I’ve never been to Copenhagen, so I have no clue how close South Lake Union’s Cafe Hagen comes to its goal of re-creating a Copenhagen vibe in Seattle — a city with deep Scandinavian roots. However, the cafe was started by a Danish native, and I can vouch that the vibe is comfortable, yet fierce, with a good amount of inviting European chic thrown into the mix.
Here’s the scoop. Cafe Hagen is a fishbowl of wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows, the interior is blond wood, sleek black chairs, and the odd tufted leather easy chair with a white sheepskin rug thrown casually over top, a refined sense of hygge. The fierce part comes in when you look more closely at one wall, studded with large-scale black and white photographs of women in intricate armor.
Owner Maria Beck, a Denmark native, says she and her staff brainstormed how to best emphasize their own interpretation of hygge for Cafe Hagen. Traditionally, the increasingly popular buzzword is a descriptor of a mood. It’s cozy or comfortable and it’s a major cultural touchstone for the Danish. The photos on the walls are supposed to depict the women as defenders of a sort.
“Our baristas aren’t warriors, [but] we’re the ones providing the coziness. We’ll be the hand that will provide all the hygge and good part of your life,” Beck says.
The logo for Cafe Hagen is also a warrior, and the armor the women (all employees) in the photos are wearing was custom made.
Beck, who also owns Ballard’s Venture Coffee, is an engineer-turned-restaurateur. Her goal is for Cafe Hagen to be an experience.
“We consider ourselves to be a European cafe. We’re not just a coffee shop,” she says.
The plates, bowls, cutlery and beautiful hand-painted mugs are all sourced from Denmark. The menu is still changing, but while we were there it encompassed breakfast sandwiches, overnight oats and yogurt bowls for breakfast, alongside open-faced toasts, sandwiches and salads.
Beck says everything is made in-house — from the cured salmon and bread to the custom Nutella-like spread and the jam.
The salmon toast ($13) features a thick slab of seedy bread, topped with a creamy Danish goat cheese, fennel, fresh dill and a few slices of silky, rich cured salmon. I opted to add a soft-boiled egg ($2), which enhanced the overall richness. This is a knife and fork toast. The bread is soft but substantial, and the toppings tower too high to comfortably eat out of hand.
The salmon had the perfect salt-to-sugar ratio in the two-day cure, the fennel added a nice crunch. Thankfully the dill was deployed with a light hand. Overall, a wonderful, filling toast.
One of my dining companions ordered the avocado bowl ($11), which featured more of that creamy Danish cheese with a soft-boiled egg, prosciutto, half an avocado, arugula, woefully out-of-season cherry tomatoes, and craisins.
Another friend got the goat cheese and jam sandwich ($11). Served on fresh focaccia, the goat cheese and jam sandwich came warm, and was topped with arugula and roasted tomatoes. I’m not exactly sure why this sweet and savory combination exists, but the kindly barista claimed it to be her favorite, and it wasn’t half bad. Still, I’ll take a straightforward salmon toast over this any day of the week.
Presentation is simple and elegant. Beck says during brunch, items will all be served in separate tiny bowls; one for eggs, another for bacon, and so forth. The idea came from her kids, who often won’t eat items if they are touching other items. Beck says she’s picky like that, too, and wants people to be able to decide on their own how to eat the food they ordered.
“It’s design-oriented, but also taste-oriented,” she says.
For those with a sweet tooth, there is also a large case of pastries and cookies, all of which caught my eye for a future visit. The coffee is roasted by a company that Beck established in 2018 called Hagen Coffee Roasters. She sources direct from two women-owned farms, one in Honduras, the other in Costa Rica. Chocolate sauce and caramel are made in-house for specialty drinks, as is a beautifully balanced earl grey tea concentrate for a London fog simply called THE FOG ($5.50), made by Chi Chai, another Seattle-based company Beck owns.
There is some curious wording on Cafe Hagen’s website that states the cafe serves “made-to-order brunch selections by a Michelin star chef,” but Beck says that’s a minor misunderstanding. There is no Michelin star chef; rather, Beck is inspired by the feeling that one gets while visiting Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe.
“When you go to good European cafes, it’s not about having a bagel in a bag and coffee in a cup. It’s a great mug, great presentation of food. I really do want extraordinary effort,” she says.
Cafe Hagen: 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 1252 Thomas St., Seattle; 206-913-2847, cafehagen.com.