First Look: Karelia Kitchen, a new Scandinavian café and smokehouse in Bloordale
Roasted pork belly with Brussels sprouts and a red cabbage salad (Image: Karolyne Ellacott)
“We are a smokehouse!” exclaims Donna Ashley. “We’re other things too — but primarily, we’re a smokehouse.” Ashley, along with husband Leif Kravis, owns and operates Karelia Kitchen, Bloordale’s latest culinary destination. Armed with some shared 59 years in the food biz, they have opted to take on one of the city’s most underrepresented cuisines: Scandinavian.
Although Karelia is a region of northern Europe straddling Finland and Russia, the name is in fact an homage to Kravis’ father, Janis, who owned Karelia, a well-known local design store in the ’60s and ’70s that focused on Scandinavian goods. While Janis’ store has long since closed, his son and daughter-in-law turned to him to help build their café. The space features a pale ash ceiling with sunken lights, accent walls in IKEA yellow and fire engine red and tiny details like bag hooks punctuating walls next to each table. For now, the walls remain bare, though Marimekko pieces are soon to liven them up.
The menu itself rotates depending on seasonality of the goods. Leif is in charge of the smoking and uses shaved hickory, which he says imbues the meat, fish and cheese with “a nice pungent flavour that doesn’t overpower.”
The smørrebrød, or the open-faced sandwich, is available in seemingly endless variants: one arrives topped with duck egg and paprika ($8); another features roasted top sirloin, pickled beets and gaufrette potatoes ($9); and the most recognizable version stars smoked salmon, house-made white cheese, red onion strings, capers and salmon roe ($12).
A rotating selection of hot dishes ($2.75-$10.95) is also on offer — which could include braised short ribs, apricot-stuffed pork loin or seared rainbow trout — along with a plethora of Ashley’s desserts. The flourless almond chocolate cake ($4), she says, keeps disappearing rather quickly.
In keeping with the regional theme, loose-leaf teas and a house coffee blend are served along with Denmark’s Tuborg beer ($5) and shots of Absolut Vodka and Aalborg Akvavit ($6). Unlike similar eateries in Scandinavia, however, don’t expect to grab a number as you wait your turn.
Karelia Kitchen, 1194 Bloor St. W., 647-748-1194