamom, anise or dill).
Rogers serves both as Krokstrom’s general manager and bar manager, roles he has previously held at the Corner Table and Port Fonda. He has great plans for the bar: In a few months, he’ll have barrel-aged mead ready (an ancient drink created with fermented honey and sometimes fruits, spices, grains and hops), and eventually, he hopes to have ice wine, which is typically a dessert wine produced with frozen grapes on the vine. There are further plans — sidewalk tables for warm weather, a beer garden next spring.
Unlike the rest of the menu, dessert options are limited. There is a rotating feature — the night we went, it was a pleasantly simple gooseberry custard cake — and a fika sweet plate ($6) with a rotating assortment of cookies and treats. Served on the type of ornate, clear rectangular glass dish my grandmother has a dozen of in her Wisconsin dining room, McClean’s fika boasts quite the selection: saffron and orange meringues, espresso shortbreads, ginger and pepper cookies, pecan crescents, Swedish dream cookies (McClean’s dad’s recipe again, a sugar cookie containing pecan and coconut), mulberry thumbprint cookies, lavender vanilla butter-mint and parchment-wrapped molasses toffees.
“It’s considered rude in Scandinavian culture to have less than seven types of cookies on the fika plate,” McClean would later tell me. “We have eight.”
Would that all meals could end this way.
Krokstrom Klubb & Market is open for dinner only on Tues. through Sunday, at 3601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 599-7531, klubbkrokstrom.com. Lunch service may be available by press time.