Serviceable cafeteria food sold at value-heavy prices is dished up in a popular home furnishings store
If Santa failed to anticipate your every need and desire, you might find yourself on yet another shopping excursion. If spare, modern and affordable furniture or home accessories remain on your gift list, like hordes of other bargain-hunters, you might find yourself in the Columbus branch of Sweden-founded Ikea Home Furnishings. If sustenance is required to navigate your way through that enormous store, which opened in June, Ikea can feed you.
That's a lot of “ifs,” but at 354,000 square feet, Ikea's a lot of store. The second-floor Ikea Restaurant is capacious, too (there's a first-floor snack bar as well). Here's what isn't big: Ikea Restaurant's prices, which are among the lowest around.
These prices are visible on the overhead menu screens prominent in the eatery's cafeteria-style set-up. This area abuts a seat-yourself, kid-friendly (high-chairs aplenty), multi-room dining space with countless wooden tables, seasonal decorations and bright lighting from abundant windows, plus overhanging lamps boasting huge, fanciful shades. Befitting Ikea's reputation, the space is well-maintained and exhibits a less-is-more aesthetic.
Ikea also has a reputation for Swedish Meatballs, so I immediately targeted that popular entree ($6). Dominating the plate are 10 orbs the size of ping-pong balls. The spheres are springy, yet have a slightly browned and crisped exterior, plus a likable pork-and-beef flavor heightened by a bit of onion and winter spices. Ikea's ubiquitous, assertive lingonberry jam — think of it as Sweden's answer to cranberry sauce — provides an interesting counterpoint.
Most of the meatballs are ladled with a comforting, creamy gravy bearing garlic notes, plus … is that diphosphate I tasted? And did I detect a whiff of maltodextrin?
Actually, I couldn't name the chemical aftertaste I noticed, but subsequent research performed on a dining-area touchscreen informed me that those multisyllabic ingredients are indeed in the gravy. This leads me to wonder if much of the food here starts out frozen, and isn't so much cooked as reheated. The not-so-bad mashed potatoes and the limp “fall veggie medley” (cauliflower, carrots and other root vegetables) accompanying the meatballs didn't dispel this notion.
Neither did the Chicken Cordon Bleu ($4), a markedly inexpensive nightly special. Recalling an above-average “airline meal” version of the classic dish, it features two crisp and thickly battered chicken logs filled with molten cheese sauce and good Canadian bacon. My sides were little carrots (no surprises) and soft mac-and-cheese with a tangy sauce (I've certainly had worse). If you'd like a side salad($2), it'll be of similar quality and your dressing will come in a one-serve packet produced by a commercial brand such as Newman's Own.
The big and healthful Salmon Fillet entree ($7) stars a sizeable piece of fish — Ikea serves sustainably farmed salmon — topped with a thick lemon-dill sauce diminished by a chemical aftertaste. Sides are the fall veggie medley and one of the best items I sampled here: the “vegetable medallion,” which resembles a nice little broccoli-and-cheese veggie burger enhanced with a touch of onion.
Another relative highlight is the Swedish American Breakfast, a bounteous amount of food for $2. My platter had plenty of crisp, golden-brown fried potato cubes; breakfast-style chicken sausage links; scrambled eggs; and a Swedish pancake (read: a rather heavy and gummy crepe).
The best dessert I sampled was the genuinely attractive Nordic Mousse ($2). Made with tangy quark cheese, berries and a cookie crust, it's a wiggly, squat white cylinder that tastes like a light-and-airy cheesecake.
It's pleasant and refreshing, so I didn't bother to check that touchscreen truth-teller for evidence of extraneous ingredients. Besides, at Ikea's prices — even with its less satisfying fare — I generally seemed to get more than I paid for.