In a constantly changing quadrant of Seattle, Nielsen's carries on a Danish tradition of coziness — serving comfort, caffeine and tasty pastries.
If there’s a better salve for dreariness than wrapping your sweater-sleeved paws around a warm mug and stuffing your gullet with delicate, sugary treats, I don’t know what it is. And if you, too, love battling the permacloud with comfort food and caffeine, you can’t do better than the cozy Danish pastry shop Nielsen’s.
In a quadrant of the city increasingly dominated by construction sites and meat-market nightlife, Nielsen’s is among a handful of welcoming Old Seattle spots anchoring the neighborhood.
You don’t have to like Lower Queen Anne to like Nielsen’s. From the cheery pink-checkered floors to the indie rock playing behind the counter to the charmingly mismatched mugs of very good coffee (provided by Olympia Coffee Roasters, praise be), the bakery feels homey and authentic in a city where encroaching new development has muddled our definitions of both.
At other Seattle pastry ‘n’ coffee purveyors, you might have to contend with outlet-claiming laptop warriors, strollers Go-Karting each other for space and people who begin their coffee order with the phrase “I need.”
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Not so at Nielsen’s.
The day I went, I stood in front of the pastry case for as long as I wanted — there were only a few other customers — until I’d assembled the pastry assortment of my dreams: a snitter (kind of like a flattened cinnamon roll, with a ribbon of cheesy cream down the middle), a poppy-seed roll and something called a potato. Pastries (savory and sweet!) will set you back a whole $3 to $3.75 each. There’s also coffee cake ($3.25 for a slice/$25 for the whole thing), cookies (85 cents each), and an impressively huge pretzel-shaped kringle ($16) should you need to feed a crowd. I ordered a latte, too. It arrived almost instantly in a jaunty red snowflake mug, the perfect pairing for my small feast of pastries.
About those pastries: They were scrumptious little sugar bombs (with the exception of the poppy-seed roll, which was subtler and more croissant-like) and I’d order any of them again. But my favorite was the potato. Don’t worry: It’s not really a potato at all, but a tubelike cream puff with a sheet of marzipan on top, dusted generously with cocoa powder.
The effect is a cute pastry that looks more like a critter than a tuber: It resembles a gigantic potato bug wearing a potato sack, and its delightful complexities do not end there. While other cream puffs emphasize the puff, Nielsen’s potato is really about the cream. It’s more like a portable pudding than a pastry. (You might want a fork and knife, though. It’s messy.)
Nielsen’s has a long history in Seattle. It originally opened in 1965 under the purview of John Nielsen. In 2017, it was taken over by Holly and Chris Prairie, who continue to sell Danish pastries; Holly Prairie had worked at Nielsen’s beginning in 2009, when she was in college at Seattle Pacific University. Their goal for the shop, according to their website, is to “establish hygge in the midst of an ever-changing city.”
Hygge, of course, is the increasingly popularized Danish term for a feeling of coziness, and that coziness is in evidence at Nielsen’s. Its pleasant, soothing aesthetic doesn’t translate particularly well to social media — it’s not trendy; it’s just nice. It’s a friendly place where you can have a cup of coffee and a rich pastry, the kind of hidden gem neighborhood residents seem to know and appreciate.
In fact, while I was there, I ran into one of my friends from college who lives on Lower Queen Anne. She told me she goes to Nielsen’s all the time.
Nielsen’s Pastries, 520 Second Ave. W. (Lower Queen Anne), Seattle; 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday; 206-282-3004, nielsenspastries.com