The Swedish Club's monthly pancake breakfast may be one of the city's best bets for accessible, affordable brunch, delivering an unbeatable combo of classic comfort food and the wistful pull of nostalgia.
My reputation as a breakfast-food enthusiast precedes me, so when I found out that Seattle’s Swedish Club held a monthly pancake feed, I knew I had to experience it for myself. I enlisted my former colleague Shirley Qiu as my brunch co-pilot, and headed to the cultural center on Dexter Avenue North, ready to feast on as many crepe-thin pancakes as I could.
Reader, it was a dream come true.
The Swedish Club is an almost comically pleasant place to eat breakfast. With easy parking on-site (seriously), a short line and a reasonable admission price, it may be one of the city’s best bets for accessible, affordable brunch in a market saturated with long wait times and longer bills. Eleven dollars gets you up to six huge pancakes with all the fixings (plus ham, coffee, tea and orange juice). (It’s $9 for Swedish Club members, $5 for kids ages 5-12 and free if you’re under 5.)
And in a crowded field of characterless brunch spots pushing that chrome/succulents/taxidermy aesthetic (a lazy shorthand for cool here in the PNW), the Swedish Club’s friendly vibe — remember, it’s basically a community center — is a welcome deviation.
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As I walked in, I was immediately greeted by two friendly middle-aged volunteers staffing the check-in table. They asked if it was my first time (it was), and gave me two tickets. The first, explained one of the volunteers, was for three pancakes with lingonberry and/or strawberry sauce and “too much whipped cream,” plus coffee, ham and juice. The second ticket? It was for “if you’re still hungry” after your first helping. (This would not turn out to be a problem.)
They also sounded a note of warning: I was lucky I’d showed up now, they said, because “Old Seattle is disappearing.” But everything I experienced after was evidence to the contrary. In an airy room with a magnificent view of Lake Union, a band played upbeat tunes while elderly folks danced and people of all ages ate their fill of cakes at long tables covered in blue-checkered cloths. There were traditional costumes, and helpful name tags, and only a short wait at the back of the room, where smiling volunteers served breakfast in portions so gigantic that the woman waiting behind me had (rightly) brought Tupperware for leftovers.
Oh yeah, and there was a huge Viking ship on the wall.
It was all a little “Twin Peaks,” if that show had cranked up the whimsy and toned down the murder.
When my turn came, I collected my generous portion of pancakes — the Swedish variety are flatter and thinner than their American cousins, and not quite as sweet, but just as delicious — with lingonberries AND strawberries (why limit yourself). As I piled on — yes — probably too much whipped cream, and poured a creamy cup of weak-but-comforting coffee, I realized that it reminded me of something besides David Lynch’s vision of the Northwest.
I felt like I had time-traveled to the Scandinavian neighborhood of my Seattle childhood, where I remember going to school with kids whose grandmas made delicious krumkake; seeing the flags of Norway, Finland and Sweden waving in the rain above the chain grocery store; and hearing about my dad’s cross-country ski club, started by Norwegian ski jumpers. I’m not Scandinavian, but Ballard was home.
A Swedish pancake breakfast, then, delivered a one-two punch for me: the unbeatable warmth of classic comfort food, and the wistful pull of nostalgia. As I sat with my coffee and my pancakes (I could only finish about half), I was reminded of Saturday afternoons spent drinking watery orange Gatorade from a paper cup in a cabin in the woods after skiing with my dad as we hung out with his pom-pom-hatted, shiny-suited ski friends. I was reminded of Seattle’s roots, and a community that welcomed my family so many years ago — a community my pancake concierges worried might be slipping away.
But I wouldn’t be so quick to sound the death knell for Old Seattle. Not when you can get it in pancake form once a month.
Next time, I’m bringing Tupperware.
Swedish Club monthly pancake breakfast
Held the first Sunday of each month (with two exceptions; check schedule online), from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; 1920 Dexter Ave., Seattle; 206-283-1090; swedishclubnw.org/Events/pancake.htm